Monday, June 30, 2008

Dream of Glory on the Mound

With the Detroit Tigers finally playing better, the all-star game coming up, and because there's never a bad reason to share some George Plimpton, I wanted to include a link from the SI Vault (a treasure trove so vast that I've barely touched the season) to an article that Plimpton wrote almost 50 years ago about his experience pitching to a group of major league All-Stars during a pregame batting contest.

The article is typically hilarious Plimpton and serves as a perfect example of his much-celebrated form of "participatory journalism." What sports fan wouldn't love to try and pitch against a team of all-stars? Who wouldn't want to see if they could find a way to get through it? And, finally, who doesn't (even if they wouldn't admit to it) kind of want to see Plimpton fail miserably and have the order of the universe reaffirmed just a little?

The article moves briskly and is full of moments that will (or, at least, they should) make you laugh out loud. My particular favorite moment is near the end when the heat and the stress get to Plimpton on the mound and his inner voice stops trying to keep him calm and starts to crack a little under the pressure:

But during Banks 's tenure the inner voice refused to stay contained within my head. The lips began to move, and my mumbled voice, for some reason with a southern inflection which I have never used before or since, became increasingly audible on that lonely hill, moaning and squeaking like the fluttery breath of a tuckered hound.

"Lookit that thing go out theah!" it gasped when Banks had finally departed, and Frank Thomas ' long home run started for the depths of the upper deck. "Lawd almighty!"

What caused the voice to crack utterly was a string of seven balls I threw to Gil Hodges before he hit three fouls in a row and then his single, none of these first pitches close enough to the plate to get him to so much as twitch the bat off his shoulder. At first the voice offered its usual counsel not to push the ball and to take things easy. Presently, however, it got exasperated—"Hey, come on now, bear down, Ah say"—like a short-tempered farmer training a pup to come to heel. Then finally, as the control continued to flag, the panic surged in not by degrees but quickly, like a prowler's bulk suddenly filling a doorway, and it came in and throttled the voice so that all that came out was a thin high squeak.

And then this curious thing happened. The voice turned traitor. It went defeatist on me. It escaped and ran off, washing its hands of the whole miserable business. But it didn't desert me completely. Much worse, it capered around out there on the periphery, jeering and catcalling. "You po' fat fool, y'think y'all pretty fat and smart standing out theah pitching, hey? Well, lemme tell yo' sumpin. Y'all can't pitch yo' way out of a paper bag, that's what. Jes' try. Jes' le's see yo' try putting the ball ovah the plate."

So I would try—and when the ball missed the strike zone under Hodges ' watchful eye, the voice would cackle gleefully, "Y'all see that? Oh my! Y'all see that ball roll in the dust? Ladies an' gen'men, d'y'all observe that ball drop down theah in the dirt? Haw! Haw! Haw!" it would roar gustily in my head. "Haw! Haw! Haw!"


Anonymous said...

Dad sure knew how to turn a phrase.


Josh said...

Indeed, Phin, indeed.


Anonymous said...

Hi Josh!

Do you have any thing else to say about snagglepuss? I quite enjoy your posts about him! Sports and politics are borrrrring!


Josh said...

Sorry, Molly, but, unfortunately, I think there's going to be a post up later today about...Wimbledon!

Howard said...

Good Plimpton story: a friend of mine and I were at the MLB All-Star game in Seattle and were trying to figure out how we recognized him when I hear this voice say "why don't you just ask me who I am?" He was signing books so we talked for a minute or so and reminisced about his star turn in Good Will Hunting. Then probably a month later I bumped into him back in NY at the Garden at a Radiohead show of all places. Weider still, he remembered me.

A classier gent you'll not meet.

Josh said...

Thanks for sharing those stories, Howard!

It's amazing the way Plimpton just seemed to have his hand in everything. With the 4th of July coming up, I was reminded that New York Mayor John Lindsay gave him some sort of honorary "Ambassador of Fireworks" title back in the 70's.

Anonymous said...

Remember when Plimpton threw you a birthday party, Josh?
Those were good times.

Josh said...

Frankly, I'm amazed that it took me so long to write anything Plimpton-related, considering that everyone who knows me is aware of my deep and lasting hero-worship of the man.