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February 4, 2009

The Whammer and three pitches

This is the winter of our discontent. Quite frankly I am sick of the cold, sick of the bleak landscape, sick of huddling in my house to escape the wind and the chill. I would be surprised if you didn't feel the same way.

So, I've decided to read a book about baseball. What better way to think about summer and warmer times than to read about baseball? And not just any book about baseball, thanks to a suggestion from Freealonzo, I am reading The Natural by Bernard Malamud.

Originally published in 1952, the The Natural is a relatively short book that would later be turned into a movie of the same name starring Robert Redford. Again, I'd be surprised if you haven't seen it.

Do you remember the scene in the beginning of the movie where the young Roy Hobbs strikes out the Ruthian character of the Whammer? Here is how the author describes the three pitches of that epic duel:

"Roy stretched loosely, rocked back on his left leg, twirling the right a little like a dancer, then strode forward and threw with such force his knuckles all but scraped the ground on the follow-through.

A thirty-three the Whammer still enjoyed exceptional eye-sight. He saw the ball spin off Roy's fingertips and it reminded him of a white pigeon he had kept as a boy, that he would send into flight by flipping it into the air. The ball flew at him and he was conscious of its bird-form and white flapping wings, until it suddenly disappeared from view. He heard a noise like the bang of a firecracker at his feet and Sam had the ball in his mitt. Unable to believe his ears he heard Mercy intone a reluctant strike."

Beautiful, no? Very descriptive and it allows the reader to imagine and visualize with great detail what this pitch looked like to the Whammer. Here is the second pitch:

"Roy pumped, reared and flung.

The ball appeared to the batter to be a slow spinning planet looming toward the earth. For a long light-year he waited for this globe to whirl into the orbit of his swing so he could bust it to smithereens that would settle with dust and dead leaves into some distant cosmos. At last the unseeing eye, maybe a fortuneteller's lit crystal ball -- anyway, a curious combination of circles -- drifted within range of his weapon, or so he thought, because he lunged at it ferociously, twisting round like a top. He landed on both knees as the world floated by over his head and hit with a whup into the cave of Sam's glove."

The Whammer's determination to really crush the ball comes out in this passage. I must admit I feel this way every time I go to hit a golf ball. Now the third pitch:

"The third ball slithered at the batter like a meteor, the flame swallowing itself. He lifted his club to crush it into a universe of sparks but the heavy wood dragged, and though he willed to destroy the sound, he heard a gong bong and realized with sadness that the ball he had expected to hit had long since been part of the past; and though Max could not cough the fatal word out of his throat, the Whammer understood he was, in the truest sense of it, out."

In this passage, the Whammer again wants to crush the ball but his confidence is gone, and he is almost resigned to his fate of whiffing again.

Planets and meteors and pigeons. Some interesting ways to describe three pitches. Reading this yesterday ... it almost felt like it was summer.

Posted by snackeru at February 4, 2009 8:34 AM


What's really interesting is that Malamud was basically an effete Jewish intellectual. How he was able to evoke the sights, patterns, sounds of early 20th Century baseball is amazing.

Although is the story a retelling of Aurthorian Legend? Wonderboy=Excalibar, New York Knights= Knights of the Round table, etc.

Posted by: Freealonzo at February 6, 2009 3:16 PM

Funny how referendums can all at once be the enemy of progress and the backbone of democracy.

Posted by: Don at February 9, 2009 12:24 PM

Thanks for the comment Don. And to everyone else trying to get through, try to be like Don. Try to have a little intelligence in your comment. I can understand if you don't agree with me (on whatever issue), just don't write a stupid comment that doesn't actually advance any dialogue. Be like Don!

Posted by: Shane at February 9, 2009 2:50 PM

Over at Rick's Blog, he said this:

But I will admit that, while I was listening to today's talk about a front door for the fans, while standing there in the ballroom of one of the fanciest hotels in town, I began to wonder just how many "common fans" will be heading out to this ballpark.

Has this project started to slip from a ballpark of the common fan to a ballpark of the wealthy (fan or no)? Will I take my kids there or be taken there by somebody trying to sell me office supplies?

I guess I'm not even sure this would be a bad thing, except for the reality that some of us here might be ultimately excluded.

It's not a conclusion I've reached, but a question I've begun to ponder more and more."

I bet Spycake read that and said I was there 2 years ago!

Posted by: Freealonzo at February 12, 2009 3:14 PM


Posted by: Shane at February 17, 2009 1:01 PM

Shane, there's another alternative. I'm not opposed at all to books about baseball, because it inspires better literature and movies than any other sport. But spring and summer in these parts will arrive in their own good time, and not a moment before. So why not embrace what is good about the season that we are currently blessed with - basketball. Specifically, take a look at Pat Conroy's beautifully written basketball memoir, entitled My Losing Season. Here are a couple excerpts from the dust jacket blurb:

"I was born to be a point guard, but not a very good one. . . .There was a time in my life when I walked through the world known to myself and others as an athlete. It was part of my own definition of who I was and certainly the part I most respected. When I was a young man, I was well-built and agile and ready for the rough and tumble of games, and athletics provided the single outlet for a repressed and preternaturally shy boy to express himself in public....I lost myself in the beauty of sport and made my family proud while passing through the silent eye of the storm that was my childhood."
So begins Pat Conroy's journey back to 1967 and his startling realization "that this season had been seminal and easily the most consequential of my life."

In fast-paced exhilarating games, readers will laugh in delight and cry in disappointment. But as the story continues, we gradually see the self-professed "mediocre" athlete merge into the point guard whose spirit drives the team. He rallies them to play their best while closing off the shouts of "Don't shoot, Conroy" that come from the coach on the sidelines.

Posted by: ofergopher at February 19, 2009 9:15 AM

Thanks for the suggestion ofergopher! I will most definitely check this book out. I have already put it on hold at my library!

I'll let you know what I think of it.

Posted by: Shane at February 19, 2009 10:28 AM

Conroy's theory is that we learn much more about ourselves in defeat than in victory. Tonight, February 19, the University of Minnesota is truly an institution of much higher learning.

Posted by: ofergopher at February 19, 2009 11:03 PM

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