Tag Archives: Mark Harris The Southpaw

Roger W. Smith, “Why I Like the Game of Baseball”

 

 

 

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Downloadable Word document of this post is above.

 

 

 

 

Why I Like the Game of Baseball

by Roger W. Smith

 

 

There is no clock to regulate duration of play. “With no clock, no regulation of seconds, minutes, and hours, baseball need not submit to the inexorability of temporal limitation,” notes English professor George Grella, singing the praises of the sport in The Massachusetts Review. A “team cannot stall, or run the ball into the line to kill the clock, or manipulate the clock in order to score. A tie game does not exist — all games must end in a victory and a defeat, and a tied game could conceivably go on forever. The game succeeds in creating a temporary timelessness perfectly appropriate to its richly cyclical nature.”

It is a sport not limited in any total sense by boundary lines; think catcher or third or first baseman leaning into the stands for a foul ball.

It has a wonderfully fair method of scoring — one for each run. And each team has to get the same number of outs — 27 outs made by the opposing team — to beat them in a nine inning game. Any long time fan has seen it, often: A team that appears to have an insurmountable lead ends up losing when the opposing team mounts a late inning rally.

I once saw a game on television where the eventual winning team, the home team, was down by seven runs with two outs and a man on first in the bottom of the ninth inning. They scored eight runs and won 13-12. It’s not as uncommon as one might think for teams to come back from such deficits. In this particular game, eleven batters in a row reached base with two out: There were four singles, six walks, and a grand slam home run. The opposing team couldn’t say, “Time’s up. You’ve had enough chances. Game over.” They had to — but couldn’t — get that twenty-seventh out. Time is “stretched,” or trumped, in a sense, because the losing team is entitled to keep batting as long as they have another out left. It doesn’t matter what inning or what the score happens to be.

Baseball is a blend of the team and the individual. (Most commonly at any given moment during a game it is a question of nine men against one.)

It is a game which consists of the unexpected occurring — nobody on the field or in the park knows where, when, or if the ball will be hit.

It is an uncluttered and beautifully designed game. In baseball, the scoring is done by the team that doesn’t have the ball. “There is no grubby battling for possession; there are no interceptions,” as Charles Einstein pointed out in his preface to The Fireside Book of Baseball.

“A nine-year-old knows baseball inside out, yet … it utterly confounds the foreigner,” observes Einstein. It is a uniquely American sport.

There have been few basic changes in baseball rules for over one hundred years, making it possible to compare players of different generations.

The baseball field is beautifully designed. “[W]ith its congested infield arching around home and its vast and underpopulated outfield expanding in an ever-widening arc beyond the congestion,” as literary scholar Ed Folsom puts it. The bases are a magic ninety feet apart. Consider how often a batter is thrown out by half a step, compared to instances when he outruns a peg from deep short. According to Grella, “One of the most fundamental and significant truths of the game derives from the peculiar shape of its playing area. With the exception of cricket … baseball is the only team sport played with a ball that does not use a rectangular field. All other ball games are territorial and circumscribed; all play occurs within a box, where a team defends one end and attempts to penetrate the other. In such games success is measured by the number of penetrations a team perpetrates and/or permits; football is so territorial that one of its hallowed statistics deals with land acquisition, i.e., yardage gained and lost. Territorial games rely upon time, depending always upon a predetermined duration of the clock. Baseball, on the other hand, virtually denies the limitations of space and time.” Or, as novelist W. P. Kinsella has written, “[T]he field runs to infinity. … There’s no limit to how far a man might possibly hit a ball, and there’s no limit to how far a fleet outfielder might run to retrieve it. The foul lines run on forever, forever diverging. … Every other sport is held in by boundaries, some of absolute set size, some not: football, hockey, tennis, basketball, golf. But there’s no limit to the size of a baseball field.”

A baseball. The ball itself. Holding one in your hand. Idly tossing it. The shininess and hardness. The stitching. The delight of boys in having a new, white, shiny, unscuffed ball.

Almost everything in baseball looks easy and evident (as a skilled player having honed his skills through endless practice makes it appear), but learning the game is not. Watch kids trying to swing a bat and connect, throwing weakly (perhaps a dribbler), or being inept at catching a ball tossed underhand at close range. But, then, the child begins to get the hang of it. And, doing the simplest things such as throwing and catching is so satisfying to be able to do. Giving a young person a sense of grace and athleticism.

It’s a game which requires inborn athletic ability — athleticism: strength, agility, speed. A hitter’s power, a pitcher or fielder’s arm, a baserunner or outfielder’s speed.

Yet a boy or man possessing these attributes — a natural athlete — will not necessarily succeed in baseball without the desire to do so and an interest in the game, and without years of first learning the fundamentals and then endless practice — the same as with a virtuoso musician — both in the “backyard” and in actual games. Playing in games from youth leagues to high school and college and amateur and perhaps semipro to the minor leagues is crucial for learning how to “leverage” one’s skills (a pitcher learning different pitches, for example, and finding which pitches work best for him) and, perhaps most importantly, developing “baseball instincts” and learning strategy.

A batter is up in a crucial situation. Hand eye coordination and raw power are crucial. The ability to hit is, needless to say, a sina qua non. Intense concentration is required. But it is all for naught without perfect execution. Swing a little too early or late, get a little over or under the ball and it’s a swinging strike, a dribbler, a pop up or lazy fly ball. Doesn’t matter whether you’re Ted Williams or Mark Belanger.

And just how do you play the game well? I heard a player say once, in a televised interview, that this is — which he implied without using the word — paradoxical. To play the game, he explained, requires intense concatenation at every moment — one can never tell when the ball will be hit to oneself; a batter must be totally focused on the pitcher’s windup and delivery. At the same time, to succeed in baseball, a ballplayer has to be relaxed. Think of an overanxious fielder blobbing a ball.

The sport is relatively free of contact. The predominant focus of a game is THE BALL. Where it is at a given moment: zooming into home plate (or perhaps floating like a knuckleball); a scorching grounder hit towards an infielder or a seemingly routine one perhaps taking a bad hop; shot in a straight line as a line drive that may or not be snared; the high arc of a fly ball floating and perhaps hanging in the air before it comes down to an outfielder, or launched toward the deepest point of the park, or over the fence; the “pill” being whipped to first to nip a runner or to another base to perhaps catch a lead runner. The cutoff man. Relays. Rundowns. (Sometimes they seem to go on forever, with scoring such as 5-2-6-3-5-2-1, or whatever — so many players are involved.) All eyes follow the ball, which controls what happens. There is something pure about this.

