Friday, March 6, 2009

Barthelme and Baseball

Just finished Tracy Daugherty’s new biography of Donald Barthelme, Hiding Man, and it’s got me thinking about baseball.

The book is a good one, unapologetically affectionate, but spoiled a little by an epilogue that strains too hard to fight lit-crit battles over postmodernism. The best thing about reading it, though, was that it kept reminding me of DB stories that I hadn’t looked at in too long--like “Chablis” or “Jaws,” probably the best story ever written about marriage counseling at the A&P. (I always get the feeling, when I read reviews or criticism of Barthelme, that I like the wrong stories. A lot of my favorites come from his late period, when he was supposed to be in decline and his stories growing sentimental. But I love the world-weary humor in some of these stories.)

And then there’s “The Art of Baseball,” from the anthology, The Teachings of Don B. I don't know how to explain it or label it, except to say that the premise is that “a number of this century’s most famous artists were also, at odd moments in their careers, baseball players.”

Example one is T.S. Eliot, whose The Waste Land “is without doubt the most thoroughly studied, carefully annotated, and nitpickingedly commented-upon poem in the language. What has been missed. . .is that the poem is essentially about the St. Louis Browns of 1922, a team for which Eliot, back from Britain in that year, briefly starred at short.” The line “April is the cruelest month,” apparently was originally “August is the cruelest month,” referring to a “dreadful set of games the Browns dropped to the Yanks. . .a setback that removed them from serious league competition.”

But as a lifelong White Sox fan, I especially like the story of Susan Sontag, who is said to have played for the University of Chicago in 1959, even though the school didn’t have a baseball team. A White Sox scout discovered Sontag “and a group of similarly baseball-mad graduate students” playing “in the vast heating tunnels under the university’s South Side campus. . .Transfixed by the dark-haired beauty’s luminous activities at first, he inked her to a Sox pact immediately” and she went on to play as S. Sunday for the ’59 Sox team that lost to the Dodgers in the World Series.

Since this season will be the 50th anniversary of that team, I'd look for the White Sox to hold some sort of special Sontag Day at the ballpark. Maybe anyone who comes to the park with a copy of Regarding the Pain of Others gets in half-price.


  1. Hmm, I guess I'm not the only one who thinks that The Waste Land being about baseball is even less likely than Yeats' Leda and the Swan being a response to a discussion about the difference between pornography and art.

  2. I want to know why I never got a key to the heating tunnels.