September 2010

Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu

As the Red Sox and other baseball fans commemorate Tuesday’s 50th anniversary of Ted Williams’ final and famous at-bat, we are waxing nostalgic with a wonderful little commemorative edition of John Updike’s 10/22/60 The New Yorker essay about the event. Updike prepared the bound reissue just before his own passing in January 2009. They’re both gone now, two greats in their own fields, and today they are intertwined in baseball history, as you can see with this presentation by The Library of America.

HubFansBidKidAdieu.jpgThe essay itself is the biggest reason to buy the book, simply to read it again and put yourself back in time at that “lyric little bandbox of a ballpark.” There are more reasons, though. One is the replication of Updike’s original manuscript, printed oversize onto the inside of the front and back covers, rendering his own hand-editing marks and manual-typewriter strike-thrus. And more importantly, Updike also included the footnotes that he had added in a 1965 collection, Assorted Prose, elaborating on key points in the original essay.

For example, Updike wrote this in 1960: “Hence his refusal to tip his cap to the crowd or turn the other cheek to newsmen.” There is a “3” footnote after “cap” and then you read at the bottom of the page: “But he did tip his cap, high off his head, in at least his first season, as cartoons from that period verify. He was also extravagantly cordial to taxi drivers and stray children…” Such elaborations are very important if you’ve only read the original.

Updike begins the new Preface by writing: “‘Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu’ was a five days’ labor of love executed and published in October 1960. For many years, especially since moving to Greater Boston, I had been drawing sustenance and cheer from Williams’ presence on the horizon, and I went to his last game with the open heart of a fan.”

Now we remember Teddy Ballgame’s legacy and his singular sendoff . . . and also the way it was captured in some of the best baseball prose there ever was. — Mark Newman

Diamond Ruby

Reviewed by Julie Klam

Diamond_Ruby_A_Novel-66752.jpg

I romanticize baseball and I read all kinds of baseball books, but there’s a special place in my hardball-shaped heart for great baseball fiction: The Natural, Shoeless Joe, You Know Me, Al, and now Diamond Ruby by Joseph Wallace (Touchstone).
I started reading it on the day pitchers and catchers reported and parsed it out a few pages at a time to make it last longer. (I planned to take it to the World Series but it is only 460 pages long.)
Diamond Ruby is a baseball story, but it’s much more than that. Loosely based on the true story of Jackie Mitchell, a girl pitcher who struck out Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig in exhibition play, Wallace creates the world that might have been.
In 1923, 18-year-old New Yorker Ruby Lee Thomas is pressed into bringing up her two small nieces, after the 1918 Spanish influenza wreaks havoc on her family. And it turns out that she can support them with a gift she has. She is a fast pitcher. A very, very fast pitcher.
Hired by a Coney Island sideshow, Ruby, a Jew, gets the ire of the Klan, but also wins the veneration of Babe Ruth and Jack Dempsey. Eventually she is rescued from the grueling sideshow and signed to The Brooklyn Typhoons. Here we meet gangsters and good guys and a punch-packing story.
I was rooting so hard for Ruby, I started thinking of her as my own kid. With highs and lows like the roller coaster whose shadow Ruby plays in, Wallace writes a devastating, moving, funny, and ultimately feel great book. Diamond Ruby belts it out of the park and makes you long for a sequel.

‘Ball Four’ turns 40

BallFourcover.jpgReviewed by Ben Platt of MLB.com

In 1969, Jim Bouton, at one time a star pitcher for the Yankees, had lost his fastball and was relying on throwing a knuckleball to preserve his career in the Major Leagues. He had been acquired by the Seattle Pilots, an expansion team that was playing in an older stadium with an uncertain future.

What followed was a mostly nondescript season, though only four other Major League pitchers appeared in more games than Bouton did that year. But it was a season that made him famous beyond his World Series years with the Yankees, and forever changed the landscape of sports journalism.

Teaming with sportswriter Leonard Shecter, a friend from his days in New York, Bouton kept a daily journal of his observations of that season. It became his bestselling book, Ball Four. This is the 40th anniversary of its publication. More

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