The end of another baseball season always makes me think of the great Ted Williams, who played his final game 55 years ago today.
The writer John Updike, of the Wyomissing, Pa., Updikes, chronicled the game in a famous article for The New Yorker, titled “Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu.”
As only Williams could, the last man to hit .400 for a season (1941) hit a home run in his final at bat that day at Fenway Park. And as only Williams could, he behaved petulantly.
“Like a feather caught in a vortex, Williams ran around the square of bases at the center of our beseeching screaming. He ran as he always ran out home runs—hurriedly, unsmiling, head down, as if our praise were a storm of rain to get out of. He didn’t tip his cap. Though we thumped, wept, and chanted ‘We want Ted’ for minutes after he hid in the dugout, he did not come back.
“Our noise for some seconds passed beyond excitement into a kind of immense open anguish, a wailing, a cry to be saved. But immortality is nontransferable. The papers said that the other players, and even the umpires on the field, begged him to come out and acknowledge us in some way, but he never had and did not now. Gods do not answer letters.”
It’s that last sentence that has particular relevance to this blog post, as I wanted to follow up on another blog post I wrote last November. I titled it, “A forgotten TV show and the lost art of the letter.
Of course, Updike’s reference to Williams and letters wasn’t literal. But while gods might be forgiven, even most of us mere mortals have given up writing letters. As much as I lament letter writing’s demise, I have not typed or written a personal letter in years.
Compare that with Thomas Jefferson, as noted in Bill Bryson’s book, “At Home.”
“He not only kept copies of eighteen thousand letters he wrote, and saved the five thousand he was sent, but also diligently logged them all in an ‘Epistolary Record’ that itself ran more than 650 pages.”
As I blogged last year:
“Letter writing truly is a lost art, having lost out to email, Twitter, Snapchat. We write less and less, and what we write is increasingly ephemeral. The message we send to recipients nowadays is that they just aren’t worth our time and that what we have to say, no matter how abbreviated, isn’t worth the screen it’s printed on.”
I noted how I wrote letters exhaustively in my youth, to hockey players, TV news people, comedians and actors. I shared a photo of the beautifully crafted and written letter I received in 1983 from British actor Simon Jones, whose credits include “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.”
After I published that post, I shared it with Jones. I thanked him for his letter.
“I am honored to have it in my possession,” I told him.
Jones wrote back:
“Ah, Neal, as the late impresario Lord Grade was wont to say, ‘Cast your bread upon the waters and it may come back as a smoked salmon sandwich.’ Thanks for the memory!
All the best,
Simon, and, yes, I still write letters … ”
Just not this time, as he and I corresponded via Facebook.