Thursday, March 15, 2018

"You Could Look It Up" (1941)

Read story by James Thurber online.

The overwhelming point of this amusing baseball anecdote by James Thurber is the dialect, which is almost as charming as it is thick. Some of my favorite locutions here include "the iron eye," "finely," and "all Bethlehem broke loose." I got used to it ("finely") but it was slow going at first. This story was published in 1941 and 10 years later was acted out in reality by St. Louis Browns owner Bill Veeck, who signed small person Eddie Gaedel (3 feet 7 inches) for a one-time appearance as a pinch hitter. You could look it up. Not surprisingly, Gaedel—and the wonderfully named Pearl du Monville in this story—are walked on four consecutive pitches. Well, that's not exactly the way it goes down in this story, but I'll let you get to the details on your own. Veeck claims he was unaware of the story, or at least he said, in conversation with New York Giants manager John McGraw, that he'd had the idea before 1941. This suggests to me that the premise was already part of the oral lore of baseball. Thurber turned it into this story. Veeck made it a one-time stunt in a ballgame. In both instances it was hilariously cited as making a mockery of the game, which is rich. Me, I like baseball anecdotes quite a bit. This is a little more formal, even with the dialect, but still has an appealing air of yarn spinning. It might even be fun to hear it read aloud by someone who can do it justice, although as always the risks for flopping would be great. Oral storytelling necessarily requires some theatrical skill, especially when dialect is involved, which can lead to wincing. If anything, this story might be too long for just an anecdote. The best ones are quick. Joaquin Andujar on how he would pitch to himself: "Fastball down the middle. What do you think, I'd try to get myself out?" Or Don Drysdale's view that an intentional walk was a waste of three pitches. The anecdote of the small pinch hitter here is easily told just by stating the premise, so the story feels a little bloated, and might be annoying if you are not a baseball fan or don't enjoy reading dialect. I have my problems in the latter area, but Thurber's pretty good at it and also at telling a story. Plus it's a classic, you know.

Short Story Masterpieces, ed. Robert Penn Warren and Albert Erskine

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