Babe Ruth Slept Here:
The Baseball Landmarks of New York City
by Jim Reisler '80
With "a healthy irreverence but utmost respect" for all of New York City and the National Pastime, Jim Reisler '80, in Babe Ruth Slept Here, takes us through Manhattan and the city's boroughs on a bright, sly tour of baseball nooks and crannies. From the Topps Chewing Gum Company at Bush Terminal on 37th Street in Brooklyn to Pete's Tavern on East 18th Street in Manhattan, from the St. Moritz Hotel on Central Park South to the Woodside Hotel in Harlem, his sharp and friendly narration traces the lively street-corner culture of New York City baseball, finding "The Game" at its enduring source in the American grain. Reisler's tour works its magic in a way that defines the city through time by rubbing up against human nature in all its patina.
With New York City's dense and lively surfaces as a ground, Reisler's baseball lens resolves a rich sense of historical era, vividly painting the fame and foibles of players, owners, coaches, and fans, on and away from their fabled fields. Naturally, it finds the hallowed grounds of the old ballparks, from the resolute Yankee Stadium at the bottom of the Bronx to the long-gone Polo Grounds just across the river and Ebbetts Field down in Brooklyn. Spiraling geographically from the Bronx to Brooklyn to Manhattan, then to Queens, the Outer Boroughs, and the hinterlands, this grand tour wraps the whole metropolitan region in a tapestry of telling detail. He telescopes in on Manhattan for period strolls through Downtown, Midtown, the Theater District, the Upper East Side, Uptown, and the Upper West Side. By gathering nuggets from these distinct neighborhood's bars, lobbies, parks, and sidewalks--The Big Apple's cinematic exteriors and interiors--Reisler makes the book ideal as a carry-along and even better as a comfortable read for New York City's lovers and discoverers.
The tour kicks off at 270 Park Avenue, near the present-day headquarters of Major League Baseball. Here, in 1920, Boston owner and Broadway mogul Harry Frazee sold the Babe to the Yankees, giving oblivious birth to "The Curse" by which Boston suffers eternal baseball damnation to this day. Reisler finds the old haunts of ballplayers and baseball people in enduring nightspots, grand hotels, and bleak corners; he uncovers poignant personal histories, such as that of Jackie Robinson, pioneering Major League Baseball's racial integration as a brilliant young rookie in the spring of 1947. Jackie and Rachel Robinson lived at the McAlpin Hotel (Broadway at West 34th Street) during their first, worst months of Jackie's climb to glory. Reisler credits Rachel's quiet strength and her hotplate dinners in their room at the McAlpin with helping Jackie keep his bearings during those furious, frustrating months when he was being sorely tested--and showing surpassing courage.
Lower Manhattan provides some of the more interesting stories--which is not surprising, given the rich history of New York City's (and America's) original downtown. The old Fijux's Hotel at 42 Murray Street (in what is now called Tribeca) is the closest locus we have for the real birth of baseball. It was at Fijux's that the Knickerbockers Base Ball Club formed in the early 1840s, sealing their bylaws over handshakes in a $2 room. Town ball, as it was then known, was a genteel game played by exclusive social clubs, such as the Knickerbockers, who protected their privileged sport by charging members fees to keep out the rabble.
As Knickerbocker player Alexander Cartwright reshaped the rules of town ball into what became known as "the New York game," the Knickerbockers moved their playing grounds from an original site at 27th Street and Fourth Avenue in Manhattan to a large grassy meadow, known as Elysian Fields, across the Hudson River in Hoboken, New Jersey. Baseball took hold in the soul of New York and America, and by the 1850s--to the horror of the original Knickerbockers--it was taken up by the working classes, blossoming in the popular American imagination ever after.
