The New Yorker Archive: John Updike on Ted Williams

There’s something going on at Fenway Park today. I’m not really sure what but everyone seems to be really excited about it. To mark whatever the occasion may be, The New Yorker has opened up it’s archives and allowed us peasants to access John Updike’s article about Ted Williams’ final game at Fenway. It’s rather wonderful, in my estimation. You should read it. You should read all the really good combinations of words that are in it. And you better move fast, because the free ride is good for today only, and is well worth the time, I promise. How strange and refreshing to read a bit of earnest sports writing for a change. I remember what it was like to be earnest. I should be more earnest. For posterity, I’ve taken the liberty of shamelessly plagiarizing some of the passages that spoke to me most. All credit is due to my wife for alerting me to this whole thing. She’s a smart lady.

… indeed, for Williams to have distributed all his hits so they did nobody else any good would constitute a feat of placement unparalleled in the annals of selfishness.


Baseball is a game of the long season, of relentless and gradual averaging-out. Irrelevance—since the reference point of most individual games is remote and statistical—always threatens its interest, which can be maintained not by the occasional heroics that sportswriters feed upon, but by players who always care; who care, that is to say, about themselves and their art. Insofar as the clutch hitter is not a sportswriter’s myth, he is a vulgarity. Like a writer who writes only for money.


All baseball fans believe in miracles; the question is, how many do you believe in?


… the second baseman turned ever grounder into a juggling act, while the shortstop did a breathtaking impersonation of an open window.


The afternoon grew so glowering that in the sixth inning the arc lights were turned on—always a wan sight in the daytime, like the burning headlights of a funeral procession.


Have you ever heard applause in a ballpark? Just applause—no calling, no whistling, just an ocean of handclaps, minute after minute, burst after burst, crowding and running together in a continuous succession like the pushes of a surf at the edge of the sand. It was a sombre and considered tumult. There was not a boo in it. It seemed to renew itself out of a shifting set of memories as the kid, the Marine, the veteran of feuds and failures and injuries, the friend of children, and the enduring old pro evolved down the bright tunnel of twenty-one summers toward this moment.


Nevertheless, there will always lurk, around a corner in a pocket of our knowledge of the odds, and indefensible hope, and this was one of those times, which you now and then find in sports, when a density of expectation hangs in the air and plucks an event out of the future.


He ran as he always ran out home runs—hurriedly, unsmiling, head down, as if our praise were a storm of rain to get out of.


Every true story has an anticlimax.


So he knew how to do even that, the hardest thing. Quit.

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