“The Silent Season of a Hero” by Gay Talese
We’ll be looking at the art of sports writing. Specifically, baseball. So batter up!
“In October 1965, Gay Talese . . .suggested to his editors at Esquire that the next piece he wanted to write was about Joe DiMaggio. DiMaggio was by then the mythic baseball hero to two generations of Americans, a figure of epic proportions, albeit an almost completely unexamined one, and Talese wanted to do a portrait of DiMaggio some fourteen years after his last big game. What happens, Talese wondered, to a great figure after the cheering stops, and what kind of man was DiMaggio anyway? . . . Off he set for San Fransisco, Fisherman’s Warf, and the DiMaggio family restaurant.”
Slow Motion Swing of the Yankee Clipper
The resulting article would end up being what editor David Halberstam called the “ perfect union of reporter, magazine, and subject matter at a critical time in the history of nonfiction journalism.” He even placed it as the first foundational essay in The Best American Sports Writing of the Century (Houghton Mifflin, 1999).
What do you know about Joe DiMaggio? Or the controversial Talese?
Here is “The Silent Season of a Hero,” by Gay Talese.
A bit about Gay Talese:
Gay Talese was born in Ocean City, New Jersey, on February 7th, 1932, to Italian immigrant parents. He attended the University of Alabama, and after graduation was hired as a copyboy at the New York Times. After a brief stint in the Army, Talese returned to the New York Times in 1956 and worked there as a reporter until 1965. Since then he has written for numerous publications, including Esquire, The New Yorker, Newsweek, and Harper’s Magazine.
Gay Talese has written fourteen books. His earlier bestsellers deal with the history and influence of the New York Times (The Kingdom and the Power, recently reissued in trade paperback by Random House); the inside story of a Mafia family (Honor Thy Father); the changing moral values of America between World War II and the era before AIDS (Thy Neighbor’s Wife); a historical memoir about his family’s immigration to America from Italy in the years preceding World War II (Unto the Sons, also recently reissued by Random House); and other such books as The Bridge, about the construction of the Verrazano-Narrows span between Brooklyn and Staten Island; New York: A Serendipiter’s Journey, a series of vignettes and essays on New York; and Fame and Obscurity, a collection of his articles principally from the pages of Esquire magazine, where he was credited by Tom Wolfe with the creation of an inventive form of nonfiction writing called “The New Journalism.”
As well it may be interesting to take a look at an letter which speaks to the heart of the dream of baseball. It’s from the wonderful website archive, “Letters of Note” curated by Shawn Usher . . .
“On December 7th of 1941, the Japanese Navy carried out a devastating attack on the U.S.’s naval base at Pearl Harbor, and ultimately sealed the Americans’ participation in World War II. Just a month later, Kenesaw Landis — then-Commissioner of Baseball in the U.S. — asked President Roosevelt whether the upcoming baseball season should be called off in light of current events.
Roosevelt replied with the letter seen below. Needless to say, baseball continued.
The White House
January 15, 1942.
My dear Judge:-
Thank you for yours of January fourteenth. As you will, of course, realize the final decision about the baseball season must rest with you and the Baseball Club owners — so what I am going to say is solely a personal and not an official point of view.
I honestly feel that it would be best for the country to keep baseball going. There will be fewer people unemployed and everybody will work longer hours and harder than ever before.
And that means that they ought to have a chance for recreation and for taking their minds off their work even more than before.
Baseball provides a recreation which does not last over two hours or two hours and a half and which can be got for very little cost. And, incidentally, I hope that night games can be extended because it gives an opportunity to the day shift to see a game occasionally.
As to the players themselves I know you agree with me that individual players who are of active military or naval age should go, without question, into the services. Even if the actual quality of the teams is lowered by the greater use of older players, this will not dampen the popularity of the sport. Of course, if any individual has some particular aptitude in a trade or profession, he ought to serve the Government. That, however, is a matter which I know you can handle with complete justice.
Here is another way of looking at it — if 300 teams use 5,000 or 6,000 players, these players are a definite recreational asset to at least 20,000,000 of their fellow citizens — and that in my judgment is thoroughly worthwhile.
With every best wish,
Very sincerely yours,
Franklin D. Roosevelt
Hon. Kenesaw M. Landis,
333 North Michigan Avenue,
“The Thrill of the Grass” by W.P. Kinsella
W. P. “Bill” Kinsella was a legendary fiction writer, best known for his award-winning novel Shoeless Joe, which took on a new life as the movie Field of Dreams.
In addition to Shoeless Joe, a romantic, magic realism baseball novel, Bill wrote other fiction in that genre, such as The Iowa Baseball Confederacy and Magic Time.
Bill Kinsella also wrote numerous baseball short story collections.
Here is the title story from one collection, “The Thrill of the Grass”.
W. P. “Bill” Kinsella was a legendary fiction writer, best known for his award-winning novel Shoeless Joe, which took on a new life as the movie Field of Dreams. The author’s inspirational words, which defined the novel and the film—“If you build it, they will come,” “Go the distance,” and even “Field of dreams”—have taken their place in literature’s lexicon of ideas.
While Kinsella is best known for his baseball fiction, he has a prolific output in many genres. Kinsella is the author of numerous other books, including novels, short fiction collections, poetry, three baseball plays, and several works of non-fiction.