How a game progresses, from batter to batter, pitch to pitch, and inning to inning.

The flight of the ball. An outfielder catching up with it in flight. Or gathering it in in pre-game practice. “It is a beautiful sight to see a good outfielder gather in a fly ball,” as Mark Harris wrote in his novel The Southpaw, “moving over as graceful as you please while from 250 or 300 feet away someone has tossed the ball up in front of himself and laid into it and sent it upward and upward in a high arc until the ball is just a white speck against the blue sky, and then it hits its highest point and begins to drop, and you look down and there is a player loping over, moving fast or slow, depending on how he sizes up the situation, and he moves under the ball and it zooms down in his glove. It looks so easy when a good ballplayer does it. It is not easy. Ask any kid that has ever tried to play ball whether it is easy, and he will tell you. But when a big-league ballplayer does it, it looks easy because he is so graceful, and he gathers it in and then runs a few steps on his momentum and digs his spikes in the ground and wheels and fires that ball back where it came from, and it hops along, white against the green grass.”

The fact that, in different baseball stadiums, dimensions are not uniform, which affects strategy and the composition of teams — such as a team built on defense and speed or one with a lineup of left or right-handed sluggers. The intricacies and oddities of different ballparks, such as cozy Fenway Park with its left field wall. The short porch in right field in Yankee Stadium, and Death Valley in left field of the old stadium before it was renovated in the 1970’s. The odd shape of the now demolished Polo Grounds, home of the New York Giants, with its very deep center field (where Willie Mays made his famous catch in 1954) and its very short right field (to which Dusty Rhodes hit a pinch hit home run in the tenth inning of the same game to win it for the Giants). How managers and players have taken advantage of these features, such as Carl Yastrzemski masterfully playing caroms off The Wall at Fenway Park, holding the batter to a single, and Roger Maris hitting his sixty-first home run into the short porch in right field in the final game of the 1961 season. How stadiums affect the makeup and personality of teams: Dodger Stadium: defense and pitching … Comiskey Park in Chicago and Memorial Stadium in Baltimore: the same … Shea Stadium: a dismal stadium with no personality or aesthetic appeal and colorless Mets teams.

It is such an aesthetically satisfying game to play and watch. The shortstop throwing out a runner, narrowly nipping him, from deep in the hole. Watching a double play executed with such speed and dexterity, in a matter of a seconds. A peg which just nips the runner. (“A peg as flat as the tape a runner breaks,” in the words of the late poet Donald Hall.) A gasp-inducing throw to the infield or home plate by an outfielder with a rifle arm. It all comes down to this: A man or boy trying to outrun a ball.

The slow, deliberate pace, which seems more typical of another era. The absence of a clock. The feeling that time stands still as suspense about the outcome mounts. “The game’s slow rhythms creating a natural tension,” as a writer in The Economist put it. Baseball is for the leisurely afternoons of summer.

Watching pre-game practice. “I can’t think of any other sport … where the practice sessions are worth the price of admission,” notes sportswriter Wilfrid Sheed. A coach or player with a fungo bat lofting fly balls to the far reaches of the field. Fly-shaggers arching them back towards home plate. Batting practice. Infield practice. Coaches slapping grounders to infielders, two deep at every position. The ball snarls around the horn. Third, short, second, first, catcher. Pepper games by stars and lesser players in front of the dugouts.

The fact that Major League baseball is played almost daily in the spring and summer months.

The opportunities for improvisations such as pickup games and tossing a ball around or taking swings in a relaxed setting such as a back yard.

The simple pleasure and restful rhythm of playing catch. The thud (a sort of snapping sound) of a ball thrown straight and hard in a boy or man’s glove. Father and son tossing a ball back and forth. Two friends. Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter doing so (as I used to observe before Yankee games) in front of the Yankee dugout. The fun, joy, of playing catch. How it induces tranquility, an almost hypnotic state.

The serene and meditative state baseball can induce in the spectator, and even in a participant (an outfielder, say); the enjoyment and pure delight in simply watching. It is a thinking man’s game because it can be observed and contemplated with great satisfaction, not only by spectators or viewers, but also — even — by players. (As former Cincinnati Reds shortstop Alex Grammas put it: “there’s a lot of dead time in baseball” — this permits contemplation.) Rather than working the mind up to a frenzy, as other sports such as football and basketball do, baseball relaxes the mind — can do so if one is so disposed.

“In addition to its richness of ritual and history, its fascination of character and event, baseball offers ample material for philosophical speculation,” Grella notes. “The true fan is not only a spectator, enthusiast, and historian, but also must be a student of the ethics, aesthetics, and ontology of the game. The thoughtful fan investigates more than simply the obvious lore; he pursues the essence of baseball, its shape and meaning, its resonant possibilities.” And, baseball’s vast archive of statistics, current and past. Who had the highest on base percentage of all time? How many times did a power hitter such as Ted Williams or Joe DiMaggio strike out in his career?

That the spectator/watcher can reflect upon what is happening on several levels, both through anticipation, or foreknowledge, of possible scenarios, strategies, and outcomes; and later, through the re-creation of games in one’s mind, discussions of games, and memory and retrospective analysis of games and plays from decades or even centuries ago that are still remembered.

The fact that baseball is played and enjoyed, by both players and spectators, on so many levels: by the very young in yards, fields, and playgrounds; on sandlots and in youth leagues; in high school and college; in amateur, semiprofessional, and adult leagues (including softball, which is a form of baseball). The “farm system” and the Major Leagues.

In all these settings, game situations, and locales, including amateur leagues and sandlot games, there is a kind of “universal grammar” of the sport which is “reassuring.” You see situations, plays, and minutiae, such as a batter digging in and taking a stance; a base runner taking a lead and the pitcher trying to pick him off; whiffs or balls flying off the end of the bat; foul balls; wild pitches; the ball being tossed around the horn after an out; great plays or the opposite; daring base running; arguments over whether the runner was safe or out; and so forth. From a game observed in a local park to one in Yankee Stadium.

Situations and scenarios. Men on base. How many outs? The count. Pitcher versus batter. Left handed versus right handed when it comes to pitcher-batter matchups. Which players are on the field and at what positions.

The way ball games can be charted with such precision, as noted by historian and fan Doris Kearns Goodwin, whose father taught her at age six how to keep score so she could tell him about the day’s Brooklyn Dodger game, as announced on the radio by Red Barber (most games were played in the daytime then), after the former came home from work.

