Friday, July 30, 2010

I'll Be Hoping For the Big One Out of the Blue

By Kevin Guilfoile

This is a story about the way one book--an old-fashioned, ink-on-paper kind of book--saved a really cool piece of history.

A few months ago, I was asked to appear on a local television program to talk about literature and baseball (I actually wrote about that discussion in a previous post). Prior to the taping of the show, I was visiting my parents and I noticed a number of old (in some cases very old) baseball-themed novels on my father's shelves. I asked him if I could borrow them, and he said of course. They sat in a stack on the floor of my office until the morning of the taping, at which point I started to leaf through them, hoping to mine them for some interesting talking points. Many were books I had already read--Malamud's The Natural, some anthologies of short fiction, a number of YA books (The Kid From Tompkinsville, The Fifth Base) I'd devoured as a kid. And then there was one really old volume that stuck out, specifically because of the author.

The book was called Pitcher Pollock, it was published in 1916, and the author was Christy Mathewson.

Christy Mathewson was one of the great Major League pitchers of the first part of the last century. He won more than 350 games for the New York Giants and was one of the five original inductees into baseball's Hall of Fame. He didn't actually write Pitcher Pollock. It was one of a series of novels, targeted at boys and ghostwritten by a New York sportswriter, with Mathewson's name on the cover. I thought it might be worth mentioning and so I fanned the pages, and as I did, a small piece of pink cardboard, attached to a string, fell to the floor.

I picked it up and turned it over, and as I read the words on it, I couldn't believe what I was holding--an almost perfectly conserved press pass to Game 2 of the 1929 "World's Series" at Wrigley Field in Chicago. The Chicago Cubs vs. the Philadelphia A's.

It didn't take very much detective work to figure out what had happened. The name of the reporter who used the pass that day (October 9, 1929, just the second World Series game played at Wrigley Field) was written across the face of it in pen. Ken Smith of the New York Graphic. Ken had been a friend of my dad. He had also been a good friend of Christy Mathewson. I imagined him returning home to his New York apartment after a long train ride from Chicago, putting away his clothes and his notebook, looking for a place to stick this worthless piece of cardboard he had tied to his jacket button, and absent-mindedly sticking it between the pages of Pitcher Pollock. Fifty years later, as Ken had no children or grandchildren of his own, he gave the book to my father, who had three boys. And it sat on a shelf for another 30 years, until this artifact dropped to my office carpet.

We often treasure books, not for the stories between the covers but because a book itself can be a story. Ken Smith saved Pitcher Pollock, maybe, because it had been a gift from his friend Christy Mathewson. My dad saved Pitcher Pollock because it had been a gift from his friend Ken Smith. It survived more than 80 years, through countless moves and disruptions, without ever having been read, or even opened, and never letting on that there might be a secret between its pages.

---
My second novel, The Thousand is due out August 24. I'll have more to say about it then, but you can read an excerpt from the book and check out the preliminary tour schedule. You can also enter to be one of ten people who will win a free advance copy of The Thousand just by following me on Twitter.

23 comments:

Naomi Johnson said...

What a wonderful find. And you'll never get anything like that in an e-reader.

Dana King said...

That's a GREAT story. I read PITCHING IN A PINCH, Mathewson's (ghostwritten) book on baseball several years ago, and had a lot of fun with it. He was by all accounts an exemplary person (umpires would sometimes defer to him on close calls, as there were only one or two umps per game, and Mathewson was so universally respected by players on all teams), but not a prig about it, which comes through in the book. I hope some of that is present in "his" fiction.

Congratulations on the new book's release. All I can say is, it's about time. I'm looking forward to it.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, but the fact that it sat around for 80 years without being read could just as easily be an argument for archiving it as an ebook.

Ms. Curtis said...

Kevin,

This brought tears to my eyes, because I can imagine Ken wandering around his (and eventually, your Dad's)office, with all those piles of papers in every nook and cranny! Thanks for a nice 'smile' for my day! :)
Gretchen C.

Pepperguy said...

Great story! There are so many things books have that e-books don't and CAN'T. A story like this solidifies that. Thanks for sharing it with the world!

Anonymous said...

What a find. October 29, 1929 was Black Tuesday, the most devastating stock market crash in US history and the beginning of the Great Depression.

Dana King said...

Just noting a typo: Game 2 of the 1929 World Series was played at Wrigley on October 9, not Black Tuesday. Without the additional layers of playoffs we have today, the World Series took place much earlier.

Kevin Guilfoile said...

Oops. Good catch on that typo. Dana's right. It should have been Oct. 9. Thanks everybody.

Anonymous said...

