I tug on my brim. I tug on it, caress it, and tug on it some more. I take the cap off and slap it against my thigh. I hold it to my chest while I wipe my brow. I pat it, brush it, shape it, and put it back on my head. Then I tug on the brim again.
Baseball season is well under way so here’s a baseball story I read recently. It’s Joe Donnelly’s “Bonus Baby” and was recommended to me by Jay at Bibliophilopolis. It’s included in the O. Henry Prize Stories of 2016.
Many baseball stories have a father and son relationship and many of them present life and struggle and wonder along with the game. “Bonus Baby” has all this. Even without baseball, it would be a favorite. Baseball just makes it that much better.
As the narrator pitches, he remembers back to his days growing up in the Midwest where baseball helped him escape his dysfunctional father. Each successful game only gives him more to worry about with his next one. While the reader doesn’t know exactly how old he is, it’s a given that he’s played for a while. The pitcher reminds me in some ways of Dencombe in Henry James’ “The Middle Years”. Past successes don’t outweigh the possibility of future failures:
Baseball had things I could rely on – rules, physics, statistics. It is the world’s most quantifiable sport. Yet it still baffles us. The best hitters still miss two-thirds of the time and the best pitchers still lose a hundred times or more before they’re done. The game was an enigma I couldn’t resist: something I wanted to try to solve even as I knew how far from solving it I might always be.
It’s another story in which I just want to say “Go read it!”
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Because she was a woman, she was given the manager’s dressing room, and Hemmie [the manager] had to dress with the team. He was sixty-one, a heavyweight, and he had a possum tattoed on his belly alongside the name “Georgene”, so he was shy about taking his shirt off in front of people. He hated her for making it necessary. Other than that, he thought she was a tremendous addition to the team.
To use a folksy term that Garrison Keillor might use himself, I would describe his short story “What Did We Do Wrong?” as “a hoot”.
Annie Szemanski becomes the first female Major League baseball player and nobody can deny that she is a great player. This is where Keillor’s satirical abilities come in to play and it leads to some of the funniest writing I’ve read in a while.
Keillor satirizes the fact that society can’t just let a woman play baseball. Because nobody can complain about her abilities, the press and fans decide to complain about her tobacco chewing habit and the tobacco brand she chews:
Then, bottom of the second, when she leaned over in the on-deck circle and dropped a stream of brown juice in the sod, the stadium experienced a moment of thoughtful silence.
And then, Keillor makes the relationship between Annie and her fans the same as a typical, or stereotypical, relationship between a married couple with Annie as the wife and the thousands of fans as the husband. The title comes from one of the many and often hilarious signs that Annie’s fans bring to her games.
This is the first of Keillor’s work I’ve ever read even though I’ve been familiar with him as a celebrity/personality for a long time. This story is included in my copy of Baseball’s Best Short Stories edited by Paul D. Staudohar. I read this story when I selected the Jack of Diamonds for Week 46 of my Deal Me In 2016 short story project. My Deal Me In 2016 list can be found here. Deal Me In is sponsored by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.
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In the more humorous baseball stories I’ve read this year, the players and managers and their friends, family and acquaintances all have a little bit of caricature about them and Damon Runyon’s story “Baseball Hattie” isn’t any different. However, as a female protagonist, Runyan shapes Hattie to be at least a little less stereotypical. She has more strength than many of the women I’ve read in these baseball stories and she doesn’t allow her professional pitcher husband, Haystack Duggeler and his buddy, Armand Fibleman, to control her life. In a brief moment of calculated anger, she actually controls the lives of these two men.
The question I asked as I read the story and what made the story a little better than it would have been is who is this narrator telling the story? We’re not given his name and we don’t know his relationship to the characters; however, he apparently knows Hattie, Haystack, and Armand. In the same manner many of these baseball stories are told, he narrates the way he talks: dialect, poor grammar, slang, etc.
I enjoyed his desparate attempt to be polite while describing Hattie’s former profession prior to marrying her pitcher husband:
It seems that the trouble with Hattie is she is in business up in Harlem, and this business consists of a boarding and rooming house where ladies and gentlemen board and room, and personally I never see anything out of line in the matter, but the rumor somehow gets around, as rumors will do, that in the first place, it is not a boarding and rooming house, and in the second place that the ladies and gentlemen who room and board there are by no means ladies and gentlemen, and especially ladies.
I guess I can say that there is somewhat of a cuteness to the story but it’s not at the top my list of stories I would recommend.
This story is included in my copy of Baseball’s Best Short Stories edited by Paul D. Staudohar. I read it when I selected the Four of Diamonds for Week 35 of my Deal Me In 2016 short story project. My Deal Me In 2016 list can be found here. Deal Me In is sponsored by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.
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After a while, Magee himself, who had been awake for some thirty-two hours, drifted into an easy sleep. He dreamed his usual dream, the one in which he had found his stuff and was on the mound at Three Rivers throwing seven different kinds of smoke.
“Smoke” by Michael Chabon asks the question: Which is better – to see your mediocre baseball career go further down the tubes or to be dead? Matt Magee, the mediocre pitcher, asks himself the question as he attends the funeral of his catcher, Eli Drinkwater.
Is there ever a specific answer? No. But as Magee interacts with an aging sportswriter and Eli’s wife and son, we can start to make out the answer in Magee’s mind. Of course, we can’t really get Drinkwater’s perspective because he is – uhh – dead.
While a very nice story, I admit I was a little disappointed as the writing style and humor didn’t hit me the way it did in Chabon’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay (the topic of my first post here at Mirror With Clouds) or his collection of funny essays Manhood for Amateurs.