Grief and glory have always characterized baseball; the charm lies in finding where they intersect. Perhaps my favorite depiction of baseball's conquest of New York's heart lies in the Theater District, where Reisler describes the old Hubert's Museum at 228 West 42nd Street (between 7th and 8th Avenues). There, one of the great pitchers of all time spent 1939 and 1940 as the opening act for a flea circus museum, simply talking baseball for crowds of hushed and eager fans. Grover Cleveland Alexander (known to his friends as "Pete") won 373 games in a brilliant major-league career that ended in 1930, after he'd pitched ninety shutouts while battling epilepsy with alcohol. At Hubert's, "sandwiched on a platform amongst a snake charmer, the penny slot machines, the nickel games, and the freak show, Alexander just talked baseball." A dozen times each day he'd hold forth, regaling listeners with his monologues while fielding questions tossed up from the crowd of New York baseball stalwarts. Years later, Old Pete was scraped up from a Los Angeles, California, alley and taken to a hospital, to be identified only after an intern "stripped off his ring and saw the inscription: `St. Louis Cardinals, World Champions, 1926.'"
Jim Reisler's book reflects a host of such insightful facets from all over New York's (and baseball's) diamond. In its best moments, Babe Ruth Slept Here recreates the street-level excitement that is so much a part of both New York City and baseball, clarifying why this place and this game are so entwined with each other in our national soul.
--Jerry Kelly '96
Editor's note: Kelly lives and writes at the Village Inn in Gambier. His Bushville: Life and Local Baseball is due from McFarland and Company in early 2001.
by David Lynn '76
Carnegie Mellon University Press
From an author crisscrossed with Kenyon ties comes a wonderful first book of fiction. David Lynn '76, the author of Fortune Telling, a collection of short stories as varied and deep as the world's oceans, is a Kenyon graduate, a Kenyon professor, and the editor of the Kenyon Review. At least in the local bookstore, the novel should come with its own Kenyon T-shirt.
Wait. There's another Kenyon tie. While working toward his Ph.D. at the University of Virginia, Lynn studied under one of Kenyon's most famous literary alumni, Peter Taylor '40. In the sculpted nature of these stories, the carved pacing, and the masterly control, Taylor's influence is felt, and he would have been awfully proud of this debut.
Fortune Telling foregoes the trendy and/or semi-autobiographical subject matter of most contemporary literary fiction. Instead, it turns a Chekhovian care and reflection toward people such as Daniel, an aged Russian Jew who, in the tale "Concert," strikes a testy accord with a Canadian tourist visiting Daniel's synagogue in Leningrad. When they find themselves later in Daniel's depressing and cramped apartment to say Kiddish together, drinking cheap wine from glasses Daniel keeps in the bathtub, they discover they are both music lovers. The Canadian reveals he is a professional cellist, and together they listen to an LP of Brahms. "Abruptly, the needle popped and skipped, catching up the music in a single stuttered phrase before spinning it on. Pained, Daniel opened his eyes and met the visitor's. Neither smiled. The music raced on at an unnatural tempo, the old record whirling too quickly on the newer machine, though still resolutely harnessed to those fading black bars in the score."
The settings of Lynn's stories range from Russia to India to England to the American Midwest, where "Rivalry" is set. Here, Lynn breathes newly charged life into the tyrant-father-abusive- to-the-mother-stood-up- to-by-the-eldest-son story. He spins the wheel of complicated psyches, and where it is going to land the reader has no idea. In the midst of a tale brimming with potential and realized violence, the reader is surprised most by a scene of tranquility in which the defining fragility of the father is exposed.
In "Baiting," a white, hunchbacked fast-food manager's first moments of joy are found with Jenny, one of his black employees. The curtain is soon drawn on their surreptitious lovemaking, however, when he hires a new black girl, someone Jenny knows and doesn't want around. The complication does not turn, as the reader might expect, on jealousy, rivalry, or a burgeoning infatuation but rather on the role of the church. As Jenny explains the moratorium to him: "`She ain't gonna be fooled and she sure ain't gonna keep quiet about it. I can just hear Reverend Jordan asking me to come over for a little chat--no way I want that.'" The story moves to an adept and surprising conclusion that lends "Baiting" its title.
