When the weather warms in the early American summer there are at least 100,000 baseball games played every week—regularly scheduled games, that is, even making allowances for the teams that didn't show. There are 1,800 college baseball teams, with 30,000 players; 14,000 high school teams with 350,000 players; and 36,000 Little League teams with 1,100,000 boys.
Then there are about 500 minor league teams, playing each other almost daily. Nobody knows exactly how many top-ranking semipro teams there are, teams like the Gloneck Termites of Grand Rapids, Michigan, sponsored by the Extermital Gloneck Termite Service. A good estimate is 25,000, representing breweries, hardwood flooring manufacturers, bottling works, grocery chains, Army posts, wholesale hardware firms and kindred organizations. When you add to these the grammar school leagues, adult amateur leagues, Babe Ruth leagues (9,280 teams), American Legion leagues (16,000 teams), Pony leagues (5,034 teams) and all the twilight leagues, park department leagues, industrial recreation department leagues, together with special groups like the Hopi Indian League (18 pueblos) and the Union Printers League (the oldest of all), the statistics of baseball look like the totals of the gross national product.
But they are curiously unimpressive, despite their stupendous numbers. They do not communicate anything about baseball that suggests why people play it or what it means to them. Baseball authorities have fallen into the alarming habit of regarding the game as an inherent part of the national heritage, taking it for granted that Americans have always played it and always will. The truth, of course, is that there was a long, hard period before the game began to be widely played, a longer period before it began to be written about, a still longer time before it began to be understood and freighted with significance and emotion. Before the millions of players began appearing on the diamonds this spring there was a whole literature that inspired their fathers and grandfathers before them; painfully evolved, wildly uneven, it was nonetheless mightily interesting and unquestionably potent in stimulating people to follow baseball games.
The fathers of today's Little Leaguers, in their own youth, might have read something like this, from Ralph Henry Barbour's novel, Double Play: "Spring had come in the night. Above was a mellow blue sky dotted with little feathery clouds...." Barbour wrote of the sounds of spring, the ceaseless knock and chatter, the sharp crack of ball meeting bat, the lovely arc of flies soaring into the clear air, the low thud of flying spheres against padded gloves, and always "tomorrows stretching away in a seemingly limitless vista of happy holidays, when finals are over and summer beckons." Or, in The Captain of the Nine, the great book that made William Heyliger famous: "They shrieked their joy and pounded their fists on each other's backs. The wide free field, the smell of early grass, the ripple of soft breeze over flushed faces, the damp give of the springy turf...."
April 23, 1962
This was magic. It put into images the confused and nebulous sensations, the pleasant, lazy tensions that came to life when the games started in the spring. Or, if you wanted something highbrow, there was the same emotion expressed in different terms in Robert Fitzgerald's poem Cobb Would Have Caught It, summoning up the sun-baked parks, the batters tugging at their caps, the outfielders racing back looking over their shoulders, "Throwing arm gone bad.... Fly lost in the sunset.... There's your old ball game."
From around 1885 until the mid-1920s there were countless books for boys, the net effect of which was to evoke something of the poetry of the game; there is nothing comparable to them now. A handful of good writers of boys' books still write about baseball, but their product is of a different sort. For one thing, there is only a handful where there were once a hundred or more. For another, they write relatively few books, where the giants in the field produced hundreds. At best the new breed resembles careful handicraft operators, trying—but failing—to keep alive a vanished art form that everybody once appreciated. Millions of future Little Leaguers are going to play ball without a deep source of solace and inspiration: the romance of the diamond, in which the young star walloped a bully, was disgraced by a false accusation, usually of theft (something was planted in his locker), but was cleared in time to play in the big game and often wound up saving the town from destruction by fire or flood as well.
