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THE GREAT AMERICAN ROOKIE
Philip Roth
March 12, 1973
"Call me Ishmael" wrote Herman Melville in one literature's famed opening lines. "Call me Smitty" parodies Philip Roth as he begins The Great American Novel, which will be published in May by Holt, Rinehart and Winston. Smitty is a sportswriter with a whale of a tale to tell. The plot concerns the travails of an illstarred baseball team—and the morals are many. This excerpt describes the astonishing events of the' 33 season.
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March 12, 1973

The Great American Rookie

"Call me Ishmael" wrote Herman Melville in one literature's famed opening lines. "Call me Smitty" parodies Philip Roth as he begins The Great American Novel, which will be published in May by Holt, Rinehart and Winston. Smitty is a sportswriter with a whale of a tale to tell. The plot concerns the travails of an illstarred baseball team—and the morals are many. This excerpt describes the astonishing events of the' 33 season.

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"Gil..." It was Mike the Mouth speaking. Off the playing field he had a voice like a songbird's, so gentle and mellifluous that it could soothe a baby to sleep. And alas, it had, years and years ago..."Son, listen to me. There's just got to be an umpire in the ball game. And he has got to be the boss. There's never been a big league game without one, and there never will...Oh Gil," he crooned, "I don't expect that you are going to love me. I don't expect that anybody in a ball park is going to care if I live or die. Why should they? I'm not the star. You are. The fans don't go out to the ball park to see the Rules and Regulations upheld, they go out to see the home team win. The whole world loves a winner, you know that better than anybody, but when it comes to an umpire, there's not a soul in the ball park who's for him. He hasn't got a fan in the place. What's more, he cannot sit down, he cannot go to the bathroom, he cannot get a drink of water, unless he visits the dugout, and that is something that any umpire worth his salt does not ever want to do. He cannot have anything to do with the players. He cannot fool with them or kid with them, even though he may be a man who in his heart likes a little horseplay and a joke from time to time. If he so much as sees a ballplayer coming down the street, he will cross over or turn around and walk the other way, so it will not look to passersby that anything is up between them. In strange towns, when the visiting players all buddy up in a hotel lobby and go out together for a meal in a friendly restaurant, he finds a room in a boarding house and eats his evening pork chop in a diner all alone. Oh, it's a lonesome thing, being an umpire. There are men who won't talk to you for the rest of your life. Some will even stoop to vengeance. But that is not your lookout, my boy. Nobody is twisting Masterson's arm, saying, 'Mike, it's a dog's life, but you are stuck with it.' No, it's just this, Gil: somebody in this world has got to run the game. Otherwise, you see, it wouldn't be baseball, it would be chaos. We would be right back where we were in the Ice Ages."

"The Ice Ages?" said Gil, reflectively.

"Exactly," replied Mike the Mouth.

"Back when they was livin' in caves? Back when they carried clubs and ate raw flesh and didn't wear no clothes?"

"Correct!" said General Oakhart.

"Well," cried Gil, "maybe we'd be better off!" And kicking aside the newspapers with which he'd strewn the General's carpet, he made his exit. Whatever it was he said to the General's elderly spinster secretary out in the anteroom—instead of just saying "Good day"—caused her to keel over unconscious.

That very afternoon, refusing to heed the advice of his wise manager to take in a picture show, Gamesh turned up at Greenback Stadium just as the game was getting underway and, still buttoning up his uniform shirt, ran out and yanked the baseball from the hand of the Greenback pitcher, who was preparing to pitch to the first Aceldama hitter of the day—and nobody tried to stop him. The regularly scheduled pitcher just walked off the field like a good fellow (cursing under his breath) and the Old Philosopher, as they called the Greenback manager of that era, pulled his tired bones out of the dugout and ambled over to the umpire back of home plate. In his early years, the Old Philosopher had worn his seat out sliding up and down the bench, but after a lifetime of managing in the majors, he wasn't about to be riled by anything.

"Change in the lineup, Mike. That big apple knocker out there on the mound is batting ninth now on my card."

To which Mike Masterson, master of scruple and decorum, replied, "Name?"

"Boy named Gamesh," he shouted, to make himself heard above the pandemonium rising from the stands.

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