Tab, Joe, Joe, and Joe

The original Mike Trout: Joe Hardy played by the late Tab Hunter

The synchronicity of nostalgia. Events that rhyme in timeA circling of the sun. The revolution of the cold-blooded moon. Fantasy and fact orbit one another!

It is 60 years ago today, July 21, 2018, that “Joe Boyd, a middle-aged real estate salesman, met the man who was to change the course of his life and, indirectly, the standings of the American League.” It is also 13 days since the death of Tab Hunter, who plays Joe Hardy in Damn Yankees, a musical based on the novel from which the quote is taken. It is one of Hunter’s signature roles.

The Year the Yankees Lost the Pennant was published by W. W. Norton & Co. in 1954. That was one year the New York Yankees did not win the pennant.

Author Douglas Wallop, whose surname, according to family legend, was earned by ancestors for what they did to the Normans at the Battle of Hastings, was peering even further ahead for Yankees’s failure…to 1958, when the truly cataclysmic would occur: the lowly Washington Senators (several times removed from the present-day Nationals, definitely not patsies) would take a league championship from the Yankees.

(The word pennant is rarely evoked these days. In real life, the 1958 Yankees stormed back to retake the World Series from the Milwaukee Braves.)

The movie-musical and the novel from which it derives are fresh and entertaining. Wallop’s influences were several, real-life and fictional: the burgeoning Adonis-myth of Mickey Mantle (in My Favorite Summer 1956: “I was never much for plays. People said the author patterned this Joe Hardy after me. I don’t know if that’s true.  Another thing I don’t know is why the club would want us to see a play where the Yankees lose the Pennant.”); the sizzling and (ultimately) doomed relationship of Joe DiMaggio (who, 77 years and 3 days ago at this writing, embarked on a less-famous 16-game batting streak, thus to hit in 72 out of 73 games) and Marilyn Monroe; plus a nocturnal-cynical narrative of bad karma and redemption called The Natural (1952), which itself would be adapted as a 1984 film.

I have no idea if Tab Hunter is routinely compared to Robert Redford, who stars in The Natural: respectively, leading men in much-different times. Hunter’s death, along with others of a generation, represents a closing of the Hollywood studio-system mind.

Below, Ray Walston, the Yankees #1 fan, muses on the bad-old days.


About rightoffthebatbook

Co-author of the book, "Right Off the Bat: Baseball, Cricket, Literature, and Life"
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