When Stats Add Up to Poetry
I haven’t read too much John Updike. And I never saw Ted Williams play ball live, even on television. But honest to God, Updike’s famous essay on Williams’ last game [“Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu”] is on my list of favorite things. I already have a recorded version on CD which I listen to occasionally just as I re-watch “Hoosiers” every now and again as an antidote for creeping cynicism. And now, thanks to the Library of America, I have it bound in hardback too. I regard it instantly as a prized possession, a piece of me the heirs shall have to fight over in my aftermath. Why do I value it so? Because it marries a couple that were meant for each other and each of whom mean a lot to me - baseball and writing.
Updike was no baseball fan. But he saw the essence of the game’s appeal more clearly than just about all of the game’s most ardent followers are able to and articulated it. His insights are there for the taking in his reflections on the very last at bat in the career of the enigmatic Teddy Ballgame.
This newly minted edition is prefaced with some background and context about the author which he himself penned just a few months before his death last year. Also included is an afterword fashioned in part from the obituary Updike wrote of Williams for the New York Times when the latter died in 2002.
Of all the praise lavished upon the essay and its author, perhaps none is greater than to note that Williams himself, upon reading it, asked Updike to write his biography, an invitation that was declined despite the flattery of it. That may have been the only time the press-shy Williams ever asked anyone to write anything about him.
The occasion for this little publishing gem is the 50th anniversary later this year of the game and the player that inspired the essay and the author.
Put it this way. Once you’ve read “Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu,” if anyone ever asks you why you love baseball, just point to it and tell them, “Updike said it best…”