The rituals of the game overall, and of each game. Tossing the ball around the infield before an inning and after an out. The umpire dusting off the plate. “Play ball!” The pitcher’s windup and delivery. The on deck circle. Other rituals which even kids sometimes copy from major leaguers.

How it is such a mental game, much of which comes from the way the game is designed and played, and as such, how baseball games can be reconstructed afterwards in the mind with such pleasure, including long after, so that the fan remembers how the Yankees tied up the seventh game of the 1960 World Series in the top of the ninth and then lost it to the Pittsburgh Pirates on Bill Mazeroski’s home run in the bottom of the ninth. Sandy Amoros snaring Yogi Berra’s fly to left field with a one-handed catch in the final game of the 1955 World Series. When Rick Burleson did not take third base on Jerry Remy’s single in the ninth inning of the 1978 tie-breaker game between the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees, very possibly preventing the Red Sox from tying the game. What happened in the tenth (final) inning of the final game of the 1912 World Series between the Boston Red Sox and the New York Giants.

The moments which live in the memory of old and new fans: Boston Red Sox shortstop and relay man Johnny Pesky failing to nip the St. Louis Cardinals’ Enos Slaughter at home plate in the final game of the 1946 World Series. Andy Pafko watching Bobby Thomson’s home run sail over the left field fence in the final game of the 1951 national league playoff. Willie Mays’s unbelievable catch in the first game of the 1954 World Series and his awesome throw to prevent a base runner from tagging up and scoring. Ted Williams hitting a home run in his final career at bat. The Houston Astros’ José Altuve’s mad dash around the bases to score the winning run in Game 2 of the 2017 American League Championship Series. And countless other games and plays. These plays stay in the mind because of their simplicity (perhaps one should say, clarity or preciseness), their beauty of execution, and the drama of how and when they happened. In short, one can recreate games in one’s mind. Yes, there are dramatic moments in football and basketball. But almost every play, inning, and game in baseball can be recreated this way. Baseball is “a lot easier to analyze than, say, football, which has so many moving parts,” says baseball author Stew Thornley, who was quoted in a New York Times article. Suppose Jim Brown wrote in an autobiography: “I was huffing and puffing as I strained to get from the 40-yard line to the end zone. I shed two tacklers and made it to the end zone.” As New York Times sportswriter Filip Bondy put it: “baseball is a sport made for … scholarly examination.” And for endless dissection.

Unlike, say, basketball or football, baseball does not seem to favor players of any particular build or size. All that matters is that one can play it well. You see wiry players (Richie Ashburn, Hank Aaron, Didi Gregorias), stocky ones (Babe Ruth, Carl Furillo, Pete Rose), “muscle men” (Ted Kluzewski, Greg Luzinski), tall ones (Aaron Judge, Carlton Fisk, Frank Howard), short ones (Phil Rizzuto, David Eckstein, José Altuve), rotund ones (Fernando Valenzuela, David Wells, David Ortiz, Prince Fielder). “[S]ize doesn’t matter in baseball. In many ways, size is irrelevant,” notes New York Times reporter Billy Witz.

How the positions have different identities, generically speaking. The shortstop. The best defensive player on the team. A wizard with the glove. Has fast hands. Gets rid of the ball in a fraction of a second, transferring it from glove to hand. The second baseman. Usually a scrappy player. The pivot man. The third baseman. The stolid guardian of the hot corner. Known for diving backhand stabs of balls hit down the line. The first baseman. Often left handed; usually tall with a long reach; needs to be a slugger. The catcher. Squat and almost square in shape. The field general and most knowledgeable player on the field, strategy wise; has a unique vantage point from his position affording a view of the entire field and the rest of the defense. The center fielder. Ball hawk. Rivals the shortstop for defensive importance. A gazelle swift of foot and graceful. Able to run down balls the corner outfielders can’t get to. Usually a star who can hit too.

No player really predominates. It is sometimes said that the best hitter and run producer carries the team. But, each player (one should specify each position POSITION IN ITALICS player in leagues that have adopted the designated hitter rule) has his spot in the batting order; everyone must bat in turn. A player such as the shortstop or center fielder may appear to play a predominant role in the defense — and in fact will often do so — because of his position on the field and the probability that more balls will be hit to him than, say, a corner outfielder, but all this doesn’t matter when a ball is hit to the right fielder. (Think of Dwight Evans catching Joe Morgan’s fly ball in the eleventh inning of the sixth game of the 1975 World Series. The game hung in the balance. Evans’s catch prolonged it and turned the momentum around.) Every player in the lineup is important, and each has a role to play. No player can dominate, and if, say, a player comes to bat in a crucial situation that can determine the outcome of the game, or if a play is made or not made by a fielder, it is essentially by chance, what is called the luck of the draw. If a ball is hit to a fielder, he instantly becomes the focal point of the action. (Other fielders may become involved in the play as it unfolds.) When a batter is facing a pitcher, no other player can help him hit a pitch. If a runner is trying to score, no other player can help him avoid being tagged out, unlike where in football a lineman can block a potential tackler.

Colorful characters: Casey Stengel, Babe Ruth. Saintly types (aka “nice guys”) such as Mel Ott and moral exemplars such as Christy Mathewson. Rogues, villains, and miscreants such as Hal Chase, Leo Durocher, and Pete Rose (who, before his suspension for betting, gravely injured Cleveland Indians catcher Ray Fosse in a home plate collision that never should have happened). Greek gods who seemed to play with effortless grace, such as the Yankee Clipper, Joe DiMaggio. Pathos: Lou Gehrig — icon and hero tragically struck down. Courage and dignity: Jackie Robinson. Heartbreak: Ralph Branca.

Nicknames; Moose Skowron, Birdie Tebbetts, Smoky Burgess and Smoky Joe Wood, Jim Mudcat Grant, Dizzy Dean, Cool Papa Bell, Yogi Berra, Pumpsie Green, Willie Puddinhead Jones, Wahoo Sam Crawford,* Gabby Street, Tom Plowboy Morgan, Oil Can Boyd, Bobo Newsom, Choo-Choo Coleman, Sal (The Barber) Maglie, Ken (Hawk) Harrelson, Joe (Ducky) Medwick, Jim (Catifsh) Hunter, Shoeless Joe Jackson,** Pistol Pete Reiser, Sad Sam Jones, Jumping Joe Dugan, Indian Bob Johnson, Pee Wee Reese.*** Big Poison and Little Poison (Paul and Lloyd Warner).**** The Flying Dutchman, The Grey Eagle, The Georgia Peach, The Yankee Clipper.

