"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Adieu

John Updike, one America’s most celebrated authors of the post War period, died today.  He was 76.  Here is his lasting contribution to baseball literature, Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu:

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. In the third inning, he hoisted a high fly to deep center. In the fifth, we thought he had it; he smacked the ball hard and high into the heart of his power zone, but the deep right field in Fenway and the heavy air and a casual east wind defeated him. The ball died. Al Pilarcik leaned his back against the big “380″ painted on the right-field wall and caught it. On another day, in another park, it would have been gone. (After the game, Williams said, “I didn’t think I could hit one any harder than that. The conditions weren’t good.”)

The afternoon grew so glowering that in the sixth inning the arc lights were turned on—always a wan sight in the daytime, like the burning headlights of a funeral procession. Aided by the gloom, Fisher was slicing through the Sox rookies, and Williams did not come to bat in the seventh. He was second up in the eighth. This was almost certainly his last time to come to the plate in Fenway Park, and instead of merely cheering, as we had at his three previous appearances, we stood, all of us—stood and applauded. Have you ever heard applause in a ballpark? Just applause—no calling, no whistling, just an ocean of handclaps, minute after minute, burst after burst, crowding and running together in continuous succession like the pushes of surf at the edge of the sand. It was a sombre and considered tumult. There was not a boo in it. It seemed to renew itself out of a shifting set of memories as the kid, the Marine, the veteran of feuds and failures and injuries, the friend of children, and the enduring old pro evolved down the bright tunnel of twenty-one summers toward this moment. At last, the umpire signalled for Fisher to pitch; with the other players, he had been frozen in position. Only Williams had moved during the ovation, switching his bat impatiently, ignoring everything except his cherished task.

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4 comments

1 Chyll Will   ~  Jan 27, 2009 2:21 pm

The old man could paint with his words, he could...

2 rufuswashere   ~  Jan 27, 2009 8:19 pm

The story behind this piece at Fenway is very interesting -- he went on a lark after failing to meet (ahem) a friend. Imagine trying to do that in the current Red Sox era. No casual visits to that ballpark without a trip through Ace Tickets first.

Updike was one of my very favorite writers. Just assumed he'd be around a very long time, interviews with him less than a year ago showed no signs of illness. Sad.

3 Horace Clarke Era   ~  Jan 28, 2009 9:23 am

Thanks for linking and excerpting this, Alex. It is one of the best pieces on the sport there is. Updike might have declined (somewhat) in his later years, but his 'Rabbit' books and a few others will slot him pretty high in the pantheon of American writers. And he was a baseball fan.

4 Evil Empire   ~  Jan 28, 2009 1:51 pm

Gods don't answer letters...

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