The Baseball Scene

The bat looks like a toothpick (or pen) in Henry James’s hand.

Henry James, for whom no abstraction, no characteristic or gesture, was too subtle to be examined (and examined), qualified and qualified again, is generally credited with a fictional form that was actually pioneered by women, mostly Continental-women writers on to Edith Wharton.

Mary Murdoch Mason’s Mae Madden: A Story was published three years before James’s similarly titled “Daisy Miller: A Study.” (This precedent is uncovered by S. A. Wadsworth, out of Minnesota, in an award-winning 2001 essay.)

It “mae” be noted James is also the author of The American. Its drama-version opened outside Liverpool but then fell flat in the West End of London, the city James loved, and lost a lot of money.

What does any of this have to do with cricket and baseball? Scrutinizing it from our most-reliable point of view, as the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox square off in the East End…everything!

Since literature is an element of Right off the Bat, we see James’s endlessly modulated-international theme of naive U.S. citizen encountering more worldly European, whether female and male, male and female, or same-gender, as in some form paralleling, if not quite defining, the short London series and how it will play. MLB injects itself into the heart of a more worldly cricket world.

Writing itself is a lens thro which sport, as part of the general “scene” and culture, is viewed, dissected, evaluated: Izaak Walton, Lardner, Malamud, Updike. (Along with cricket, Jane Austen mentions “base ball” in Northanger Abbey, via a ditsy character.)

Alexis de Tocqueville observed that U.S. democracy would devolve into bric-a-brac, the merely trivial. Charles Dickens could not abide the U.S. and slandered it. Jaundiced Mark Twain wrote The Innocents Abroad and later A Tramp Abroad. James comes down on the side of de Tocqueville in The American Scene.

OK, the writers, the observers and framers, have had their say. Since London skipped out of baseball as a Summer Olympics sport, it is only fitting some of the best pros (not prose) will treat Brits to the best baseball has to offer. It’s the players’ turn to create a narrative.

In the closing chapter of our book, The Bambino comes under the Yankee Stadium tutelage of the Don. We call this first-1932 summit, and a second two-years-and-change later, “the merger.” Baseball, Cricket, Literature, and Life all, in the words of those Local Lads, the Beatles of James’s Waterloo, Liverpool, come together.

MLB will do it all over the UK scene again in 2020 (as baseball returns to the Summer Olympics in Tokyo), this time without the DH, as NL rivals the Chicago Cubs face the St. Louis Cardinals.

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About rightoffthebatbook

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