Baseball has a rich vocabulary. Many terms with other, more common usages have been adapted for baseball, such as ace (the best starting pitcher on the team), diamond, fireman (a team’s top relief pitcher), green light, sent to the showers (for a pitcher), table setter, cup of coffee (meaning a short time spent by a player at the major league level), on his horse (in reference to an outfielder tracking down a fly ball), leather for a fielder’s glove (a player with good leather is a good defensive player), lumber for a bat and bag or sack for a base, submariner for a pitcher with a low slung style of delivery, mop-up man for a relief pitcher used in a non-critical situation, mustard referring to a high amount of velocity on a fastball, and nail-biter for a close game. “I wus robbed” when a fielder’s spectacular play denies the batter a hit or a home run. And, many baseball terms have been incorporated into the English language, often as slang, with a broader meaning not limited to baseball. For example: bush league, choke up, telling someone you will take a rain check on an invitation.

Baseball coinages: around the horn, bench jockey, bullpen, Grapefruit League, seeing-eye single, inside out swing, hill (the pitcher’s mound), hit ’em where they ain’t, swing for the fences, horsehide for a baseball, hot corner and hot stove league, keystone sack, men in blue, round tripper for a home run, seventh-inning stretch, shoestring catch, putting your foot in the bucket, suicide squeeze.

Can of corn: an easy-to-catch fly ball hit to the outfield. The phrase is said to have originated in the nineteenth century and relates to an old-time grocer’s method of getting canned goods down from a high shelf. Using a stick with a hook on the end, a grocer could tip a can so that it would fall for an easy catch into his apron. One theory for the use of corn as the canned good in the phrase is that a can of corn was considered the easiest “catch” as corn was the best-selling vegetable in the store and so was heavily stocked on the lowest shelves.

Catbird seat: a desirable or auspicious situation in a game. Popularized by Red Barber, longtime broadcaster for the Brooklyn Dodgers. James Thurber wrote in his short story of the same title: “[S]itting in the catbird seat means sitting pretty, like a batter with three balls and no strikes on him.” The catbird is said to seek out the highest point in a tree to sing his song, so someone in the catbird seat is high up.

Gopher ball: a pitch that leads to a home run, one that the batter will “go for.” (The term has nothing to with gophers.)

Hook: a curveball, but also used in the sense of a manager removing a pitcher from the game for a reliever. A manager who is said to have a short hook is typically quick to remove a starting pitcher. It is said that this usage may have come from the large hooks that were sometimes used in vaudeville to yank unsuccessful acts off the stage if they were reluctant to leave on their own. Cincinnati Reds manager Sparky Anderson was called Captain Hook.

Miscue for an error. The usage comes from billiards, when the cue stick slips or just brushes the cue ball, thereby leading to a missed shot.

Southpaw or portsider for a left-handed pitcher. Most baseball stadiums are built so that home plate is in the west and the outfield is in the east, so that when the sun sets it is not in the batter’s line of sight. Because of this, a left-handed pitcher’s arm is always facing south when he faces the plate. “Port” refers to the left side of a ship.

Rabbit ears to indicate a player who becomes nervous or chokes when opposing players or fans yell at or razz him. Or an umpire who picks up on every complaint hurled at him from the dugout.

Rocking chair. Refers to the position occupied by the third base umpire, likely because the third base umpire does not generally have to make as many calls as the other umpires. An ingenious and humorous coinage.

Fungo, which designates a fly ball hit for fielders to practice catching. This is accomplished by a batter tossing the ball a short distance up in the air and then batting it himself. (No one has ever determined with certainty its etymology.) And, shag (as in shag flies) and shagger.

Rhubarb. A rhubarb is a plant. Brooklyn Dodgers announcer Red Barber used the word for an argument, fight, or a mix-up on the field of play. He called Ebbets Field “the rhubarb patch” because there were so many arguments there.

And phrases you will often hear used during a game from players or spectators, often in the case of Little League and sandlot games, such as “a walk is as good as a hit,” “good eye,” and “keep your eye on the ball.”

Baseball invites good writing. Consider the wonderful literature the sport has spawned, by writers such as Zane Grey, Ring Lardner, James Thurber, James T. Farrell, Mark Harris, Bernard Malamud, Philip Roth, and Don DeLillo; and the poets Carl Sandburg, William Carlos Williams, Marianne Moore, Robert Frost, and Donald Hall. The same can be said of nonfiction works and sports writing by writers such as W. C. Heinz, Arnold Hano, Roger Kahn, Roger Angell, and Red Smith describing Bobby Thomson’s “shot heard around the world” in the New York Herald Tribune: “Now it is done. Now the story ends. And there is no way to tell it. The art of fiction is dead. Reality has strangled invention. Only the utterly impossible, the inexpressibly fantastic, can ever be plausible again.”

 

 

* Born in Wahoo, Nebraska in 1880.

** Shoeless Joe Jackson got his nickname during a mill game played in Greenville, South Carolina. Jackson had blisters on his foot from a new pair of cleats, which hurt so much that he took his shoes off before he was at bat. As play continued, a heckling fan noticed Jackson running to third base in his socks, and shouted “You shoeless son of a gun, you!” The other players kidded him, calling him Shoeless Joe, and the name stuck.

*** Harold Reese, nicknamed Pee Wee, was a championship marbles player in Kentucky, where he grew up. A pee wee is a small marble.

**** Big Poison and Little Poison (brothers and Pittsburgh Pirate outfielders Paul and Lloyd Warner) got their names when a sportswriter overheard an Ebbets Field fan mispronouncing “person” as “poison” — as in here comes that “big poison” or “little poison.”

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

    March 2018

 

 

 

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See also:

Roger W. Smith, “On Baseball”

https://rogersgleanings.com/2015/11/04/essay-on-baseball-by-roger-smith-may-2000/

 

on catching a fly ball

 

 

 

Mark Harris, in his wonderful baseball novel The Southpaw (1953), talks about an aspect of the game, fly balls.

The Southpaw is the first in a series of novels about Henry Wiggen, a star pitcher for a fictional team, the New York Mammoths. In an expository passage, Harris observes that it is aesthetically beautiful and satisfying to watch an outfielder do something that is considered routine: catch a fly ball, say, during practice when a coach is hitting fungoes. He refers to the flight of the ball and the grace it requires to track and catch it.

