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The perils of writing baseball fiction
2006-07-02 19:17
by Bob Timmermann

John Thorn penned this essay in the Sunday New York Times Book Review about baseball fiction and its problematic relationship with the people who should like it: baseball fans.

And there's the rub, or at least the first of two. If the best writing about the game is grounded in detail about double switches and squeeze plays, this is a good description of baseball journalism, which has truly been the game's literary glory. While we still want our baseball novelists to get the details of the game right — it fatally impugns their authority to do otherwise — we need more from them in the way of creating memorable characters. Then there's the other problem: we crave realism from the imaginative renderings of an activity that itself is not real. Play is metaphoric action. Like novelists who write about theater or film, the writer tackling baseball always starts off at one remove from reality, and is always playing catch-up.

Thorn was the winner of the Bob Davids Award at the SABR convention, which is SABR's highest award. He was presented the award by last year's recipient, Dave Smith of Retrosheet.

2006-07-02 22:47:44
1.   Linkmeister
Other than the writers mentioned in his piece, I'm hard-pressed to think of other baseball fiction, period. Maybe the juveniles of John R. Tunis or Clair Bee's Chip Hilton stories can be counted, but as for adult fiction, I'm stuck.
2006-07-03 00:36:03
2.   Suffering Bruin
Memo to all fiction writers who decide to take on the grand old game:

Enough with the nicknames. Not every player has them--in fact most don't--and by using them in such abundance, you are dehumanizing your characters in your attempt to make them caricatures.

So stop it. Now, go to bed.

2006-07-03 09:41:41
3.   Scott Long
W.P. Kinsella has written 2 great pieces of fiction on baseball. One is Shoeless Joe, which was adapted into the movie "Field of Dreams". Bernard Malamud's "The Natural" is probably the other most famous fictional baseball book.
2006-07-03 10:23:03
4.   Bob Timmermann
I'm a fan of Mark Harris's first two books in the Henry Wiggen series: "The Southpaw" and "Bang the Drum Slowly".

Most people know the latter more from the film version (or maybe not), but "The Southpaw" is a very good tale about a rookie's journey through the world of pro baseball and life and learning about the differences between the illusion of sports heroism and the realities of it.

2006-07-03 10:57:57
5.   Linkmeister
To prove I'm not clueless, I did say "other than the writers mentioned in his piece." Harris's and Malamud's work were both mentioned.
2006-07-03 10:59:08
6.   Bob Timmermann
You think I read the whole thing before I post it? ;-)
2006-07-03 11:04:13
7.   Bob Timmermann
OK, here's a work of fiction I recommend: "If I Never Get Back" by Darryl Brock.

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