These books came in sturdy red or brown bindings, with titles plainly indicating the nature of the contents: Strike Three! by William Heyliger, Baseball Joe at Yale by Lester Chadwick, With Mask and Mitt by Albertus True Dudley, First Base Faulkner by Christy Mathew-son, The Young Pitcher by Zane Grey; Cliff Stirling, Captain of the Nine by Gilbert Patten, The Baseball Boys of Lakeport by Edward Stratemeyer, who wrote the Rover Boys books. The libraries generally did not have many of them. You had to buy them. They went for 50 cents to $1.50 apiece.
Opening a new one, you saw a young infielder making a terrific catch, an expression of dedicated composure on his features. Or there was a runner sliding into second, dust shooting up on both sides of him like the rooster tail from a speedboat, or a pitcher poised on the mound, like a doctor about to perform an operation, a batter with a mean expression glowering at him from the plate. "Keeper, coming in like a runaway motor car," said a caption in With Mask and Mitt, "flung himself at the plate, spikes first," and you knew at once what the story was to be.
The prose was clear and direct. There was never any hesitancy, in fact, except when some boy, long suffering from a weakness that kept him off the team, resolved to conquer it. In such cases there were brief interludes of double-I prose. "I—I'm going to fight," Dan said. He faced another boy, his fists clenched. He meant he was going to fight the weakness that kept him off the team, not the other boy. Or, "I—I can't help it," replied the pitcher bitterly. "We lost the game." In Baseball Joe at Yale: "I—I'd like to fight him," murmured Joe. "I wonder if they allow fights at Yale?" Or, "I—I my ankle's sprained, I guess," whispered Dan huskily, in For the Honor of the School. Sometimes an I—I character gave up entirely. "I—I don't seem to be able to get things right," said Dan Porter, in The Crimson Sweater, after being banned from sports because of something he hadn't done.
Not only was the prose direct, the conversations were forthright to a degree that would appall Tennessee Williams. "You heard me," said the hero of Bartley, Freshman Pitcher. "You threw the game. As for shaking hands with you, I have no use for your sort."
Characters came right to the point: "I understand you have been gambling with some of the little boys and getting their money away from them. In one sense, it isn't my affair; in another, it is not only my affair, but it is that of every fellow here who feels any responsibility for the moral condition and honor of the school." That was really telling them, with the forthrightness of a good infielder. Usually the villains were gamblers, but sometimes they were rich boys, like Francis in Barbour's Merritt Leads the Nine. We were never told exactly what Francis' evildoing consisted of, but it was darkly hinted that at the last county fair this spoiled son of wealth "changed the tags in the Garden Club exhibit and Francis' mother got the first prize away from poor old Mrs. Whidden"—a pretty mean trick by any standard, but doubly so in the rarefied atmosphere of good sportsmanship that flourished in these works. The usual fiendish trick was to discover something that unnerved the hero, and to work on it until he was a quivering wreck when the bases were loaded and nobody out. Then came the laugh—"He heard from the grandstand a loud laugh, a laugh that fairly bubbled over with sneering, caustic mirth."
But in the crisis the hero recovered his self-possession. "When Double Curve Dan found himself in the river, with the angry waters surging around his ears," explained one of the first baseball writers, "and Wilfred Noel's fingers still clutching his throat, he realized he was in the tightest fix of his life." Noel was the rival pitcher. In The Pitcher Detective's Foil the hero and his ally are trapped on a bridge with a train bearing down on them. They throw themselves on the adjoining track, and see another train coming toward them from the opposite direction. The following discussion takes place:
"Only one thing to do."
"What is it?"
"To drop to the river. Better to take our chance of drowning than to be crushed to death beneath the wheels. Follow me!"
The first baseball club was organized in 1845, and the first newspaper account of a game was printed in 1859. Henry Chadwick started a baseball magazine in 1867, but it failed. The first newspaper sports column appeared in 1879. It wasn't until 1882 that a piece of baseball fiction got into print. A short story written by a junior at Brown University and entitled The Captain of the Orient Baseball Nine, it might well have launched a whole school of juvenile literature, except that its author, Charles Munroe Sheldon, was quickly drawn into other fields of writing. He was the same Charles Sheldon who authored In His Steps, the inspirational novel that sold 20 million copies and became the greatest bestseller in American history except the Bible.
