21 September 2011

The Kid: 1918-2002


This little book first appeared as an essay by John Updike in The New Yorker of October 20, 1960. And then was added to with later footnotes as the essay itself became famous, and finally this little book appeared along with a kind of eulogy in 2010 from The Library of America courtesy of Mr Updike dying the year before. October 1960 was early in the process of Updike becoming famous with his Rabbit books every ten or so years, and before Roger Angell took over the regular baseball desk at that magazine. It was entitled Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu. It told a little of the earlier history of this famous player and then gets more specific as it comes down to Williams' last day as a player at Fenway Park in late September 1960. Very nice and worth reading when you are young and again when you are older. In other words, it goes on the list of recommendations for my grandchildren, sporting or not.

This is one of those books that I discover in old age, wondering why no one ever told me about before. I usually blame my teachers but I suspect, given the publication date, that I was starting to introvert to my medical persona of the '60s. In that life I only remember the old American and National Leagues of eight teams each, all connected by the railroads of the 20s, 30s and 40s. Everybody was a designated hitter though Bob Lemon was better than most. The Millers and the Brewers were AAA teams in those days, nothing major west of St Louis, except the Sticks and then the Pacific Coast League, which still had a certain different aura about it as I was growing up.

Typical wry and understated Updike, instead of saying he went to Harvard College in the '50s and the baseball god of Boston, Tom Yawkey at the time, had failed to sustain the Red Sox with the other necessities to win, he says "by the time I went to college, near Boston, the lesser stars Yawkey had assembled around Williams had faded . . . ."

He goes on to tell of the love/hate relationship the press and Boston had with Williams. Of course, this was standard operating knowledge for juvenile baseball fans of that era. But John Updike puts things together like no one else and ends his tale in late September 1960: "On the car radio as I drove home I heard that Williams, his own man to the end, had decided not to accompany the team to New York. He had met the little death that awaits athletes. He had quit."

4 comments:

Recovering Lutheran said...

The love-hate (mostly hate) relationship between Williams and the Boston sports press was interesting to read about, even if it all happened a bit before my time.

William's book My Turn At Bat was interesting as well, since it had exclusively his point of view. One thing that surprised me - perhaps it shouldn't - was that Williams was as paaionate about fishing as baseball. Maybe more.

Ken & Carol said...

I have it in my library and will seek it out. I think I read it but not memorably. I think he made more money from his outdoor recommendations than he ever made from playing baseball. Sears Roebuck used to have top-of-the-line gear with Williams' name on it. I doubt that he was any more disturbed than a fair number of players today, though perhaps a little more stubborn.

Recovering Lutheran said...

Since baseball books are the topic today, I especially enjoyed Robert Creamer's Babe, David Halberstam's Summer of '49, and Robert Feller's autobiography Now Pitching: Bob Feller. But perhaps my favorite was Mike Sowell's The Pitch That Killed,, which was largely about the fatal beaning of Cleveland shortstop Ray Chapman in 1920, but also included important historical information about the major changes in baseball brought about by the Black Sox scandal and the advent of Babe Ruth.

Ken & Carol said...

Thanks for the tip on Sowell's The Pitch . . .". I've never seen it or heard of it. The others are pretty good, especially Halberstam.

I re-read Williams autobiography quickly. It sounded believable, like a stream of consciousness, probably scrubbed by his editor. Painfully honest at times, adding to its credibility.

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