Siberian Baseball

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

We'll miss you, Mr. Updike

John Updike died today and aside from his numerous contributions to the educational canons of most major colleges and universities - he was a personal favorite of mine during my first attempt at college - he is fairly well known for his account of Ted Williams' last day at Fenway.

While I'd be hard pressed to quote anything he wrote word for word (and I doubt I could even do justice with a loose paraphrasing at this point) I always liked Updike's work because it seemed honest and never reached too far for my tastes.

I dug that about him.

The full text of Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu is available here. A nice slice of the work is at the end of this post as well.

I'll miss you, Mr. Updike. Anyone who can compare Williams' tenure with the Red Sox as a marriage, subject to the ups, downs, scuffles and tender moments is someone that understands a lot about life and baseball and if that's what ends up on my tombstone, I'll consider it a victory.

First, there was the by now legendary epoch when the young bridegroom came out of the West, announced "All I want out of life is that when I walk down the street folks will say 'There goes the greatest hitter who ever lived.'" The dowagers of local journalism attempted to give elementary deportment lessons to this child who spake as a god, and to their horror were themselves rebuked.

Thus began the long exchange of backbiting, bat-flipping, booing, and spitting that has distinguished Williams' public relations. The spitting incidents of 1957 and 1958 and the similar dockside courtesies that Williams has now and then extended to the grandstand should be judged against this background: the left-field stands at Fenway for twenty years have held a large number of customers who have bought their way in primarily for the privilege of showering abuse on Williams. Greatness necessarily attracts debunkers, but in Williams' case the hostility has been systematic and unappeasable. His basic offense against the fans has been to wish that they weren't there.

Seeking a perfectionist's vacuum, he has quixotically desired to sever the game from the ground of paid spectatorship and publicity that supports it. Hence his refusal to tip his cap to the crowd or turn the other cheek to newsmen. It has been a costly theory—it has probably cost him, among other evidences of good will, two Most Valuable Player awards, which are voted by reporters—but he has held to it from his rookie year on.

While his critics, oral and literary, remained beyond the reach of his discipline, the opposing pitchers were accessible, and he spanked them to the tune of .406 in 1941. He slumped to .356 in 1942 and went off to war.



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