Sheldon wasn't much of a ballplayer—he was the tennis champion at Brown—but everything about baseball was new and interesting to him. "I have a vague remembrance of sometimes stopping in my task and looking out the window at a baseball game," he wrote, "and wishing I could be there."
At Brown a group of students in his dormitory wrote stories and articles, and revised them according to the collective wisdom of the group. Sheldon's contribution was about young Gleason, star outfielder and captain—"a handsome, well-built young fellow, with an open, sunny face"—and his awesome moral struggle when Orient won the great game with rival Clayton Academy (inadvertently) by a foul. With two out in the last half of the ninth, and the winning run for Clayton crossing the plate, Gleason picked a fly ball off the turf, the side was retired, the runs didn't count and Orient won. But Gleason knew the ball had touched the ground. Should he confess? Before he could make up his mind to inform the umpire, his cheering teammates were carrying him off the field. The celebration back at Orient made explanation more difficult. Having shirked his duty in the beginning, Gleason finally had to face the entire student body with the truth. There wasn't too much sport in the story, but Sheldon worked on Gleason's moral dilemma until he looked like a character in Pilgrim's Progress, chasing a fly ball into the Slough of Despond.
The second piece of baseball fiction, and the first baseball novel, was High Hat Harry, the Baseball Detective; or The Sunken Treasure, by Edward Wheeler, published on July 14, 1885. We meet Harry Sands, a wandering baseball player known as High Hat Harry, as he arrives at the aristocratic resort town of Bluffton. He is "of muscular body and limbs, and in face by no means unhandsome." He has two peculiarities—he always wears a silk hat, even while pitching, and has an extremely long neck, which he can extend if he wishes until his chin is a foot and a half above his shoulders. This is an advantage in his work, for he is a detective and, without microphones, detectives in those days had to crane their necks to find out what was going on. In his hotel High Hat Harry overhears two society girls discussing tomorrow's baseball game with Barmore Academy. One of them has bet $2,000 on Bluffton and says the game is crooked—Garrene, the umpire, is anxious to get into Bluffton society and has put in the fix. Harry, who knows that Garrene is a bank robber, arranges to pitch for Barmore, only to be attacked by Garrene as a professional. On his way to the park Harry is hit on his throwing arm by a rock. "That," he mutters, "was a cowardly attempt to disable me."
Wheeler was the top-ranking dime-novel writer of the time, the most popular and the best paid. After the firm of Beadle and Adams started publishing the dime novels in 1860 it built up a staff of about two dozen well-paid and experienced authors—ex-actors, newspapermen, teachers, preachers, as well as a few soldiers of fortune, gunmen, adventurers and genuine ex-Indian fighters—who were trained to produce dime novels on almost any subject, and Wheeler was one of the most accomplished in the group. Competition was intense in the business (Beadle and Adams' $15-a-week bookkeeper started a rival firm and retired with $10 million), and the price was cut to 5¢ a copy, giving Wheeler his start as the headliner of Beadle's Half-Dime Library, for which he wrote 122 novels about Deadwood Dick, the road agent. His work was so popular that the American News Company had a standing order for 60,000 copies of everything he wrote. Usually his books sold out the week they were published, some of them going into 10 or 12 editions.