In the title offering, "Fortune Telling," the protagonist is drawn, eyes open and inexorably, into adultery. In "Wildflowers," a gentle and wise story, an older woman tends the memories of her husband and son, killed in an auto accident. "Advert for Love" finds a Brahmin Indian scheming to outsmart the arranged marriage that will take his lovely Minda away from him.
There are fourteen stories in all. They have been published in such highly regarded magazines as Boulevard, New England Review, Triquarterly, and Zoetrope.
Fortune Telling launches the Carnegie Mellon Series in Short Fiction. Aiming to advance the cause of serious literary fiction, the series could not have chosen a better inaugural book to exemplify its goals. In these stories, Lynn sounds the weighty notes in quiet lives, and the hushed notes in loud ones. A trip to Amazon.com to order up a copy would be well worth the visit.
David Lynn's stories restore the seriousness and ambition to fiction's reach. A finer legacy Peter Taylor could not have hoped for.
--Nancy Sydor Zafris '76
Editor's note: Zafris, author of the Flannery O'Connor Prize-winning short-story collection People Like Us, lives and writes in Columbus, Ohio, and serves on the faculty of the Kenyon Review Summer Writing Programs.
Fraternity and Politics: Choosing One's Brothers
by Fred E. Baumann
In his new book, Fraternity and Politics: Choosing One's Brothers, Professor of Political Science Fred E. Baumann explores what happens when the beautiful notion that all men are brothers becomes a political goal. The political call for fraternity postulates that beneath particular loyalties and differences of interest prevailing in everyday life lies a deeper, more natural stratum of commonality and kinship that needs only to be noticed to become fully realized.
Paradoxically, however, because everyone doesn't or perversely won't notice, human brotherhood must be brought into being by its partisans, a party of fraternity--that is, by one version or another of "the fraternity of battle." Baumann has no quarrel here with military esprit de corps (as in King Henry's "little band of brothers"), or with the conditional solidarity of collective political actors (such as the Polish Solidarity movement) or even with, dare we say, fraternities. But everything changes when universal and unconditional fraternity becomes the actual organizing principle of politics.
Baumann investigates the typical career of the effort to "will" fraternity and its invariably ugly conclusion, using three case studies or exemplary moments to show a common pattern of thought and behavior: the rise and fall of the New Left in the sixties, and specifically of the SDS; the career of the sans-culottes, the populist allies of the Jacobins during the Terror; and Jean-Paul Sartre's philosophical endorsement of fraternal terror.
Baumann detects a characteristic pattern of radicalization in the movements for revolutionary fraternity, which is caused by the fact that the party of fraternity is supposed to stand in for or represent the ultimate brotherhood it seeks--the revolutionary partisans must themselves live as the brothers they want all to become. Because complete identity is already presumed to exist, there can be no dissension in the ranks. The need for compromise cannot be acknowledged, nor diversity of views tolerated. In this "Manichaean" world, opposition must be given the most sinister, even paranoid, interpretation, which in turn confirms the fraternity of battle, along the way licensing witch-hunts. The illusion of oneness is not, however, impenetrable.
As indicated by the tortuous and tortured self-justifications by revolutionaries that Baumann examines, rage and indignation are needed to counter a persistent self-doubt and despair. "The price of solidarity with his brothers is to be at war with himself." The party of fraternity becomes "the unity of killers with a bad conscience." Thus, with the Jacobins the revolution to achieve "liberty, equality, and fraternity" produced a nest of serpents turning on themselves.
