Monday, 9 April 2012


My essay on baseball novels was broadcast yesterday on Open Book. You can link to it here on IPlayer for a while, or listen to the repeat on Thursday on Radio 4. Obviously it was limited by time (and the relative lack of interest in baseball amongst the R4 audience) so I was concentrating on making the literary link as strongly as possible. There are a number of fine boxing novels, but I can't think of any other sport which can boast more than a couple of noteworthy works of fiction. In this country, of course, sport is not considered a fitting subject for serious fiction--laddish work, like Nick Hornby's, which draws heavily on the idea of fantasy baseball, notwithstanding--but baseball, in America, has always been seen by literati as a metaphor not only for life, but for their work.

It was nice to be able to quote from Eliot Asinof's Man On Spikes, which is fine and overlooked novel--and mentioning Eight Men Out could have led me to discuss the wealth of exceptional non-fiction writing about the game, beyond just reporting (which is also very good). I was happy to mention Harry Stein's Hoopla, another overlooked novel which is the best fiction about the Black Sox scandal. But baseball has been the subject of serious works of history and biography which again I take to be the result of taking the subject itself seriously.

Among the novelists who didn't make the final cut were John Sayles (Pride Of The Bimbos), Mark Winegarten (Vera Cruz Blues), William Brashler (The Bingo Long Travelling All-Stars And Motor Kings) and Michael Bishop's Brittle Innings, which isn't a great novel, but an audacious sf book which resets Frankenstein into the low minor leagues during World War II. Of course Shoeless Joe is an sf novel too, now that I think about it.

And of course I couldn't get into the movies--and although here boxing may edge baseball as the subject of more greats (among other things, boxing's far easier to film, and you always have one strong central character) there aren't any other sports which can match the catalogue of baseball movies, both adaptations of works mentioned and original stories like Bull Durham or It Happens Every Spring.

And one thing you might not get from the readings that accompany my piece, but All-Star Game leads off Philip Roth's Melvillian alphabetical list of the things we note about is the 'A' in the list!

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