Unfortunately, Wheeler knew nothing about baseball, and High Hat Harry was a disaster. A writer could say anything about the Wild West without being challenged, for his readers hadn't been there. The same sort of wonders placed on a recognizable baseball diamond, however, piled up monumental confusions, as obvious as the mistakes made by someone who didn't know a language writing for those who did. High Hat Harry pitches despite his aching arm; he runs aimlessly about the base paths, entertaining the crowd with his antics; and the game is over when one side reaches an agreed-upon score, something that hadn't been common in baseball for decades. In the eighth inning Barmore, having made 28 runs, is declared the winner, but flush-faced gamblers demand another inning to settle their bets; so High Hat Harry pitches again, and six more runs are added to the margin of victory. Wheeler, of course, merely wanted to get through the game and resume the detective story where, if he made mistakes, his readers wouldn't notice them.
He died shortly after High Hat Harry was published, at the age of 31 or 32. There was no indication that the failure of the book had anything to do with his death—though almost anything could be believed about dime-novel writers—and Beadle and Adams immediately assigned another hack to write baseball novels. This time the nod went to George Jenks, a cheery, round-faced, witty Englishman, a former printer who had become a leading Pittsburgh newspaperman, playwright and producer. He came up with an idea he thought was genius—a pitcher with a double curve, "a baseball being made to change directions at least twice after leaving the hands of the pitcher," he wrote in his recollections of dime-novel days. Unlike Wheeler, he was going to get all the facts straight and use authentic backgrounds. Double Curve Dan, the Pitcher Detective, or, Against Heavy Odds, opened with a murder at the Polo Grounds. Wilfred Noel, the pitcher for the Bostons (and a bank robber at other times), refuses to pitch. Double Curve Dan volunteers to replace him, takes the mound, throws with a peculiar round-arm motion, and "the ball flies straight at the plate for about half the distance, then twists to the right, and suddenly back to the left!" In other words, it zigzags, doubtless the hardest kind of a ball to hit, at least by a sober man.
Every kid knew a curving baseball couldn't be made to reverse its curve in flight. To make matters worse, Beadle and Adams went on publishing more Double Curve Dan stories, and in the second, The Pitcher Detective's Foil, Jenks's imagination bubbled over. Dan is substituting for the Albany pitcher in a game with the New York Diamond Stars. The umpire, a jewel thief named Slicker (the moral level of officials was not high at that time), has blackmailed the regular Albany pitcher to throw the game. Dan comes to bat in the last half of the ninth. A hit will tie the score. A home run will win the game. Slicker is desperate. He puts some laudanum in Double Curve Dan's drinking water. At the plate Dan feels his strength ebbing. Because he can't see, he swings at the first pitch. It is a homer. But the laudanum is taking effect. Dan begins to go to sleep. He weaves all over the ball park before the spellbound fans, and the readers are given some Joycean interior monologue to show what was going on in Dan's mind: " 'First! All right so far! Yes, that's good. But how blind I'm getting! What is all that shouting about? Where is third base? Shall I ever reach it? Oh, yes! Here it is! There! I have touched it! Now for home! Ah, how they yell, and how everything hums in my ears! There is something wrong with me, but I do not know what it is. Where—where—is—the—the—home plate? I can barely keep my feet and the world is—pitch—dark! Ah! At last! At last!' With a wild lurch and a half-articulate cry, Double Curve Dan fell across the home plate, and the great game between the Diamond Stars and the Albanys ended in a victory of the latter."
Baseball was soon dropped as a dime-novel subject, and before long dime novels disappeared. They had been already declining, so the baseball books cannot be credited with having finished them, but the growing interest in sport unquestionably hastened their end. "The exploits of Double Curve Dan excited derision," Jenks explained.
The art of baseball fiction flowered in the work of Ralph Henry Barbour and William Heyliger and a hundred or so industrious imitators. The setting of a typical Barbour story was an old school on a hill, with the towers of the dark-red brick buildings showing above the massive elms. From the windows the boys could look out across the valley and the river (handy for saving people from drowning), and at sunset its quiet surface reflected the western tones of red and crimson while the campus was still light and the road leading to the railroad station was marked with the purple shadows of the trees and hedges. In Barbour's baseball books the hero often watched the twilight settling, dimly conscious of a poignant feeling that was half pleasure and half melancholy, a sense of regret and affection, moved by deep and mysterious thoughts of the brevity of youth, and wondering if he would ever get a chance to pitch.
