To celebrate what would have been Jack Kerouac's 84th birthday, I'm posting one of my favorite Kerouac essays, a piece he wrote for the July 1959 issue of Escapade magazine and which is reprinted in the book Good Blonde & Others. I like this essay because it clearly demonstrates his love and knowledge of my favorite sport, baseball. Seems to me that if you change some of the names, this article could just as well apply today. It shows the timelessness of the sport and how even then there were concerns about some of the same things the purists among us baseball fans fear may be ruining baseball today. What do you think Jack would have said about Bonds? Anyway, happy birthday Kerouac. Hope you've got the MLB cable package on your heavenly television set.
Who told Willy Mays to change his batting stance from 1951 straight-in-the-box upright honest to the now-crouch business with back knee bent so that he can no longer clobber outside pitches and put the meat part of the bat flush on the seamless noggin of the base ball and drill it down the third base line? Know-it-all!
Who told Karl Spooner to get operated, ruining one of the greatest pitching prospects of all time, right after he struck out seventeen men in his major league debut, all this stuff about bone-chips and about knives being stuck into the hard muscular arms of pitchers?
Why doesn't somebody tell Early Wynn how to cure his phlebitis by standing on his head three minutes a day against a wall, then he'd have five great years left in him?
How can anybody ever beat Hornsby's and Lafoie's [sic] batting records with all that silly trickery of the Boudreau Shift? Is that honest baseball, to swing the infield over to catch a pull hitter's advantage and make of it little with a Schoendienst glove?
How can anybody break Babe Ruth's homerun record with all these silly intentional walks? As soon as a guy starts to hit homeruns he's on base every minute.
What better hit-and-run than a good smacking triple?
Why has the prerogative of figuring out a pitcher been transferred to coaches and managers who give hand-signs and ruin the game with their deleterious and vicarious master-minding?
Why is beautiful Ted Williams always booed by stupid Boston crowds and abused by sportswriters just because he doesn't care what people think of him and his big salary or how jealous they are about his winning batting titles year after year or the fact that he wants to go fishing in Florida and is like young Ernest Hemingway? Was Ty Cobb treated that badly?
Why didn't Casey Stengel start Bob Turley in the last game of the 1958 World Series and only put him in after a million fans sent him telepathic messages?
Who wants to hoodoo all the young greats with the sophomore jinx except jealous people? It's like someone sneezing and you tell them they must have Asian Flu instead of telling then to sniff Dristan and cool it.
Humorous note: how comes it that when somebody like Ted Williams, left handed, sliding his hands up and down the ash blond bat then gripping it with Syrian intensity sometimes with tapes on his wrists and adjusts his wide stance in the box and holds ready and when the pitch comes in unfinishes the symphony of the southpaw's disdain with a mad screaming linedrive homerun into the rightfield bleachers where people duck, always there's one mad fan who stands and catches the ball barehanded which is a feat that even the ballplayers themselves couldn't do?
Why can't the Little Leaguers just play baseball without being pestered and supervised and prevented from becoming juvenile delinquents by dreary supervisory coaches who should try the delinquent ministry?
Why are natural pull hitters taught to hit to the other field? By castrated thinkers?
Why is so much fuss made about owners and managers and general managers and general batboys? Supposing you had to sit around all day reading about the photographers of beautiful girls in Escapade instead of seeing the girls themselves?
Why do guys who tool bats all winter long in their cellar and follow the hotstove league, come out in spring managing teams in the mist and always insist on the hit-and-run from a third base coaching box? Why don't they dig the power of baseball in the very bats they tool?
And pitchers who learn to pitch against barn doors like Bob Feller should never be told how to throw a fast ball or a curve or any pitch any more than a natural brokenfield runner in football should be yelled at with a megaphone when to dodge and when not to?
Everybody's trying to get into the act.
In the first inning of the first game of every World Series did you ever notice how all the ballplayers act with a huge slow motion burl of their arms and shoulders and legs, as though they were ballet dancers watched by the whole world?
How come the people who love baseball the most have never seen a World Series in the flesh and if they were offered the chance would rather listen to it on the radio or watch it on TV?
Why are so many shortstops called the greatest of all time and then immediately forgotten? Like Buddy Kern and Mr. Shortstop Marion? It must be the shortstop is the most controversial position in baseball.
What is the exact sound of bright new Louisville bats being thrown on the ground for batting practice, when they clunk together? Plank! Though the bats are loose and shiney do you know whether they are loose, do you wonder if the batter's hands are sweating and slipping at the bat handle or are they not, is the clean bat waved in waiting?
Why is third baseman so tragic? Why does center fielder look dreamy in centerfield, hands on knees? Why is rightfielder bored looking? And leftfielder worried looking? And second baseman so neat looking, like an Irish Jesuit? Or first baseman always look like a tall Indian? Or the catcher like a man of responsibilities in a modern cigarette ad when he removes his shin guards?
Why does it give one so much joy to see burly fans bend eager elbows to their knees for the first pitch?
Let there be joy in baseball again, like in the days when Babe Ruth chased an enemy sportswriter down the streets of Boston and ended up getting drunk with him on the waterfront and came back the next day munching on hotdogs and boomed homeruns to the glory of God.