I selected this story when I drew the Six of Diamonds for Week 29 of my Deal Me In 2016 short story project. My Deal Me In 2016 list can be found here. Deal Me In is sponsored by Jay at Bibliophilopolis. This story is included in my copy of Baseball’s Best Short Stories edited by Paul D. Staudohar.
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It’s Week 23 of my Deal Me In 2016 short story project and I’ve selected another Diamond which corresponds to stories about baseball and the Seven of Diamonds meant I read Herbert Warren Wind’s short story “The Master’s Touch”. After this story, I only have three more Diamonds left and we’re not even at the halfway point for the year. Who would have thought those Deal Me In fates were such baseball fans?
My Deal Me In 2016 list can be found here. Deal Me In is sponsored by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.
The premise of “The Master’s Touch” is relatively funny. A surly old general manager goes head-to-head with an up and coming Hollywood bombshell over a minor league prospect. But aside from the premise, there really isn’t much going on here. It’s pleasant and enjoyable and that’s about it. Paul D. Staudohar, the editor of Baseball’s Best Short Stories in which this story is included, calls it a baseball “yarn” which I think is a good description.
I can’t say the writing is great. If I had to pick something interesting for a quotation, it would be this tongue lashing by Priscilla, the bombshell, to Shepherd, the surly old general manager:
Priscilla measured Shepherd coolly. “Get this through that great brain of yours, Grandpa,” she said. “I don’t give a damn about you and your precious baseball. If I want to marry that outfielder of yours or whatever he is, I’m going to, and there’s nothing you or anybody else can do about it. Do I make myself clear?”
Ha! She called him “Grandpa!”
I did find one point of interest in this story. According to Staudohar’s introduction, Herbert Warren Wind was known for his non-fiction writing about tennis and golf. I find it thought-provoking that for fiction he selected baseball. Someday I’m going to have to put a little more concrete into my theory that baseball makes for better fiction than most sports. For right now, it will have to stay at a theory that’s fuzzy but appears to be true.
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It wasn’t long before he got out of his chair, though, and lay on the grass, just like he always used to do, lying relaxed all over just like an animal. I was a little bit embarrassed at first, I reckon, and maybe he was, too, for we hadn’t sort of sat down together like that for near fifteen years, and he had been away and been a big league pitcher, at the top of his profession almost, and here he was back. He must have been thinking along the same lines, for after he had been there on the grass a while he gave a sort of laugh and said, “Well, we sure did have some pretty good times when we were kids going around this country with our guns, didn’t we?” I said we sure did. I don’t know whether Luke really liked to remember the times we had or whether he was just polite and trying to get in touch with me again, so to speak.
I love the sidekick narrator. Robert Penn Warren’s short story “Goodwood Comes Back” gives a great example of one. Unnamed, the narrator, as a kid, hangs out (or is allowed to hang out) with his more popular friend, Luke Goodwood. Luke also happens to be very good at baseball unlike the narrator.
From the grown up narrator, the reader learns of Luke’s small southern town ways as well as his almost but not quite successful baseball career. Much of the story revolves around a little bit of childhood reminiscing on the narrator’s part and some brief encounters with Luke after he returns from his baseball career. The title implies Luke’s return home; however, he’s not the only one who has left. The narrator himself has left and only runs into Luke when he returns home to visit his sister. While the reader never gets answers, it seems as though the narrator perhaps has become more successful than Luke but still has a little bit of the childhood awe he used to feel.
This story is a great example of comparison and contrast between the sidekick and his friend. Warren’s writing style is simple, stripped down, with some southern dialect that works well.
I read this story when I selected the King of Diamonds for my Deal Me In 2016 short story project. It’s included in my copy of Baseball’s Best Short Stories edited by Paul D. Staudohar. My Deal Me In 2016 list can be found here. Deal Me In is sponsored by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.
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It’s Week 18 of my Deal Me In 2016 short story project and its also well into Baseball season – and the Deal Me In fates seem to know that as this week I drew the Five of Diamonds and read William Heuman’s short story “Brooklyns Lose”. Diamonds is the suit I’ve given to stories about baseball and this is my second Diamond story in a row – not to mention that Diamonds are by far the cards I’ve chosen the most of so far in 2016. My Deal Me In 2016 list can be found here. Deal Me In is sponsored by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.
I could find very little about William Heuman on the internet. It seems he is known for writing baseball stories and westerns. “Brooklyns Lose”, according to the story’s introduction in Baseball’s Best Short Stories edited by Paul D. Staudohar, was first published in Sports Illustrated in 1954 which was the first year of existence for the magazine.
The story is relatively short and begins when Joe Armbruster and his son are leaving Ebbets Field after Brooklyn loses to Cincinnati in a close game. Joe narrates his frustration with his team losing and with everyone’s opinion about why they lost – including his son’s. He makes it home to his wife and brother-in-law who don’t do anything to help Joe’s irritation.
He eventually hangs out with his neighbors and begins to get into the give and take conversation about his team and baseball in general.
That’s it for the story; however, what makes it so delightful is the Brooklyn-ese with which Joe and all of his friends and family speak:
“He didn’t put Kluszewski on, neither,” this guy says grinning. “Klu hit it an’ kept goin’.”
This guy jokes, yet. This is a time for jokes when you have a ball game sewed up eight-to-seven in the ninth, and you lose it with a home-run ball.
I look out the window, and the guy says, “So tomorrow’s another day.”
I don’t even look at him. That kind of guy I don’t look at.
You might compare Joe and his wife to a younger version of Jerry Seinfeld’s fictional parents.