Successfully reported this slideshow.
We use your LinkedIn profile and activity data to personalize ads and to show you more relevant ads. You can change your ad preferences anytime.

"Hub Fans Bid Rabbit Adieu"


Published on

A slideshow presented at the 14th annual "Baseball in Literature and Culture" conference, March 2009, Murfreesboro TN.

Published in: Sports
  • Be the first to comment

  • Be the first to like this

"Hub Fans Bid Rabbit Adieu"

  1. 1. Baseball in Literature and Culture, 2009 MTSU, 3.27.09 – The Inevitable Last Pitch: Fans Bid Rabbit Adieu Thank you for welcoming a philosopher, to speak to you of a great (but mortal) slugger and a literary lion whose philosophically-rich musings on mortality and the fullness of life I so much admire. [E] But as a resident of this university I feel as though I should really be welcoming you to our campus and to Murfreesboro (specifically, the corner of College and Spring) – where it really does matter most how you play the game. [E]
  2. 2. It was my privilege and pleasure to participate in the Cooperstown Symposium in June 2001. I presented a little talk on baseball and transcendence... [E] Trans-end-dance , the ability to move beyond the end, otherwise called the dance of death. -Peter Ackroyd, The Plato Papers
  3. 3. The Inevitable Last Pitch: Adieu to John Updike Abstract "He had met the little death that awaits athletes. He had quit." John Updike's classic 1960 tribute to Ted Williams, "Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu," ended on an appropriate note of mortality. Williams homered in his climactic last at-bat at Fenway Park, and then chose not to accompany the team on a last road-trip to meet the Yankees in New York. It was a "little death": Williams enjoyed many more years of vigorous, eventful life, before a sordid and "cryogenic" exit embarrassingly pocked by public family dysfunction. But before then, he became an even larger-than-life figure as baseball's version of John Wayne. The baseball world revered him, for his persona and his mastery of the art and science of hitting. He collected accolades and tributes aplenty, and his reputation survived the indignity of managing another small death: the Washington Senators' terminal season. But despite the inelegance of his ultimate big death, his Cooperstown pedestal is intact, his legacy remains one of mastery and self-possession. Here I take a close look at Updike's famous essay, and consider it in the light of his own recent passing in January. Our lives are punctuated by many little deaths and capped by the big one, and - as has been observed before - despite baseball's open-ended, un-clocked invitation to a game that in theory might never end, it is in fact one of our best sources of wisdom about how to handle the fact of our own inevitable mortality. John Updike was still swinging for literary fences at the end, and went out on top of his game. Someone should write an appreciation. "Lit Fans Bid Rabbit Adieu..."
  4. 4. Contemporary literature is a rich mine of insight in dialogue with older terminal wisdom. Epicurus said death does not concern either the living or the dead, since for the former it is not, and the latter are no more. More recently Wittgenstein said death is not an event in life. There's NOTHING to be frightened of. Jules Renard: “The word that is most true, most exact, most filled with meaning, is the word 'nothing.'” Julian Barnes, Nothing to Be Afraid Of
  5. 5. Memento mori, “remember death” and seize the day. That's the counsel of most wisdom traditions, not just modern Existentialists. Life does not seem like it is going to end. It is, though, and for your own happiness, you have to train yourself to accept it and keep it in mind. Conventional wisdom. But once you school yourself in the awareness and acceptance of death, you have to try to forget it again. We worry about death because we worry we aren't living. Pay attention to living fully and you won't worry about death. Carpe vitam. Seize the life. Jennifer Michael Hecht, The Happiness Myth
  6. 6. Doubleday Field, Cooperstown
  7. 7. I have published a few other scattered thoughts on the philosophical significance of baseball. For instance - [E] There is a marvelous moment in the film Manhattan when Woody Allen's alter ego wonders why life is worth living. He compiles a list including, among other "things that make it worthwhile," Willie Mays … [N]
  8. 8. But the simple truth is that I am a baseball fan. I would have pushed my way into this venue whatever my particular academic or other vocation, and even if I'd had to travel further to get here than just down the hall.
