John Updike has passed away at the age of 76. You won’t find many who will dispute that he was one of the great American writers. I am by no means a literary maven, but when I saw he had passed away I was reminded of his love for the Red Sox and in particular his essay regarding the last game of Ted Williams, the “greatest hitter who ever lived.” The Essay is titled Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu. I hadn’t read it since Williams died in 2002, but gave it a read today. It is a masterpiece.
If you are a Sox fan and have never read the essay you must, if you are a baseball fan and have never read the essay you must, if you are a fan of well crafted words and have never read the essay you should. A love of baseball is not a total prerequisite.
I won’t post the whole thing here, I don’t have permission to do so and I don’t want to cause any static with a dead guy. But here is the first paragraph. It’s magic.
Fenway Park, in Boston, is a lyric little bandbox of a ballpark. Everything is painted green and seems in curiously sharp focus, like the inside of an old-fashioned peeping-type Easter egg. It was built in 1912 and rebuilt in 1934, and offers, as do most Boston artifacts, a compromise between Man’s Euclidean determinations and Nature’s beguiling irregularities. Its right field is one of the deepest in the American League, while its left field is the shortest; the high left-field wall, three hundred and fifteen feet from home plate along the foul line, virtually thrusts its surface at right-handed hitters. On the afternoon of Wednesday, September 28th, as I took a seat behind third base, a uniformed groundkeeper was treading the top of this wall, picking batting-practice home runs out of the screen, like a mushroom gatherer seen in Wordsworthian perspective on the verge of a cliff. The day was overcast, chill, and uninspirational. The Boston team was the worst in twenty-seven seasons. A jangling medley of incompetent youth and aging competence, the Red Sox were finishing in seventh place only because the Kansas City Athletics had locked them out of the cellar. They were scheduled to play the Baltimore Orioles, a much nimbler blend of May and December, who had been dumped from pennant contention a week before by the insatiable Yankees. I, and 10,453 others, had shown up primarily because this was the Red Sox’s last home game of the season, and therefore the last time in all eternity that their regular left fielder, known to the headlines as TED, KID, SPLINTER, THUMPER, TW, and, most cloyingly, MISTER WONDERFUL, would play in Boston. “WHAT WILL WE DO WITHOUT TED? HUB FANS ASK” ran the headline on a newspaper being read by a bulb-nosed cigar smoker a few rows away. Williams’ retirement had been announced, doubted (he had been threatening retirement for years), confirmed by Tom Yawkey, the Red Sox owner, and at last widely accepted as the sad but probable truth. He was forty-two and had redeemed his abysmal season of 1959 with a—considering his advanced age—fine one. He had been giving away his gloves and bats and had grudgingly consented to a sentimental ceremony today. This was not necessarily his last game; the Red Soxwere scheduled to travel to New York and wind up the season with three games there.
You can read the rest of the essay a number of places. Go check out Baseball Almanac to give it a read.