Barbour called the school Hillton, Hilltop, Yardley, Grafton, or some such name, but it was always the same. It was a well-run institution. The faculty rarely appeared, except to call a meeting to explain that someone had filled a professor's desk with rabbits, or had affixed a Jolly Roger to the flagpole, or to lecture the hero severely after something stolen was found among his possessions. After the second Barbour book appeared he was overwhelmed with letters from boys asking if it was a real school. They wanted to go there. Barbour replied gravely that it was a composite picture: all he was trying to do was to make a case for honesty and simplicity in sports, and to show that for the average boy athletics were "an aid rather than a detriment to study."
Baseball had an astounding impact on popular culture in all respects, inspiring songs, vaudeville acts, jokes and folk lore, but even so, the reaction to Barbour's books was almost incredible. He wrote about 150, and Heyliger as many, with imitators at every level of ability more than keeping pace with them. The best after these two was probably Albertus True Dudley, who wrote a series about a mythical Seaton school. Plainly sniping at Barbour, who never went to college, Dudley explained loftily that all details of baseball training and play in his books were checked by the head coach at Harvard. The baseball novels of Christy Mathewson—Second Base Sloan, Pitcher Pollock, Catcher Craig, and so on—were ghostwritten by John Wheeler, the founder of a ghostwriting syndicate; they were routine juvenile stories which couldn't have helped Mathewson's reputation much. The obscure author who wrote under the name of Lester Chadwick turned out Baseball Joe stories for 23 years; Zane Grey, who had played minor league ball, wrote boys' baseball books between his early westerns, and every year newcomers came up with the Krampton Hall series, or the Locksport Boys, or something similar. They were much alike; after the first hundred or so a boy had read them all. But Barbour was different. "His books are centered on sport," said the authoritative Critical History of Children's Literature, "and the emphasis is on the right school spirit, good sportsmanship, the triumph of those who are right-minded over those who are not. The plot and the action of Barbour have become stereotyped through overuse, and this makes it difficult to judge him fairly. Certainly he seems to have freshness and spontaneity, at least in his earlier books.... Of his historical place there is no doubt."
Barbour's masterpiece was the classic baseball fiction of boys of Little League age, Billy Mayes' Great Discovery, telling of the advantages of a bat made of hoki-moki wood, which attracts horsehide and thus draws a baseball toward it. Billy is a nonplaying member of the Broadsport Juniors. The only reason he is kept on the team is that he can run fast, and is permanently stationed as a sort of center fielder by the fence of Bannerman's garden, so he can retrieve any balls that land among the vegetables and get away before Mr. Bannerman comes out. Never having a chance to bat, or even to sit on the bench, is hard on Billy's morale. He spends a lot of time at the wharf, talking things over with Captain Ezra, who skippers a coastwise coaling vessel on a regular run to a nearby port. On his return, Captain Ezra likes to tell Billy about his experiences with the natives of the islands he visits.
When the story opens, however, Captain Ezra says he isn't feeling so good—he ate too much hoki-moki fruit on his last voyage. The fruit of the hoki-moki tree is sort of like an orange, sort of like an apple, more square than round, and grows in clusters the size of a water cask. The hoki-moki tree has an irresistible appeal for wild horses. The horses are drawn up against the trees, and the natives capture them and use their hides for leather. But the trees continue to exert their magnetic attraction. "'Lay a horsehide saddle 25 feet away from a hoki-moki tree," says Captain Ezra, "and just as soon as you let go of it, it'll begin to move right over to the tree and try to rub itself against it.... It's what you might call one of the wonders of science."
