These days old memories don't die, they just turn up on eBay. So it was that I rediscovered the Bronc Burnett books. A kind of Hardy Boys for young sports fans, author Wilfred McCormick's 27-volume series kicked off in 1948 with The Three-Two Pitch and follows Burnett, a fireballing righthander from Sonora, N.Mex., as he leads his high school and American Legion teams on athletic exploits far and wide. Each installment of the Burnett series offers a morality play about sports and life—coping with criticism, for instance, or learning humility in the face of success.
Was America ever so innocent, baseball ever so pure? Archetypes people Bronc's world: his loyal sidekick, catcher Fat Crompton; Cap'n Al, the gruff but lovable coach—"solid as a granite boulder"—who imparts the wisdom of his eight years in the big leagues; the insufferable Fibate Jones, team scorekeeper and resident gadfly. This is a world in which baseball-hungry townsfolk build the high school stands by hand; in which sheriff Pole Drinkwater works behind the plate, immune to the "yip-yaps" heckling him; in which the good guys are lanky, broad-shouldered, nimble-footed, and the villains sport names like Slug Langenegger and Sluice Derrick.
I outgrew Bronc Burnett in the mid-1970s, and maybe baseball did too: In many ways today's game is unrecognizable compared with the one the Sonora crew played. Which got me wondering: Can Bronc's hokey wholesomeness play in the new millennium? I'll find out in a few years, when I pass The Three-Two Pitch, Legion Tourney and Fielder's Choice on to my son. The toughest job may be convincing him that Bronc Burnett's world is fiction, but not science fiction.