Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Updike and the Splendid Splinter, for those scoring at home

For anyone wondering, John Updike's famous essay, "Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu," on Ted Williams' final game was referenced into the fourth paragraph of his obit in The Guardian in England. The New York Times put it in the 11th paragraph.

In keeping with some of Updike's themes, one has to feel guilty for being able to quote part of the Williams essay ... Like a feather caught in a vortex, Williams ran around the square of bases at the center of our beseeching screaming. 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 ... which isn't even from the best part of the essay. It was not even the best piece of writing produced from that day, Sept. 29, 1960.

Rereading Updike now, having devoured it as a younger reader, what sticks out is the part about baseball is the one team game where a loner can flourish.
"But of all team sports, baseball, with its graceful intermittences of action, its immense and tranquil field sparsely settled with poised men in white, its dispassionate mathematics, seems to me best suited to accommodate, and be ornamented by, a loner. It is an essentially lonely game."
That is it in a nutshell, even you can see Updike making it about himself.

The funny part is that out of that day, Ed Linn, who was there for Sport magazine, wrote one of the best pieces of his career. It was the kind of blend into the background and observe piece, but it was in keeping with most of the writing about Ted Williams, as a cranky guy who was very particular, but was a genius at baseball (like another leftfielder named Barry Bonds, as Sports On My Mind noted).

It is nowhere near as widely quoted, although when a book called Impossible Dreams: A Red Sox Anthology was published in 2003 (conveniently, just before Boston fans become completely insufferable), the Linn piece was included.

It's worth picking up. One should go for Ed Linn making writing accessible over John Updike making it look impossible every day of the week.

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