Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The 50th Anniversary of Ted Williams' last game -- and "Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu"

Fifty years ago today, the Splendid Splinter played his last game and hit a homer in his final at bat. John Updike memorialized the moment in“Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu,” which Charles McGrath described in Sunday's New York Times as "probably the most celebrated baseball essay ever." [To read McGrath's story, click on here.]

McGrath notes that "Updike had actually scheduled an adulterous assignation that day. But when he reached the woman’s apartment, on Beacon Hill, he found that he had been stood up: no one was home. 'So I went, as promised, to the game,' he wrote years later, 'and my virtue was rewarded.' "

Strangely, Updike never wrote another baseball story before or after. For years there was a small letter from Updike framed on the wall of the managing editor's office at Sports Illustrated, declining an offer to write another baseball story and noting the irony that, based on the "Hub Fans" piece, everyone assumed Updike was a baseball aficionado, which, Updike said in his letter, he was not.

Nonetheless, as McGrath writes, "It’s not too much to say that “Hub Fans” changed sportswriting. Affectionately mocking the tradition of sports clich├ęs (as in the title, which didn’t actually appear in any of Boston’s seven dailies at the time, but easily could have), the essay demonstrated that you could write about baseball, of all things, in a way that was personal, intelligent, even lyrical. Updike compares Williams to Achilles, to a Calder mobile, to Donatello’s David, standing on third base as if the bag were the head of Goliath.
"A groundskeeper reminds Updike of Wordsworth’s mushroom gatherers. In a couple of memorable phrases, calling Fenway Park a “lyric little bandbox” that looks “like the inside of an old-fashioned, peeping-type Easter egg,” Updike gave the place a freshly painted sheen, so that if you grew up in Boston, as I did, you could never look at the old ball yard the same way again."

Near the end of Updike's story, he described the moments after Williams' home run, when he refused to emerge from the dugout and doff his cap to the cheering fans: "The papers said that the other players, and even the umpires on the field, begged him to come out and acknowledge us in some way, but he never had and did not now. Gods do not answer letters."
To read "Hub Fans," click here.

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