When you think about it, catching a long fly is a skill one has to develop. It is actually counterintuitive, in a sense. Think of a person not brought up with baseball in their culture trying to do it (and how ridiculous they often look when they try).

I bought an instructional video on fielding once for my sons Henry and Stephen. It was quite good. The instructor said that the key to catching a fly is to run to the spot where you think it is going to come down and be sure you are under it when it does. Otherwise, you will find yourself out of position, lunging for the ball. If you are already in position, in the right spot, you have a good chance of making the catch.

The instructor also said you have to cradle a grounder like an egg and see it into your glove. I have often marveled at how few errors major league infielders make. I have noticed that they always seem to position themselves correctly, in terms of their stance and glove. It seems to be the key to their success in this regard.

 

 

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“It is a beautiful sight to see a good outfielder gather in a fly ball, moving over as graceful as you please while from 250 or 300 feet away someone has tossed the ball up in front of himself and laid into it and sent it upward and upward in a high arc until the ball is just a white speck against the blue sky, and then it hits its highest point and begins to drop, and you look down and there is a player loping over, moving fast or slow, depending on how he sizes up the situation, and he moves under the ball and it zooms down in his glove. It looks so easy when a good ballplayer does it. It is not easy. Ask any kid that has ever tried to play ball whether it is easy, and he will tell you. But when a big-league ballplayer does it, it looks easy because he is so graceful, and he gathers it in and then runs a few steps on his momentum and digs his spikes in the ground and wheels and fires that ball back where it came from, and it hops along, white against the green grass.”

 

— Mark Harris, The Southpaw

 

 

— posted by Roger W. Smith

   September 2015

 

 

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Addendum:

 

Below is the text of am email of mine from October 2004 to my older brother, sister, and my uncle, Roger Handy.

 

 

From: Roger W. Smith

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Subject: Manny should have caught it

 

 

Manny Ramirez looked like a Little Leaguer trying to catch Bernie Williams’s fly in the 8th inning last night. The Red Sox might have had a chance if they had gone into the 9th one run down.

Everyone knows — as color commentator Al Leiter pointed out — that you are supposed to turn around and run to where you think the ball is headed while looking over your shoulder, not try to catch a fly ball backpedaling waving your glove in the air.

One of the guys I have been playing baseball with lately is a 25 year old ex-minor leaguer in the Mets farm system. He discussed with us some of the fundamentals one is taught in the minors. Things like throwing, basic stance and swing, and so forth.

His advice was actually helpful to me. For instance, I realized I usually throw the ball wrong (overhand instead of three quarters). He tries to coach the kids we play with, some of whom don’t listen.

Where was Manny when they were teaching fundamentals? But come to think of it, I am not sure he ever played minor league ball.

“My Early Reading”

 

 

My mother always loved to read and had great taste in literature.

She told me that she read avidly as a child. She was a voracious reader.

She loved Little Women, a classic and a real girl’s book. She was very affected by the scene where the girl character Beth dies.

Another book that my mother particularly liked when she was growing up was The Swiss Family Robinson. It’s a story about a shipwrecked family on an island that has to start life all over again. It was first published in German in 1812 and was inspired by Robinson Crusoe.

I believe that my mother also loved Heidi.

 

 

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My mother’s all time favorite novel, she told me, was All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren. I have the book but have never gotten around to reading it myself. I did skim a copy which my mother had. There was a striking sex scene a couple of pages long that was not that explicit but which I found interesting at the time when I read it. In it, a woman goes upstairs in a house and initiates sex with a man. She says to him, ‘I came up.” He has trouble getting her dress off, unloosening the hooks.

There was good literature on my mother and father’s bookshelf in the living room, most of it my mother’s. There were also excellent art history books that my mother had.

One of my mother’s books was a paperback anthology entitled New World Writing, a sort of literary magazine in book form. It was a compilation of short pieces representing the best new literature from the previous calendar year. I used to think, what is that book about? It was of interest to my mother.

One book on my parents’ bookshelf was the Modern Library edition of War and Peace in the translation by Constance Garnett. My father told me that he had read it in its entirety during a summer which he and my mother spent at Lake George in the 1940’s.

There was another book I recall on the living room bookshelf, a collection of short stories by Erskine Caldwell, a Southern writer who wrote about plain, simple people. He had a very simple, down to earth style. I read one of the stories, “A Swell Looking Girl.” To put it succinctly, it shocked me (which does not mean that I thought it was necessarily a bad piece of fiction).

It’s a very simple story about a young man in a town somewhere in the South who has just gotten married. He is very proud of his young bride and wants to show her off to his male neighbors. So he has her come out on the porch and then (eventually) lifts up her dress. She is nude underneath and completely exposed. The men all say “that sure is some swell looking girl” and gradually leave. That’s the whole story.

The story seemed remarkable to me because of the thought of complete female nudity in the open. It was kind of understated the way it was written, but very daring.

Another book on my parents’ bookshelf was James Joyce’s Ulysses, in the Modern Library edition. I was intrigued by it without reading it (which would have been quite difficult for me then; it still is now). I asked my mother and father about it once at the dinner table. I doubt they had read much of it, but they did explain to me the use by Joyce of stream of consciousness. This interested, intrigued me very much.

Later, when I was in high school, my church youth group, Liberal Religious Youth (LRY), had a conference in which one of the workshops was on sexuality. In the flyer for the conference, in the place where there would be a description of the workshop, instead of a description of the workshop per se, they simply quoted the famous concluding words of Ulysses:

…I was a Flower of the mountain yes when I put the rose in my hair like the Andalusian girls used or shall I wear a red yes and how he kissed me under the Moorish Wall and I thought well as well him as another and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes.

This caused quite a stir. Some adults were alarmed. They already thought that these LRY conferences, with adolescents staying together away from home at a conference site with little or no supervision, were a de facto invitation to licentiousness.

My reaction to the Ulysses quote in the flyer was that this was powerful writing of a high order that impressed me. It did not arouse prurient feelings in me.

 

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There was a book on child development on their (Mom and Dad’s) bookshelf by an eminent child psychologist, I think it was Gesell.

I enjoyed skimming it. I liked to see what was expected of normal development in my age group. In the various chapters, there would be various lists, for example, common activities for a given age group.

