"What did he hit you with in the second, Ezz?"
"I don't know," said Ezz. "Didn't see the fight myself."
"What are you going to do now?you gonna retire, Ezz?"
"Go on fightin'. Knock around a couple of weeks and then start training. See who's next on the men-yoo."
"What did he say when the fight was over, Ezz?up in the ring?"
"He say," said June's fierce, wounded gladiator, and grinned with what almost seemed like pride, "I'm the cleverest man he ever fought."
Book jinxes Yankees?
There is general agreement among students of American literature that no one has yet written a really good baseball novel, nothing to compare with War and Peace anyway. Baseball is a difficult subject for fiction because the game itself is tinged with fantasy, and not just in Ebbets Field, either. A writer of realistic fiction who tries to improve on characters like Babe Ruth or Casey Stengel is a fool and so some authors, aware that in writing about baseball they are dealing with a world of improbability, have the good taste to stick to plots which are fanciful and, very often, downright weird.
So it is with this year's baseball novel, a major league or Book-of-the-Month Club choice for September entitled The Year the Yankees Lost the Pennant. Written by a man with the fanciful name of Douglass Wallop, it tells of a Washington Senators fan (there really are such things, as Bela Lugosi used to say) who, in his 50s, makes a Faustian deal with the devil. In return for the fan's soul, the devil arranges for him to become a fabulous young outfielder who bats over .500 and almost singlehandedly leads the Senators to the pennant. And, with a timing worthy of Stan Musial, the book comes out in a month when the Yankees have indeed lost a pennant.
There have been surprisingly few good movies about baseball, too. Among the most successful was another fantasy of a few years back, It Happens Every Spring, in which the plot turned on a magical baseball that avoided wood and hence could not be hit. This movie brought to mind a short story written by Ralph Henry Barbour many years back, when St. Nicholas magazine was still being published for boys and girls. In Barbour's story a sea captain presents a 12-year-old boy with a baseball bat made of the marvelous wood of the hoki-moki tree, which grows only on an unmapped island that abounds in wild horses. The horses love to scratch their backs against the tree, and in time, by an evolutionary process, the tree develops an affinity for horsehide. Equipped with a bat that draws baseballs to it like a magnet, the boy wins the big game.