It has been 50 Years since Teddy Ballgame had his last "at bat" in Fenway Park.....Teddy, we miss you.
Great words enclosed about this anniversary, greater than I could hope to write in tribute to a legendary ballplayer, US Naval Aviator and true Patriot.
Tribute to a Hero in Twilight
By CHARLES McGRATH
Published: September 25, 2010 - NY TIMES
Tuesday is the 50th anniversary of Ted Williams’s last game, in which, with an impeccable sense of occasion, he hit a home run, a miraculous line drive to deep right center, in his final at-bat.
There was no Red Sox Nation back then. The club was a bottom-dweller in the old eight-team American League, and its following amounted to a village of lonely die-hards. The weather was dank that afternoon and so overcast that in the sixth inning, the lights at Fenway Park were turned on.
Only 10,455 fans turned up to say goodbye to Williams, who was 42, hobbled by aches and pains. Among them, sitting behind third base, was 28-year-old John Updike, who had actually scheduled an adulterous assignation that day. But when he reached the woman’s apartment, on Beacon Hill, he found that he had been stood up: no one was home. “So I went, as promised, to the game,” he wrote years later, “and my virtue was rewarded.”
So were generations of readers, for a few days later, Updike sat down and wrote “Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu,” probably the most celebrated baseball essay ever. Originally published in the Oct. 22, 1960, issue of The New Yorker, and reprinted in countless anthologies, “Hub Fans” has recently been reissued in an elegant little 64-page edition by the Library of America, with an introduction by Updike that was among the last things he worked on before his death in January 2009.
The essay is in its way the reverse of Williams’s valedictory feat. Updike, who was beginning to realize the extent of his powers, had never written about baseball before, and never did again except for a couple of footnotes about Williams. He knocked it out of the park on his very first swing, then retired on the spot.
It’s not too much to say that “Hub Fans” changed sportswriting. Affectionately mocking the tradition of sports clichés (as in the title, which didn’t actually appear in any of Boston’s seven dailies at the time, but easily could have), the essay demonstrated that you could write about baseball, of all things, in a way that was personal, intelligent, even lyrical. Updike compares Williams to Achilles, to a Calder mobile, to Donatello’s David, standing on third base as if the bag were the head of Goliath.
A groundskeeper reminds Updike of Wordsworth’s mushroom gatherers. In a couple of memorable phrases, calling Fenway Park a “lyric little bandbox” that looks “like the inside of an old-fashioned, peeping-type Easter egg,” Updike gave the place a freshly painted sheen, so that if you grew up in Boston, as I did, you could never look at the old ball yard the same way again.
Yet the essay is never precious or self-consciously literary, the way a lot of subsequent Fenway prose became, penned by earnest, heavy-breathing scribes clustered in Updike’s shadow. Roger Angell, who began writing about baseball for The New Yorker two years after Updike, and whose career has had an astonishing longevity — he’s the Ripken or Gehrig to Updike’s blazing youthful phenom — has said that “Hub Fans” most of all supplied him with a tone: colloquial, attentive, unashamed of feeling or of striving for an elegant turn of phrase. It seems obvious now, but Updike was one of the first to show that you don’t have to write down about sports or empurple them, either.
“Hub Fans” is a paean not so much to baseball itself, as Angell’s pieces tend to be, as to a single player. Updike’s connection to Williams went back to his childhood in small-town Pennsylvania, where he was unable, he later wrote, to bond with the Phillies and the A’s, which seemed unworthy of his ambitions both for them and for his fannish self.
What beckoned was the heroic example of Williams. He wrote: “For me, Williams is the classic ballplayer of the game on a hot August weekday, before a small crowd, when the only thing at stake is the tissue-thin difference between a thing done well and a thing done ill.” And reading “Hub Fans,” you even sense at times a hint of self-identification. Williams and Updike were physically alike. They were tall and slender, with exceptional eyesight. (This was literally so for Williams, and metaphorically true for Updike, who, as the essay demonstrates, was an uncanny observer.)
In Updike’s description of Williams’s relationship with the Boston fans — “a marriage, composed of spats, mutual disappointments, and, toward the end, a mellowing hoard of shared memories” — there is maybe even a hint of whatever romantic disappointments had sent him to Beacon Hill that day.
Most of all, Updike identified with the artist in Williams: his focus and perfectionism, his single-mindedness in mastering the difficult craft of hitting, the way that, proud and a little aloof, he would not kowtow to the Boston press or court the fans’ affection, refusing to the very end to tip his cap in acknowledgment of their applause. He embraced and understood Williams’s isolation, writing: “It is an essentially lonely game. No other player visible to my generation has concentrated within himself so much of the sport’s poignance, has so assiduously refined his natural skills, has so constantly brought to the plate that intensity of competence that crowds the throat with joy.”
When Updike revised the essay for inclusion in a book-length collection in 1965, he ended it with a Yeatsian intimation of mortality: “On the car radio as I drove home, I heard that Williams, his own man to the end, had decided not to accompany the team to New York. He had met the little death that awaits all athletes. He had quit.”
What he originally wrote was: “On the car radio as I drove home, I heard that Williams was not going to accompany the team to New York. So he knew how to do even that, the hardest thing. Quit.”
In the tiny differences between the two versions, the refinements of phrasing, the crucial addition of that “little death,” there is something very like the “tissue-thin difference” Updike so admired in Williams’s career: the difference in this case not between a thing done well and a thing done ill, but between a thing done well and a thing done even better. Like Williams, Updike never coasted. He knew that over the long season, as he writes earlier in the essay, what holds our interest is not occasional heroics but “players who always care; who care, that is to say, about themselves and their art.”