  9. 9. The literary and cinematic worlds have long attended to baseball. Think of Bernard Malamud's – or is it Robert Redford's? - Roy Hobbs.
  10. 10. Poets have channeled the baseball muse. Whitman was probably the first to champion “our game”... William Carlos Williams celebrated its marvelous "spirit of uselessness" - The crowd at the ball game Is moved uniformly by a spirit of uselessness which delights them...
  11. 11. Updike's own evocation of the Fenway crowd on that autumn afternoon a half-century ago compares favorably to WCW's. Two girls, one of them with pert buckteeth and eyes as black as vest buttons, the other with white skin and flesh-colored hair, like an underdeveloped photograph of a redhead, came and sat on my right. On my other side was one of those frowning, chestless young-old men who can frequently be seen, often wearing sailor hats, attending ball games alone... [LOA 311]
  12. 12. Tao in the Yankee Stadium Bleachers by John Updike Distance brings proportion. From here the populated tiers as much as players seem part of the show: a constructed stage beast, three folds of Dante’s rose, or a Chinese military hat cunningly chased with bodies. “ Falling from his chariot, a drunk man is unhurt because his soul is intact. Not knowing his fall, he is unastonished, he is invulnerable.” So, too, the “pure man”—“pure” in the sense of undisturbed water... Tao in the Yankee Stadium Bleachers by John Updike Distance brings proportion. From here the populated tiers as much as players seem part of the show: a constructed stage beast, three folds of Dante’s rose, or a Chinese military hat cunningly chased with bodies. “ Falling from his chariot, a drunk man is unhurt because his soul is intact. Not knowing his fall, he is unastonished, he is invulnerable.” So, too, the “pure man”—“pure” in the sense of undisturbed water... (More baseball poems and songs )
  13. 13. For some of us that is when it stops , in the salutary sense of transcendence. ( Transcendence , again, as I think of it, is about coming to terms with death in a way that allows one to enjoy and celebrate life.)
  14. 14. Perhaps the most obvious way to describe nature time is to call it baseball time, referring to a game in which the clock technically plays no role and which conceivably could last to infinity, tied to the end... Sitting in the afternoon sun in Wrigley Field provides the urban dweller a natural cranny, nestled among the tenements and elevated trains, a space in which time is defeated, halted and sent scurrying. -John J. McDermott “ Let's play two!”
  15. 15. Academics and scholars in many fields have been drawn, like the late Renaissance scholar and baseball commissioner Bart Giamatti, to the “green fields of the mind.” [E] Writing with un-scholastic passion of the inner fields of play, he entreated us all to “take time for paradise.”
  16. 16. What is the special appeal of this game, for intellectuals? Giamatti said it may be the only game slow enough for them to understand. (No insult intended.) [E] Some grow out of sports. Others were born with the wisdom to know that nothing lasts. I am a simpler creature... I need to think something lasts forever, and it might as well be a game... in a green field, in the sun. A. Bartlett Giamatti (1938-1989)
  17. 17. Roger Angell notes a remarkable similarity between baseball and reading, as acts of reflective delight. Angell is a baseball philosopher, as much as literary light (and Updike's editor at The New Yorker. ) Updike’s writing is light and springy, the tone unforced; often happiness is almost in view, despite age or disappointments. He is not mawkish or insistently gloomy. Death is frequently mentioned but for the time being is postponed. Time itself is bendable... The Fadeaway , 2.9.09
  18. 18. "The game is a repository of age-old American verities . . . and yet at the same time a mirror of the present moment..." Ken Burns [E] A short lineup of baseball intellectuals - Robert Frost A. Bartlett Giamatti Doris Kearns Goodwin Stephen Jay Gould David Halberstam Donald Hall Christopher Lehmann-Haupt Bernard Malamud John Updike William Carlos Williams Morris R. Cohen...
