Philip Roth (The Great American Rookie, March 12) was being characteristically modest in your LETTER FROM THE PUBLISHER concerning his baseball prowess as a youth. The fact stands that Roth was considered one of the brightest prospects ever to surface on the playing fields of Newark, fields that have produced score's of stars whose names, unhappily, escape me.
He did not play for Weequahic High for the simple reason that Roth felt his presence on the team might embarrass the less gifted boys. He played instead for the B'nai B'rith Bombers out at Sol R. Rappaport Memorial Field (now W. C. Handy Park), where the rattle of Roth's line shots off the outfield walls prompted the passing of local noise ordinances, among the first in America.
Roth once hit a ball, measured, 180 feet (on the bounce). Since Roth was only 18 at the time, it is clear that had his progress continued at this pace he would today, turning 40 this very week, be one of the great long-ball hitters of this or any other generation.
So feared was Roth that he was once issued six intentional passes in a single game, although the pitcher, one Sheldon Grossbart, chose an unorthodox manner of going about it, to say the least. He hit the writer six times with his fastball, three times smack in the head, which some critics maintain accounts for the turn of Roth's future writings. Grossbart later had a tryout with Keokuk of the Three I League, which will give you an idea of the class of ball in which Roth found himself. He was not perfect; who among us is? He could not hit the drop-drop. He was afraid of the fastball and the slider and the curve. Even then he was protecting himself for the great years ahead. What counts is that the Clifton Avenue Pee Wee League to this day plays its games in Babe Roth Park, in memory of what he might have been—and because he donated the backstop.
?Best-selling Author Roth replies to best-selling Author Crichton: "It is no mystery to me why Mr. Crichton should attempt to sully my record as a sandlot ballplayer (1941-49). In the summer of 1971 on Martha's Vineyard a right-handed woman and myself soundly trounced Mr. Crichton and two 10-year-old children in a game of running bases. Obviously Mr. Crichton is still smarting from that loss. It is interesting—and bracing—to note that neither of the children (whom Crichton dragged down to defeat that day with his own clumsy base running) has seen fit to co-sign Mr. Crichton's letter, though I do not doubt that considerable pressure was brought to bear upon them to do so."—ED.
The Great American Rookie
Was eagerly read by me;
As a writer Roth may be Triple A,
But about baseball he's strictly Class D.
EDSEL H. WARD
THE BACK IS BACK
The 1973 White Sox are all of the team that William Leggett described (No Holes to Mend in These Sox, March 12)—and more. With the additional power (Melton and Henderson) and pitching (Stone and Johnson) for 1973, the Sox have solid offense and defense. The excitement they cause could push attendance totals over three million for the first time in Chicago baseball.
The pennant will be waving on the South Side this fall.
Country Club Hills, Ill.
Curse you, SPORTS ILLUSTRATED! Why me? After faithfully following your printed words for 11 years, after fanatically following my sunflower team for 16 years, after bleeding, stomping, crying, laughing and cheering for my glorious losers, I said to myself, "This year...this year will end my suffering." But now what can I do? You don't even have the courtesy to put the whammy on my heroes in August or September, thus at least giving me some hope from April to July. No, you insist on taking all of the suspense out of the season. I've seen what you've done in the past to my skylarks. I still hold you partly responsible for their ' "wasteland" era. But this is the cruelest joke of all—a cover story on the Chicago White Sox. Oh, SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, I hate you! But, oh, SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, I love you!
The metamorphosis of the South Siders is certainly a unique one. From the '67 Sox, a fine defensive team that chased Boston down to the wire, they evolved into the '68-70 Go-Go Sox (i.e., out of town), consisting generally of bumbling incompetents. Fortunately for Chicagoans, Chuck Tanner and Rollie Hemond came along, retained the quality players, swapped the others for ones of a higher caliber and promoted talented minor-leaguers to the parent club. In three short years they built the Super Sox: a collection of dynamic hitters further enhanced by the additions of Ken Henderson and John Jeter, and anchored by knuckleball artist Wilbur Wood.