When I was age 12, I looked at the appropriate chapter and noted an item: For boys that age, a common activity was playing baseball with oneself. I had been doing precisely that. At that age, I used to go into our front yard with a plastic bat and whiffle ball and hit the ball, tossing it out of my hand. I had made up a fantasy team with a fantasy lineup and I would announce — I can’t recall whether it was out loud or as a silent sort of interior monologue — the progress of the “game” as I took my swings. As noted, I had made up a fantasy team, but I think it included myself as one of the players. But I didn’t want to inflate my “role.” I pretended I was a shortstop with modest but decent power and a fair batting average.

 

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In my late high school years, I read Tropic of Capricorn by Henry Miller in a recently published Grove Press paperback with a bright red cover — the obscenity ban had just been lifted by the courts — which I found in my father’s room. I got interested in the book and eventually took it to my bedroom across the hall. I kept it for weeks. My father eventually noticed this and commented on it, but he did not insist on my returning the book.

The reason I kept the book in my room is that I liked Henry Miller. At first, I noticed the sexy parts. There were lots of them; they were quite explicit and erotic. They were well written, amusing, and fun. Soon I got caught up in the whole book and in Miller’s narrative style and I was no longer interested in the sexy parts alone. And, I enjoyed the sex scenes on two levels, for their explicit erotic content and for the good, zesty writing.

Tropic of Capricorn is part of a trilogy that also includes Tropic of Cancer and Black Spring. I have never read Black Spring, which features surrealistic writing. I have read goodly portions of Tropic of Cancer but never finished it.

Cancer is better known than Capricorn, but I prefer Tropic of Capricorn. It is a basically autobiographical novel taking you from a point where Miller is in New York working for a telegraph company modeled on Western Union (where Miller actually worked) to the end of the book, where Miller, who has become liberated, gives up the conventional life and leaves for Paris. The book has an irresistible narrative flow and momentum.

I kept reading Miller and spent a great deal of time reading him in my senior year in college, neglecting my studies, and then continued to read him avidly for another year or so. I read the first two books of the trilogy The Rosy Crucifixion, Sexus and  Plexus, and enjoyed them greatly.

Some critics thought these were disappointing books, poorly written and a big comedown from the Tropics. One of these critics was Miller’s (and  Anaïs Nin’s) friend Lawrence Durrell. But, as I have said, I liked them. There were plenty of rollicking sex scenes and lots of colorful characters drawn from Miller’s own life. I think Miller helped (note that I say helped) to liberate me sexually and give me a more healthy appreciation of sexuality. It was eroticism plus damned good writing.

I went on to read other works of Miller that did not have sexual content (including nonfiction) and got a real feeling for his range and scope (and an appreciation for his intellect, to an extent).

In the second semester of my senior year, I was shopping around to take some independent study English courses. (I needed some extra courses to graduate.) You had to get a professor to accept you and approve the course. I took Readings in D. H. Lawrence, a horrible course with a Professor Swiggart, and Readings in Henry Miller with Professor Sacvan Berkovitch.

Sacvan Berkovitch was a young, brilliant, up and coming, chain smoking American Studies professor who later migrated to Harvard. I had taken a survey course in American lit with him which I don’t recall much of. I do remember that we read Huckleberry Finn and The Great Gatsby. We were assigned The Wings of the Dove by Henry James. It was long and I couldn’t bring myself to read it.

Anyway, to get back to the Readings in Henry Miller course, two of my roommates at Brandeis decided that they wanted to take the course too. We had exactly one meeting with Professor Berkovitch, who was a nice guy, near the end of the semester, and that was the course. He could see from the discussion that we had some knowledge of Miller’s development and were seriously interested in him, and he said we could forgo writing a paper, which, per the norm, was required in independent study courses. He gave all three of us a grade of B.

I have a whole collection of books by and about Miller (some of them rare) and some by and about his literary circle, but find it hard now to get back into him. I recently tried to read Crazy Cock, one of his early trial novels, but gave up after a few pages.

Another erotic book that I eventually became acquainted with was Lady Chatterly’s Lover. I knew of the book but hadn’t read it until my senior year in high school. That year I attended a Liberal Religious Youth (LRY) conference in some nearby town in Massachusetts and was staying over the weekend in someone’s house. There was a paperback copy of Lady Chatterly’s Lover in my room and, during downtime on a Sunday morning, I read some of it.

I grew to like and admire D. H. Lawrence, but I like several of his other novels a lot more than Lady Chatterly’s Lover. Nevertheless, when I first read it (parts of it, that is, the “good parts”), I was favorably impressed. It was my first exposure to Lawrence. And, some of the sexual language and sexual descriptions were new to me. It gave me a desire for sex and got me thinking about it in more explicit terms. Yet, I knew it was not just a “dirty book.”

 

 

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Some comments about children’s and young adult literature, from my experience.

My exposure to such literature was through my mother. She had such good taste and read to me a lot. She chose splendid books for us. It was such a pleasure to be read to (in bed) by her because she enjoyed it so much herself, and, of course, my Mom was so warm and nurturing anyway.

How did she find the time to read to me? (It was always to me alone.)

One of our first books was Winnie the Pooh by A. A. Milne. When The House at Pooh Corner, a sequel, came out, my mom was delighted and read that to me too. How I loved the nonsense rhymes of Pooh, the idiosyncracies of characters like Piglet and Eyore, and funny touches like the character who had a sign on his door, “knock if an answer is required, ring if an answer is not required.” My mother and I used to laugh out loud. I had such a warm and fuzzy feeling when she was reading to me.

 

 

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We had several wonderful books compiled by the children’s book editor Olive Beaupré Miller. These included a multi volume set, My Book House, and the book Nursery Friends from France. I especially liked the latter book, which my mother took great pleasure in reading to us from. It had wonderful color illustrations. It was a compilation of songs, nursery rhymes, and fairy tales.

 

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We had The Arabian Nights in a nice edition (which I still have). I particularly liked the story of Aladdin and his magic lamp.

In the second or third grade, I decided I wanted to read a real book. My parents had one on their bookshelf: The Flying Carpet by Richard Haliburton. It was a popular book by an aviator who flew around the world in the 1930’s. I “read” the whole book through, every page, but I did not (was incapable) understand it. But I was very proud to say that I had “read” a book.

There was a novel about gypsies that I read at that time. All throughout, I didn’t know what the word “gypsies” meant and couldn’t pronounce it.

