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Friday, December 27, 2013

Barra: Norman Mailer, Sportswriter

Looking through Norman Mailer’s eyes…

Though he could never devote much time to the sport, Mailer loved baseball. But despite numerous references to the game in his work, he never wrote a long baseball piece.

According to Lennon, Mailer thought that 1947, Jackie Robinson’s first year as a Brooklyn Dodger, “was the most exciting year Brooklyn fans could remember.” He loved some players and was indifferent to others—Joe DiMaggio, for instance: In a piece collected in The Presidential Papers, he wrote, “His legend left me cold.” (Possibly because his idol, Ernest Hemingway, staked a claim to the Yankee Clipper first in The Old Man and the Sea.)

Another fascinating tidbit Lennon uncovered is that Mailer corresponded with one-time Cincinnati Reds pitcher Jim Brosnan, who had written baseball’s first tell-all, The Long Season. “I can’t pitch worth a ####,” Mailer wrote to Brosnan, “and you write like a dull whore with an honest streak, but if you ain’t afraid of a grand slam, which you is, come around when you get to New York, and we’ll have a drink or two.”

But Lennon leaves out that Mailer was an early supporter of Bill James, baseball’s sabermetrics pioneer. When James was putting out his first analytical newsletter in the late 1970s, Mailer heard about him through a friend and wrote to James asking how he could subscribe.

“I told him I’d be happy to send it to him for free,” James told me, “but he wanted to pay for it. He sent me a check for $5. I had Norman Mailer’s autograph on a $5 check. And I was so desperate back then, I cashed it.”

Repoz Posted: December 27, 2013 at 08:57 AM | 7 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: history, sabermetrics

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   1. GGC don't think it can get longer than a novella Posted: December 27, 2013 at 12:40 PM (#4624653)
Thanks for posting this. I forgot to check Barra out this month after reading him religiously during the fall. FWIW, Jane Leavy's book on Mantle was better tan his dual bio of Mays and Mantle., but I still think he is one of the better writer's on sports out there.
   2. Morty Causa Posted: December 27, 2013 at 12:52 PM (#4624670)
Check out the dedication in The 1983 Bill James Baseball Abstract. I have to say I was very much surprised when I saw Mailer's name there, as he had never written about baseball that I knew of.
   3. tfbg9 Posted: December 27, 2013 at 02:45 PM (#4624742)
Looking through Norman Mailer’s eyes…

A ref to The Adverts!
   4. GGC don't think it can get longer than a novella Posted: December 27, 2013 at 04:02 PM (#4624799)
I didn't get that until you pointed it out, tfbg. That's a classic Repozian intro.
   5. esseff Posted: December 27, 2013 at 04:52 PM (#4624827)
Or, from Kevin Godley and Lol Creme's remarkable "Somewhere in Hollywood":

Norman Mailer
Waits to nail her
He's under the bed
And he's waiting for her to be dead
He's out on the patio
With his polaroid and scenario
And he's armed and he's dangerously....
close was the weather ...

   6. Morty Causa Posted: December 27, 2013 at 07:26 PM (#4624909)
Truman Capote used to like to tell the story of how on the set of Beat the Devil he took Humphrey Bogart down in an arm-wrestling contest. According to Truman, he was the possessor of a genetic peculiarity in a muscle in his forearm or elbow or something (I wonder Malcolm Gladwell knows about this). Wouldn't you have loved for Mailer to have written a play by play of that?
   7. tfbg9 Posted: December 27, 2013 at 08:09 PM (#4624943)
Bogie was probably wheezing and hacking-up black phlegm after maybe 10 seconds.

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