In the end Billy persuades Captain Ezra to bring him back some genuine hoki-moki wood, which, it seems, will really attract a baseball. Armed with his hoki-moki wood bat, Billy manages to get away from Bannerman's garden during the big game. Through most of the game Billy tries to get close enough to the captain to ask when he is going to get a chance to play, but the captain is always too busy to talk to him. In desperation, Billy finally discloses that his bat is of hoki-moki wood, guaranteed to produce hits. That makes an impression, and in the end, with two out and bases loaded, Billy is sent in to bat. Armed with an unfaltering trust, unable to see the ball, he closes his eyes at the first pitch and swings. "There was a resounding blow, electric tingles swept up Billy's arms, he staggered, and, still clutching his bat, he streaked for first.... They never found the ball. Straight behind Mr. Bannerman's garden it fell, among the early peas and bush limas."
Barbour's baseball stories were an original creation, and he came remarkably close to a permanent contribution to literature, held back, probably, by his own modesty about his ability as much as by the half-parodies of imitators who swamped his chosen field of writing.
A native of Cambridge, Mass., Barbour became a newspaperman in New York and Boston, worked on Denver papers and ranched in western Colorado, collaborated on a light novel with another reporter, and was night city editor of the Philadelphia Times when he decided to write boys' books. He sold a short story to St. Nicholas about a substitute who won a football game. He was asked to expand it to a novel, and produced The Half-Back in 1899. Presently he was enjoying perhaps the most pleasant and lucrative existence of any writer of his time. "He lives on the fat of the land," wrote a Boston reporter enviously in 1911. "He enjoys himself all the year, and for most of the time makes no effort to get down to work." He had homes in Cambridge and Marblehead, Mass., spent the winters in the South and Southwest, tinkered with expensive automobiles for recreation, played tennis with his wife for exercise, and wrote two boys' books a year, apparently with no effort.
For 30 years no book of his failed; the first was still in print, and all the others were still selling as the new ones came out. In his first novels Barbour barely touched on baseball—there was always a cycle in his stories, the progress through the school year from baseball to hockey and basketball in the winter, then track and baseball in the spring—but with Weatherby's Inning the details of the game became an essential part of the novel. They were organic parts of the dramatic machinery by which character was revealed or developed. At the outset Jack Weatherby was disgraced because he did not try to rescue a boy from the river. The boy was saved anyway, and Jack had good reasons for not jumping in after him, but he was nevertheless ostracized for cowardice. Turning out for baseball became a stage in his public rehabilitation as well as part of his self-realization and his recovery of confidence. What was new and interesting was that the hits and errors, the attitudes of the players on the field, were revelations of character, changing the whole emphasis of the baseball story from concentration on who won to the game as a catalyst of the drama. What was historically important, however, was that Barbour's carefully described games were more interesting to read about than the actual games that were reported in the newspapers. They were vivid and clear, and they chained the imagination of a youthful reader to the emotions of the players, explaining, clarifying and dramatizing what was happening on the diamond as no factual explanation could possibly do it. A pretty good case could be made that after boys' baseball books swept the country, sports reporting became interesting, and the accounts of imaginary games formed the model for the reporting of real ones.
William Heyliger gave even more extended and meticulous descriptions of imaginary games, inning by inning. Heyliger was caustic about Barbour's romanticized and idealized schools, and disliked the repetitious plots, hinging on a rescue, that were found in all boys' books—he was proud that he had only one rescue in all his works. He was a young family man and a fledgling newspaper reporter when he wrote his first novel in 1911, a part of a desperate gamble in which he took his vacation and wrote Bartley, Freshman Pitcher, in the hope of selling it to meet a mortgage payment. The book was an immediate success, and Heyliger followed it with Batter Up! and The Captain of the Nine, both of which were successful.
