December 11, 2007


Mark Harris remembered (Jeffrey Greeberg, December 11, 2007, Hardball Times)

Wiggen first comes to literary life in The Southpaw (1953), Harris’ second novel, a wonderful account of Henry’s signing and first two seasons with the New York Mammoths—a peculiar hybrid of the Yankees and the Giants. Three other Wiggen novels follow, including Bang The Drum Slowly (1956) which most fans know from the Robert De Niro film, the Paul Newman TV movie or a trendy college course on baseball literature.

The books trace Wiggen’s 22 seasons and 247 victories in the bigs as he became the 27th winningest pitcher at the time—“who never threw to the wrong base or invested a bad dollar”—and were capped off by It Looked Like Forever (1979), with its apt epigraph: “I will be the first to know when it’s time to quit. – 189 baseball players quoted from time to time in newspapers and magazines of sport.”

You gotta love a ballplayer whose fame comes not from his 26 game seasons but from his writing. Fans don’t mob him with ‘I saw you in game one of the ’52 series’ or ‘I saw you close the door on Boston’ but rather ‘I read your book’. And he’s not shy with his literary opinions: “And there was Huckleberry Finn that begun ‘You do not know about me without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer’, and I told Aaron that was a dirty trick to start a book that you no more opened than the writer was telling you to read still another as well.” And then of course Wiggen, the author, goes on to do just that.

And if you are a real baseball fan, you smile quietly at: “I personally give up football when a kid and do not read about it and never look at it. If it flashes on the screen in the newsreel, I go take a leak.”

But the delight of Henry is not that he’s a southpaw in the Lefty Grove mode, with Spahnie’s guile and the conscience of the Christian Gentleman, Christy Mathewson. No, his DNA goes back further, to an earlier American original who also used an interlocutor to greatly improve his spelling. The aforementioned Huck Finn haunts these pages like the ghosts of Yankee Stadium.

You can watch the Newman version of Bang the Drum here.

Posted by Orrin Judd at December 11, 2007 8:53 AM
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