The Book of Knowledge was an excellent encyclopedia for children. My father and mother bought a complete set from an encyclopedia salesman in around 1953. They were excited when the books arrived and I recall them opening the boxes. The encyclopedia had the usual articles and also literature. There was a story in it, “The Selfish Giant” by Oscar Wilde, that I loved. It made such an impression on me. It was so touching.

When I was around eight years old, I asked my father to explain baseball to me. He said, well, we have this new encyclopedia, that’s what we bought it for, so let’s do it the proper way. He turned to the article on baseball in The Book of Knowledge and began to explain the game to me. I recall that were diagrams showing the layout of the field and the positions. He might have explained the principle behind a force play, to give an example.

It was in the Agassiz School in Cambridge that I really began to read for myself, a lot. I loved being able to do it.

We were encouraged to read. In the front of the room, there was some kind of display on the top of the wall in colored paper which involved Indian headdresses and feathers. Kids’ names were on each headdress and you got another feather each time you completed a book. I was the leader. Most of the books I read, as I recall, were in the Childhood of Famous Americans series. They were popular biographies written especially for children that focused on the formative childhood years of the subjects. I loved those books. I recall reading the ones about Davy Crockett, Meriwether Lewis, Johnny Wanamaker, Lou Gehrig, and Babe Ruth, among others. I remember anecdotes about Lou Gehrig growing up in Yorkville in Manhattan and fighting a neighborhood bully and about Babe Ruth (called George as a youth) attending the Christian Brothers school where Brother Matthias encouraged him in baseball; I seem to recall that Ruth as a a schoolboy had the difficult task of playing catcher as a lefthander for a spell.

At a fairly early age, I read the classic Black Beauty (originally published in 1877) by Anna Sewell. This book made a very strong impression me. Not long ago, as an adult, I purchased it as an audiobook and “read” it again. It is very well written.

The story is told in the first person by the horse, Black Beauty, who is the narrator. The novel recounts the story of Black Beauty’s life as it is experienced under a succession of different owners, or “masters.” Some of the owners are cruel.

All I recall from reading the book as a child, the impression the book made on me then was that Black Beauty’s life was one of unremitting misery: an unending progression from one cruel master to another, with the course of the horse’s life leading to an inevitable decline. This characterization is true of a lot of the plot, but not all of it, as it turns out. When I first read the book, though I was greatly impressed by it, it seemed to me unbearably sad and gloomy. That it undeniably is, in places, in the sections where the horse is overworked and mistreated. But why did this impression predominate with me? I think because that view of Black Beauty’s life jibed with my view of own life as a sad one in which I was often mistreated. The scenes in the book of this nature were the ones that stuck in my mind.

Much to my surprise, I discovered, when I listened to the audiobook later, as an adult, that the novel actually ends happily, with Black Beauty in good circumstances, and that in other sections of the book, Black Beauty does have good masters (in contrast to many sections of the book in which the horse is cruelly mistreated).

I started visiting the Cambridge Public Library children’s room when I was very young. My mother and father were very liberal about giving us independence and let me walk there myself after a certain age. It was sort of a long walk. I loved being able to find and take out my own books.

At the library at around this time (fifth grade), I borrowed a science fiction book the title of which I do not remember. The story was about people who were involved in time travel. There were two main parts to the book. In the first, the main character or characters traveled back in time to the Stone Age. They encountered two hostile groups, the Cro-Magnons and the Neandertals. The time traveler(s) were befriended by the wise Cro-Magnons, who helped them to escape perils. In the second part of the book, the time traveler(s) went forward in time, in a rocket ship, overcoming things like aging with the aid of Einsteinian physics. I was totally engrossed in this young adult novel.

I also read a Tarzan book — I think it was in the sixth grade. It involved a tribe of African warrior women who took men (or threatened to) as prisoners in their fortress. There was something titillating about this to me. Imagine being in the hands and under the power of an exotic woman!

There was a popular, respected series of history books for young readers, the Landmark Books. In the sixth grade, I read the one on Benjamin Franklin and loved it. Around that time, the animated Disney film Ben and Me, which I liked, was popular.

In the sixth grade, I read my first classic work of fiction, Oliver Twist. I can date this because I recall we were still living in Cambridge at the time. I don’t believe I finished it.

There is a key section in the novel where Oliver Twist, who had been forced to join the arch villain Fagin and his gang of boy pickpockets, escapes. He is taken in in a house where he is comfortable and protected. But then he looks out the window one day and there is Fagin peering in at him. Fagin has found out where Oliver is and gets him back. This scene really scared me.

Toby Tyler; or, Ten Weeks with a Circus, is a wonderful novel by James Otis. I read it when I was around 11 or 12. Toby runs away to join the circus. At the end of the book, his pet monkey, Mr. Stubbs, dies. It was such an incredibly sad scene. How it moved me!

Around this time (sixth grade), I had thoughts about becoming a forest ranger. I was a fan of Smokey the Bear. I think, in retrospect, that I may have been attracted to the career of forest ranger because I was a bit of a loner and the idea of a career with a lot of solitude appealed to me. Anyway, my parents gave me as a gift a young adult book about forest ranger careers.

 

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Also at this time, when we were still living in Cambridge, my parents gave me as a gift The Fireside Book of Baseball, an anthology, and later they gave me The Second Fireside Book of Baseball. I still have these books and treasure them.

These two anthologies were full of great baseball writing, from journalism to fiction. There was work by outstanding sportswriters, like W. C. Heinz’s “The Strange Career of Pistol Pete,” about Dodger outfielder Pete Reiser whose brilliant career ended abruptly due to injuries. There was a spellbinding story by Zane Grey, “The Redheaded Outfield,” which is lyrical and poetic.

There were wonderful photographs. One, for example, showed second basemen Bobby Avila and Red Schoendienst completing  double plays. Scheondienst is leaping over the runner at second base and leaning on the runner’s shoulders, draped over him, as he makes the throw to first. The photo made such an impression on me that I tried to reenact the play with a friend.

 

 

Bobby Avila doubleplay

 

 

 

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There were great editorial cartoons. One, for example, by Willard Mullin of the New York World-Telegram, was about the “phantom double play.” There was a depiction of an infielder pirouetting around second base like a ballet dancer while making the throw to first and neglecting to put his foot on the bag. The caption read, “The double play is a thing of real beauty. …  Let’s not cheapen it with the phantom phonies.” See my post at
https://rogersgleanings.com/2017/10/18/the-phantom-double-play/

I spent hours with the Fireside books and derived great pleasure from them.