His books were tougher and more realistic than Barbour's, his boys stronger-willed and less given to horseplay and nonsensical banter, and they tended to play with a kind of intensity that was almost anger. His style was bare and his narratives fast and uncomplicated. Almost too much seemed to depend on the outcome of the games in Heyliger's books. If one of Barbour's boys failed to make the team, it was a disappointment, but he still enjoyed the casual life of the school; Heyliger's characters faced some subjective alternative of triumph or ruin. The difference between a defeat and a victory for Heyliger's heroes was not, as with Barbour's boys, a matter of youthful elation or chagrin; it was more nearly akin to adult success or failure.
By 1920 Heyliger had supplanted Barbour as the favorite in a literary field that had grown ludicrously overcrowded and in which he and Barbour were almost the only writers making sane and literate contributions. His masterpiece was High Benton, the story of a boy tempted to leave school. A careful and honest attempt to define the situation of youth in the period after the War, it sold 50,000 copies. Anne Carroll Moore, the famous librarian of the New York Public Library, believed that Heyliger had done more than any writer since Mark Twain to liberate boys' fiction from the tyranny of the series books and restore it to reality. Heyliger had a craftsman's pride in his work: he said of juvenile literature, "It has its own dignity, fine and stalwart, and need not bow its head in any literary company. Give it time."
Long before Barbour's death in 1946, and Heyliger's in 1955, the kind of fiction they had perfected had disappeared. It never went much beyond its early promise, but it nevertheless provided staple reading matter for millions of boys through three generations of readers, and its part in influencing the present 100,000-games-a-week average was considerable. Through the decisive period when baseball was becoming accepted as the American game, it provided to each oncoming generation a preparatory fiction, a steady flow of innocent outdoor reading, the moral of which was that playing baseball enabled one to cope with the ordinary problems of life, such as stopping a runaway horse, making a fortune or capturing a band of desperate, non-baseball-playing bank robbers. As boys' baseball literature grew dated, something like a literary short-circuit took place: it was not replaced with anything restating the case in new and acceptable terms. The books written by the present-day authors differ primarily from the old in their avoidance of foolishness and exaggeration, in their greater sophistication and in the sophistication they assume in their readers. The works of John Tunis, Jackson Scholz or Duane Decker are above all credible; they deal with known subjects—a rookie in the feverish tension of his try-out, the ordeal of an aspiring pitcher who is shipped back to the minors after a brief span with a major league club, or the conflict between two players when an eager newcomer threatens to take over the position of an older, more experienced, and less scrupulous player. One of the best of them, Jackson Scholz's The Perfect Game tells of the slow and hard-won comeback of a young genius who has pitched a no-hitter in the World Series, and skidded as a result of the subsequent hero-worshiping. But these new, realistic books didn't take up where the old ones left off; they tended to become a different sort of work altogether, a boys' version of an adult story.
If I had to make a guess as to why the old fiction failed, I—I think I'd say it didn't go far enough, it wasn't wild and romantic and imaginative enough, to keep up with the emerging game that it celebrated. In 100,000 games a week there are almost a million innings, and in any million innings something strange is going to happen. Last year about this time Larry Monte, of the Brazosport (Texas) High School team, slid into second base during a game, knocked the base loose by the violence of his slide, and revealed a coiled rattlesnake under the bag, a happening beyond the wildest imagination of the authors of the dime-novel baseball stories. And what novelist could keep up with Mac Ogburn, of Clemson College, on May 8, 1961, during a double-header with Georgia Tech? In the first game he got a homer, two triples and a single in five at-bats. In the second half of the doubleheader he came to bat five times and hit five home runs.
Still, Barbour's magical bats and Jenks's double curve sometimes seem closer to the truth of baseball than the dry and literal books that are now written. Those Little Leaguers of the future may miss a lot. Certainly they are not going to be able to fire their imagination with the kind of books their fathers and grandfathers read. The libraries have only a few of them. Booksellers never liked to deal in books in series, and rarely kept them. They were published in too great numbers to become valuable, and they were seldom saved when they were outgrown by the owners. They are becoming as hard to get as hoki-moki wood.