John Updike, literary lion, went down swinging yesterday at 76. He was a good writer — not my favorite writer, but a good writer, –owner of a certain suburban middle-class zeitgeist that John Cheever couldn’t stake out, a North Shore/Essex County Ipswich-to-Georgetown world of adulterous young mutual fund managers and tired, cranky Yankees. He left us with Rabbit Angstrom, and for that we should be grateful.
He also was a Red Sox fan, and wrote one of the better essays on the game, a elegant New Yorker essay on Ted Williams’ last game in that “lyric little bandbox of a ballpark:” Fenway Park.
“One of the scholasticists behind me said, “Let’s go. We’ve seen everything. I don’t want to spoil it.” This seemed a sound aesthetic decision. Williams’ last word had been so exquisitely chosen, such a perfect fusion of expectation, intention, and execution, that already it felt a little unreal in my head, and I wanted to get out before the castle collapsed. But the game, though played by clumsy midgets under the feeble glow of the arc lights, began to tug at my attention, and I loitered in the runway until it was over. Williams’ homer had, quite incidentally, made the score 4-3. In the bottom of the ninth inning, with one out, Marlin Coughtry, the second-base juggler, singled. Vic Wertz, pinch-hitting, doubled off the left-field wall, Coughtry advancing to third. Pumpsie Green walked, to load the bases. Willie Tasby hit a double-play ball to the third baseman, but in making the pivot throw Billy Klaus, an ex-Red Sox infielder, reverted to form and threw the ball past the first baseman and into the Red Sox dugout. The Sox won, 5-4. On the car radio as I drove home I heard that Williams had decided not to accompany the team to New York. So he knew how to do even that, the hardest thing. Quit.”