When I was about 11, I started reading young adult sports fiction, mostly about baseball, though I do remember reading one about sandlot football players. The books would frequently have a moral. For example, I read one which concludes with the protagonist, in a key game, admitting to the umpire, who had called him safe, that he was really out. The protagonist gains in moral stature.

Around this time, I read a series of baseball books for young adults by Duane Decker, the Blue Sox series, about a fictional professional baseball team.

 

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I also read the Black Stallion books by Walter Farley and enjoyed them very much.

When I was around 12, we had a dog, Missy, a shepherd collie who had puppies and who died suddenly and tragically, devastating me; I was so devoted to her.

 

 

Missy ca. 1958

 

There was an excellent series of factual, how to books for young adults published by Random House, the All-About Books. I read the one on dogs, avidly and studiously. The different sections (topics) would always have a subsection: if you have a dog in the city. I wondered what that would be like.

There was a lot of material, as would be expected, on how to care for your dog. There was also a lot of information about the different breeds. I became expert at identifying them.

 

 

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Some additional items from my childhood and young adult reading.

“Little Black Sambo.” This is story which we took delight in that my Mom would read to us:

The Story of Little Black Sambo is a children’s book written and illustrated by Helen Bannerman, and first published by Grant Richards [who, by the way, was an editor for Theodore Dreiser] in October 1899 as one in a series of small-format books called The Dumpy Books for Children. The story was a children’s favorite for more than half a century though criticism began as early as 1932. The word sambo was deemed a racial slur in some countries and the illustrations considered reminiscent of “darky iconography.” Both text and illustrations have undergone considerable revision since. (Wikipedia)

The Story of Little Black Sambo is a simple, illustrated children’s story about a young Indian boy who outsmarts four tigers that threaten to eat him. After Sambo saves himself by giving each tiger an article of his gaudy outfit, the tigers argue among themselves over which of them is the grandest. Eventually, the tigers chase each other around a tree so fast that they simply blur into butter, which Sambo takes home and uses on 169 pancakes that his mother, Black Mumbo, makes for him. (from a plot summary on another website)

I recall there was something about pancakes. My mother liked pancakes. She often made them for us.

Uncle Wiggily was a series of children’s books by Howard R. Garris. My mom introduced us to them. I loved them.

Uncle Wiggily is an elderly, avuncular rabbit who wears spectacles, and there are a lot of other animal characters. The books are lighthearted and fun. The color illustrations were superb.

Make Way for Ducklings is a children’s picture book written and illustrated by Robert McCloskey. It was my  mother (you guessed it) who introduced us to the book. The story is about a duck family led by a mother duck that walks around Boston. They wind up at the Boston Common and ride on the swan boats. The plot is simple and charming; the black and white illustrations are superb (very realistic but simple and just right for children). The book won the 1942 Caldecott Medal for McCloskey’s illustrations.

The book was excellent in every respect, but what made it particularly enjoyable was that it was set in Boston and ends with the ducklings on the Boston Common. I used to love to go to the Boston Common and loved the swan boats.

Babar the Elephant by Jean de Brunhoff. My mother purchased Babar and read it to me numerous times. I was absolutely charmed by it. The color illustrations were wonderful. My Mom loved Babar too, naturally.

Dr. Seuss. These books were a kind of late discovery in my elementary school years. My mother introduced me to them, I believe. The ones I liked were The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins and Scrambled Eggs Super! Many of his most famous classics hadn’t come out yet.

 

 

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Some of my other favorite boyhood reading.

The short story “Alibi Ike” by Ring Lardner. It was in the Fireside Book of Baseball, which I have discussed above.

“Alibi Ike” is a gem of a story. I believe it is one of the best short stories ever written. It is told in the first person by an illiterate baseball player, one of Alibi Ike’s teammates. (Ring Lardner was a sports columnist.) The tone of the story is pitch perfect, and it has an irresistible narrative flow. It ends with the memorable words (spoken by Alibi Ike) “they claim it helps a cold.” (One has to read the story to know why this is a perfect ending.)

When I was a sophomore in high school, I wrote a short story that I modeled closely on “Alibi Ike,” writing in the same run-on narrative style. It was about a one armed pitcher. Our teacher let me read part of it to the class. They liked it.

Also in the anthology The Fireside Book of Baseball there was an excerpt from Mark Harris’s novel The Southpaw. It’s a baseball novel, written, as is “Alibi Ike,” in the first person. The narrator, Henry Wiggen, is a star rookie pitcher for the New York Mammoths, a team modeled on the Yankees. The narrative style, the prose, the rhythm and pacing are, again, infectious. Harris invents a whole team, and in an appendix there is a roster. There is a lot of humor. The first baseman on the fictional team, the Mammoths, is Sid Goldman (modeled on Hank Greenberg?), who is Jewish. The main character, Henry Wiggen, gets invited to the Goldman family home in the Bronx for dinner. He eats strange (for him) Jewish food such as what he calls “filter fish.”

There are two or three sequels that Harris wrote to The Southpaw. Recently, I tried to read one or two, but didn’t find them nearly as good.

 

 

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A final comment about reading. It goes without saying how pleasurable and profitable it can be. How you can do it anytime, anywhere at little expense. (I think that books at current prices are still a great bargain.) How great it is to curl up with a book and how it is something you can always resort to when you are lonely or can’t sleep.

I think that to love reading, you have to begin by doing it because of intrinsic interest in the topic and because you are anticipating pleasure, not because you regard it as a duty. You should read whatever you like to; it could be books about sports, entertainment figures, lowbrow fiction, whatever you really and truly want to read.

Whenever (and this comment pertains mainly to classics) you are restricted to encountering good books only as school assignments, when that’s the only place where you encounter them, the game is lost. If you think that classic books are those that you are required to analyze and write essay exam questions on, and nothing more, you will probably not enjoy them in later life. My counsel to all readers, especially young ones, is read whatever you want to read, as much as you can. Seek a level where you have a genuine interest and read at that level. An interest in the best books will often follow.

I am very appreciative that my parents established a sound foundation for enjoyment of reading. They communicated it naturally, like one might convey to one’s offspring an enthusiasm for sports. Reading was seldom a chore for me, and only then, infrequently, from assignments in school. Good literature was something I came to appreciate naturally, while at the same time feeling I could read whatever I liked. I was able to develop my own interests this way, like reading baseball books, for example. I developed highbrow tastes gradually, without being aware that I was doing so.

 


— Roger W. Smith,

   August 2015