This pattern of radicalization is the same, Baumann argues, whether the starting point is Jacobin "virtue" or the "Left-Nietzschean yearnings" of the SDS. With dogmatism about ends and utopianism about the possibility of attaining them, mortal "seriousness" about means--that is, the free use of violence and terror--is inevitable. To avoid the imputation of romanticism evident at its beginning, SDS was driven toward Marxism-Leninism, its dominant wing morphing into the Weathermen. With the sans-culottes, the purging of "moderates" was eventually extended to include the quintessential radical, Danton. In both cases, the revolutionaries interpreted the world to justify their terrorist tactics and used terrorist tactics to justify themselves. In both cases, the endpoint is marked by manipulation, bad faith, and hypocrisy. According to Baumann, Sartre, for his part, sanctions the process of radicalization but aims to eliminate its half-heartedness or bad faith by reinterpreting the revolutionary's inner struggle as an admission of his own potential backsliding or subversion. The very possibility that the enemy may indeed be each of "us" leads Sartre in fact to urge that each partisan become his brother's keeper, with a vengeance. Each must then identify himself completely with a group "fused" and made fraternal (also fratricidal) by terror; each must become simultaneously terrifying and terrorized, both Cain and Abel.
Baumann treats the quest for fraternity through politics as a distinctly modern phenomenon, an extension of liberal universalism and equality, but also, and more importantly, as an expression of a recurring dissatisfaction with liberal society, beginning with a distaste for bourgeois values and perceived alienation from others. Rather than the smug "last men" of Nietzsche's nightmare or the cheerful ironists who are the featured habitués of many postmodern projections, Baumann considers the self-contempt of bourgeois liberals as one of the "toxic byproducts" of liberalism that will continue to appear from time to time, the apparent enthusiasm for liberal democracy around the world notwithstanding. The glamor of great deeds, heroic struggles, and "interesting times" must be addressed then to prevent dissatisfaction from deteriorating into soft sensationalism, or hardening into fanaticism. Baumann concludes his book with a brief but useful survey of alternative modes for ennobling and completing liberal democratic society that might, rather than threaten it, be compatible with it--namely, religion, communitarianism, philosophic friendship, and "aesthetic" education or the cultivation of certain tastes. He is currently at work on a book that will fully elaborate the last, his preferred, option.
Baumann's analysis, which rests on a wide-ranging knowledge of contemporary politics, history, and political philosophy, is guided by his abiding questions and his true, albeit unsentimental, civic-mindedness. Among his profound textual interpretations, I note particularly his remarkably lucid account of Sarte's reflections on terror. Above all, he evinces a formidable capacity to reveal the psychological complexities of political rhetoric and behavior. His vividly illustrated critiques of "the fraternity of battle," wherein the participants are given ample space to speak for themselves, are searching, at times searing, but he aims to understand justly. The book portrays, but does not succumb to, moral indignation.
Nor is his purpose in telling a story he describes variously as "dismal," "gloomy," and "grisly" to lay bare the human heart of darkness or to increase political cynicism. On the contrary, cynicism, hypocrisy, and the whole array of distinctly unfraternal dispositions he documents are shown to be effects rooted in sentiments of the opposite sort, lodged, so to speak, in untutored hearts of gold. The book can be read as a powerful brief against political utopianism, "the belief that in principle political differences can be transcended." Thus, knowledge of the characteristic career of revolutionary fraternity may be most important to those for whom its attractive beginnings are most alluring, those who would, for example, romanticize the sixties, lamenting our loss of "idealism." Among other things, Baumann offers an antidote to such nostalgia in which core elements of the era stand out sharply.
Baumann also insists that any effort to counter liberalism's vulnerabilities must arise out of our own experience, that is, from recognition that our world is decidedly different from the classical humanists' or even from Tocqueville's. Thus, while Schiller's statement on aesthetic education inaugurates Baumann's upcoming book, lovers of Bogie and Capra will not be disappointed.
The nobility and brotherhood that cannot be found in revolutionary politics may be found, he says, on an individual level via an education that begins with the questions suppressed by the fraternal bands themselves, especially questions about the ends of human endeavor, the character of politics, and one's own yearnings or self-dissatisfaction. Through discussion of such questions, a community of people who feel akin to one another does actually form. The fraternity generated by liberal education and the prospects for expanding it is, in fact, the counterpoint theme of this exceptionally enlightening book.
Pamela Jensen, Harry Clor Professor of Political Science
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