  19. 19. Among the literary stars featured in the Library of America's baseball volume: Damon Runyan Carl Sandburg William Carlos Williams Thomas Wolfe James Thurber Nelson Algren Bernard Malamud Robert Frost Willie Morris Philip Roth Annie Dillard Richard Ford Don DeLillo
  20. 20. What I do know is that this belonging and caring is what our games are all about; this is what we come for. It is foolish and childish, on the face of it, to affiliate ourselves with anything so insignificant and patently contrived and commercially exploitative as a professional sports team... [But] caring deeply and passionately, really caring— is a capacity or emotion that has almost gone out of our lives. [ENTER] Naivete—the infantile and ignoble joy that sends a grown man or woman to dancing and shouting with joy in the middle of the night over the hap-hazardous flight of a distant ball—seems a small price to pay for such a gift. -from Five Seasons
  21. 21. Satchel Paige said that maybe he would "pitch forever," and in the sense of a naturalized concept of eternity maybe he did . [E] 1. Avoid fried meats, which angry up the blood. 2. If your stomach disputes you, lie down and pacify it with cool thoughts. 3. Keep the juices flowing by jangling around gently as you move. 4. Go very light on the vices, such as carrying on in society. The social rumble ain't restful. 5. Avoid running at all times. 6. Don't look back. Something might be gaining on you. —Satchel Paige's "Guide to Longevity"
  22. 22. Popular song has mythologized ballplayers, usually to their perplexity. DiMaggio himself did not understand, telling Paul Simon: "What I don't understand is why you ask where I've gone. I just did a Mr. Coffee commercial. . . . I haven't gone anywhere." (New York Times, 9 March 1999).
  23. 23. Some philosophers have also taken a special interest in the game. (Others have not... William James, for instance.) [E] The pragmatist Morris R. Cohen (1880-1947) published an essay entitled “Baseball as a National Religion” and reported actually bringing the idea to James's attention. "When my revered friend and teacher William James wrote an essay called The Moral Equivalent of War , I suggested to him that baseball already embodied all the moral value of war, so far as war had any moral value. He listened sympathetically and was amused, but he did not take me seriously enough. All great men have their limitations.” The Dial , 26 July 1919).
  24. 24. Annie Savoy's “Church of Baseball” took Cohen's idea seriously. I believe in the Church of Baseball. I've tried all the major religions, and most of the minor ones. I've worshipped Buddha, Allah, Brahma, Vishnu, Siva, trees, mushrooms, and Isadora Duncan. I know things. [E] For instance, there are 108 beads in a Catholic rosary and there are 108 stitches in a baseball. When I heard that, I gave Jesus a chance. But it just didn't work out between us. The Lord laid too much guilt on me. I prefer metaphysics to theology. You see, there's no guilt in baseball, and it's never boring... [slow, reflective, linear, meditative at times, but NEVER boring]
  25. 25. The game (if not always its players) is a repository of wisdom. One essay in this Open Court volume is called “Socrates at the Ballpark”... Another, about Ted Williams, is “The Zen of Hitting ”...
  26. 27. Theodore Samuel "Ted" Williams (August 30, 1918–July 5, 2002) TED, KID, SPLINTER, THUMPER, TW, MISTER WONDERFUL
  27. 28. The other simple truth accounting for my topic today: I am an Updike fan.
  28. 29. Updike may appear to yearn for the supernatural, but in fact his books are full of appreciation for the natural, simple satisfactions of everyday life. He would love nothing more, it seems, than to "be a self forever." That's still how I read him. I wish he could be a self forever, here amongst the selves we're sure of, for my own selfish reasons as one of his most admiring readers; and because he was the theist whose charm and intelligence and humanity most tempered my inclination to dismiss theism as nothing but the residue of pre-scientific superstition.
  29. 30. JOHN UPDIKE March 18, 1932 - January 27, 2009 Winner, PULITZER PRIZE for Fiction 1982 (RABBIT IS RICH) & 1991 (RABBIT AT REST)
  30. 31. April 26, 1968 Updike gained public notoriety for his frank chronicles of the salacious suburban sexual revolution of the '60s, but his interests and enthusiasm ranged far and wide, and included our game. Inexplicably, he may have loved golf more. He called himself more a fan of Williams than of baseball .