C'mon man! Take a decent picture of the thing! Jeez, bluuuurrrry!

Todd said...

Great post, would love to see an in-focus picture of the press pass.

Kevin Guilfoile said...

Photo fixed.

Pete said...

Take that, Kindle!

Sara Paretsky said...

Kevin, what a truly great story. Every now and then rereading an old book on my shelves I'll find something I used as a bookmark--but never anything this cool.

Good luck with your launch. I'll check your tour schedule to see if we overlap anywhere (my pub date is Aug 31).

Dana King said...

The best story I have about finding something in a book comes from me pulling an Ed McBain volume from a shelf in our local library. I'm not much good remembering titles of series books (I tend to remember characters, so they run together), and wasn't sure if I'd read this one or not. I pulled it from the shelf, opened it, and out fell a "business card" I'd made for my daughter when she finished elementary school, to pass out to her friends so they could stay in touch.

name99 said...

"And you'll never get anything like that in an e-reader."

I'm sorry, but this is just conclusion is silly.

How about an alternative touching story? Little Joey comes in 2025 in the attic comes across his older brother's discarded 3rd gen iPad, looks through the browser history, and remembers all the things his teenage brother used to be so interested in. Because (cue swelling music) little Joey's brother is DEAD, DEAD, DEAD. died five years ago, but by rummaging through the electronic detritus of his life, little Joey gets to remember once again, and to see in a very intimate way, what his brother was like. What a Hallmark moment!

Humanity goes on, and the fundamental rules apply, regardless of the technical infrastructure in the background.

Anonymous said...

"older brother's discarded 3rd gen iPad"

But after all those decades, nobody has a power adapter that still fits it, except maybe in a museum.

"looks through the browser history, and remembers all the things his teenage brother used to be so interested in"

Of course, all the websites are now dead, if we even still use the web, so every single link is dead, and all he sees is a bunch of cryptic URLs. These strange alphanumeric codes are what people did for fun? Weird, grandpa!

Naomi Johnson said...

name99: Might happen. Unless the browser history, like mine, gets wiped in three days. Yeah, little Joey could find his brother's favorite porn sites - how touching! - shopping sites, and read the blogs that big bro once read - if any of that is still around and the URLs aren't dead ends. Or if the battery isn't completely dead, and Apple is still in existence then and still replaces those batteries. And Joey probably has a lot of his brother's favorite music already loaded on his own music player, whatever form that is by then. I suspect though, that little Joey will take one look at the device, and unless he's a gadget nerd, will ship it straight off to the recycler. Or maybe sell it on the future equivalent of ebay as an antique.

Anonymous said...

Every single paradigm shift in media technology in the last 30 years, since I was maybe 12, lots of people attached to the old model have stood against the change. Right up until they capitulate. I certainly did until I cratered and bought an iPad, discovered the reading experience, even on the backlit screen, is just fine. I still lament the fact that in the age of digital photography we have maybe 4,000 digital photos of our kids I'd hate to lose rather than a few hundred prints. It's too much data juggling. But the distribution model for books is changing; defending the old model isn't going to slow that down much, if any.

Full disclosure: I still use a Royal portable manual typewriter (near mint 1953 QDL) for first drafts. But, hey, that's only for first drafts. I'm not actually trying to turn in typescripts from that machine.

Naomi Johnson said...

Anon: Not saying that defending the old model will slow down the new. Only saying that the advantages of the new don't include all the advantages of the old.

I cratered and bought a Nook which lasted less than 30 days. Not too durable even though I was far from abusive. Yet my books from childhood are still perfectly readable. I didn't enjoy the ereader experience enough to pursue buying another. I guess I'll be an old fogey forever, clutching my hardcopy books and my vinyl recordings all the way to the grave.

Anonymous said...

Yes, if it had been an ebook sold 80 years ago [just as an ebook sold today, if somebody tries to read it 80 years from now], they wouldn't have any way to read it. The DRM server would be down, or the format would no longer be understood by any device you could find that still works [nobody expects an iPad sold today to work 80 years from now, it's considered lucky if it works 3 years from now].

Carl Hager said...

Mr. Guilfoile -

That's a great baseball story. Nice writer story and book-reader story, too. A friend just posted a link to your blog on Facebook. Very smart stuff, I like it a lot.

On a different note, how do you think the Piniella-less Cubs are going to fare?

Infi said...

Actually, if it had been an e-ticket, it could have been preserved in perfect condition, backed up online and stored at almost no cost. The paper version could have easily perished in a house fire before finding its way to you.

Shaun Webb said...

Great story. I've been trying hard too get publicity for my first novel but it's difficult. Id love to talk about jy book on TV!!!