  31. 32. 1972 2005 1999 1968 1951
  32. 33. Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu by John Updike October 22, 1960 NYker Fenway Park, in Boston, is a lyric little bandbox of a ballpark. Everything is painted green and seems in curiously sharp focus, like the inside of an old-fashioned peeping-type Easter egg...
  33. 34. Youth, Maturity, and Age; or Thesis, Antithesis, and Synthesis; or Jason , Achilles, and Nestor* Hegel Society *[see Updike in Cincinnati ]
  34. 35. If this was a tragedy, Williams was Hamlet. But – ironically, appallingly, repulsively – he would become Yorick...
  35. 36. Updike in 2002: Ted took his time leaving this world, and he's not quite out of it yet. He is cryonically frozen in Arizona, drained of blood and upside down but pretty much intact, waiting for whatever resurrection technology can eventually produce...
  36. 37. Ted Williams Frozen In Two Pieces Meant To Be Frozen In Time; Head Decapitated, Cracked, DNA Missing NEW YORK, August 12, 2003 (AP) Ted Williams was decapitated by surgeons at the cryonics company where his body is suspended in liquid nitrogen, and several samples of his DNA are missing, Sports Illustrated reported. The magazine's report, appearing in the issue that hits newsstands Wednesday, is based on internal documents, e-mails, photographs and tape recordings supplied by a former employee of Alcor Life Extension Foundation. After Williams died July 5, 2002, his body was taken by private jet to the company in Scottsdale, Ariz. There, Williams' body was separated from his head in a procedure called neuroseparation, according to the magazine. The operation was completed and Williams' head and body were preserved separately. The head is stored in a steel can filled with liquid nitrogen. It has been shaved, drilled with holes and accidentally cracked 10 times, the magazine said. Williams' body stands upright in a 9-foot tall cylindrical steel tank, also filled with liquid nitrogen.
  37. 38. “ Amortality ” - recently spotted by Time as one of “10 ideas changing the world right now” - The defining characteristic of amortality is to live in the same way, at the same pitch, doing and consuming much the same things, from late teens right up until death. Amortals don't just dread extinction. They deny it. Ray Kurzweil, Aubrey de Grey...
  38. 39. After a prime so harassed and hobbled, Williams was granted by the relenting fates a golden twilight. He became at the end of his career perhaps the best old hitter of the century.
  39. 40. "I feel terrible," he confessed, "but every time I take a swing at the ball it goes out of the park." [N] He was ancient in 1957: 39 In 1960:
  40. 41. He struck the pose of Donatello's David, the third-base bag being Goliath's head.
  41. 42. As he slid across the plate, the ball, thrown with unusual heft by Jackie Brandt, the Oriole center fielder, hit him on the back. "Boy, he was really loafing, wasn't he?" one of the boys behind me said. "It's cold," the other explained. "He doesn't play well when it's cold. He likes heat. He's a hedonist."
  42. 43. Whenever Williams appeared at the plate—pounding the dirt from his cleats, gouging a pit in the batter's box with his left foot, wringing resin out of the bat handle with his vehement grip, switching the stick at the pitcher with an electric ferocity— it was like having a familiar Leonardo appear in a shuffle of Saturday Evening Post covers. This man, you realized—and here, perhaps, was the difference, greater than the difference in gifts—really intended to hit the ball.
  43. 44. Understand that we were a crowd of rational people. We knew that a home run cannot be produced at will; the right pitch must be perfectly met and luck must ride with the ball. Three innings before, we had seen a brave effort fail. The air was soggy; the season was exhausted. Nevertheless, there will always lurk, around a corner in a pocket of our knowledge of the odds, an indefensible hope, and this was one of the times, which you now and then find in sports, when a density of expectation hangs in the air and plucks an event out of the future.
  44. 45. Fisher, after his unsettling wait, was wide with the first pitch. He put the second one over, and Williams swung mightily and missed. The crowd grunted, seeing that classic swing, so long and smooth and quick, exposed, naked in its failure. Fisher threw the third time, Williams swung again, and there it was.
  45. 46. The ball climbed on a diagonal line into the vast volume of air over center field.
  46. 47. The ball seemed less an object in flight than the tip of a towering, motionless construct, like the Eiffel Tower... Last at bat ...
  47. 48. ...or the Tappan Zee Bridge.
  48. 49. It was in the books while it was still in the sky. Brandt ran back to the deepest corner of the outfield grass; the ball descended beyond his reach and struck in the crotch where the bullpen met the wall, bounced chunkily, and, as far as I could see, vanished.
  49. 50. 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. He didn't tip his cap. Though we thumped, wept, and chanted "We want Ted" for minutes after he hid in the dugout, he did not come back.
  50. 51. Our noise for some seconds passed beyond excitement into a kind of immense open anguish, a wailing, a cry to be saved. But immortality is nontransferable. 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.
  51. 52. The Sox won, 5-4.* On the car radio as I drove home I heard that Williams had decided not to accompany the team to New York. So he knew how to do even that, the hardest thing. Quit. *Baltimore Orioles vs Boston Red Sox September 28, 1960 Box Score
  52. 53. May 26, 2008 "The Full Glass ", by John Updike: A look back over a drink of water Approaching eighty, I sometimes see myself from a little distance, as a man I know but not intimately. Normally I have no use for introspection...
  53. 54. Having been once on earth—can it ever be canceled? Rilke I think not. Celebrate! -John J. McDermott “ The Inevitability of Our Own Death”
  54. 55. Tribute Farewell It is the live performance we remember, the unduplicable presence, the shimmer and sparkle and poignance, perceived from however far back a seat in the audience... The crowd and Ted had always shared what was important, a belief that this boys' game terrifically mattered. -John Updike, “Ted Williams” ( New York Times Magazine) He seemed the concentrated essence of baseball Updike’s sentences are fresh-painted... he is a fabulous noticer and expander
  55. 56. How shall I think about death ? From an evolutionary perspective, death is not a problem at all; it is a solution... Loyal Rue ...the body becomes redundant and eventually dies. But the germ line continues immortally onward in subsequent generations. The death of the body is an essential part of the system.
  56. 57. How Should We Think About Immortality ? Immortality is [best] seen not as an extension of one's life but, rather, as a deepening of it... For a life to be judged immortal in this sense does not mean that it has become invulnerable to death but, rather, that it cannot be rendered meaningless by death. (Woody Allen, by contrast, famously insisted “I don't want to achieve immortality by my work (etc.). I want to achieve it by not dying.”) The objective moral character of the person may endure to inspire meaning in the world [whether or not there is personal “life after death”]... The immortal life is therefore not a life that defeats death but one that defies it by placing each moment in the service of ideals that transcend the person .
  57. 58. The inevitability of my death is now beheld as a necessary condition of my life: a mere entrance fee, to be paid on the way out. If there were no death, there would be no soma line; and without a soma line, there would be no possibility of an embodied person - no memories, no loves, no joys, no wonder or wisdom, no longing or learning. These are among the many splendors of the soma line, and for these we must die.
  58. 59. How then shall I think about death? With gratitude.... I will try to understand my grief as a measure of my gratitude I will attempt to think large. I will try to see that a soma-centered story of the self is a small and impoverished view... Turn grief into gratitude
  59. 60. Ronald Aronson, “Thank Who Very Much?” ...there is much to be grateful for... gratitude to larger and impersonal forces... dependence on the cosmos, the sun, nature, past generations of people, and human society.
  60. 61. All lives, no less my own, are instruments of life itself. I will submerge the gravity of my own death in the long, stern grace of evolution.
  61. 62. Baseball fans understand implicitly the profound generational links that connect us all. “If you build it...”
  62. 63. JOHN DEWEY: A COMMON FAITH 1859-1952 The things in civilization we most prize are not of ourselves. They exist by virtue of the doings and sufferings of the continuous human community in which we are a link...
  63. 65. But because being here amounts to so much, because all this Here and Now, so fleeting, seems to require us and strangely Concerns us. Us the most fleeting of all. Just once, Everything, only for once. Once and no more. And we, too, Once. And never again. But this having been once, though only once, Having been once on earth—can it ever be canceled? Rainer Maria Rilke, Duino Elegies