You Could Look It Up
by James Thurber

Review by
Robert Wilfred Franson

The Saturday Evening Post, 5 April 1941

included in —
My World — And Welcome To It

Writings and Drawings

March 2010


"You Could Look It Up" is a baseball story, but it is especially a neat handling of baseball as history and nostalgia:

It all begun when we dropped down to C'lumbus, Ohio, from Pittsburgh to play a exhibition game on our way out to St. Louis. It was gettin' on into September, and though we'd been leadin' the league by six, seven games most of the season, we was now in first place by a margin you could 'a' got it into the eye of a thimble, bein' only a half a game ahead of St. Louis. Our slump had given the boys the leapin' jumps, and they was like a bunch a old ladies at a lawn fete with a thunderstorm comin' up, runnin' around snarlin' at each other, eatin' bad and sleepin' worse, and battin' for a team average of maybe .186. Half the time nobody'd speak to nobody else, without it was to bawl 'em out.

Squawks Magrew was managin' the boys at the time, and he was darn near crazy. ...

This was thirty, thirty-one year ago; you could look it up, 'cause ...

James Thurber takes a simple anecdote and transforms it into a window on the legendary past: in fact, a double lens from our perspective, because the baseball tale is told circa 1940 about events circa 1910. The central small and unlikely event is the last-minute hiring of a midget to play on a major-league baseball team, along with the antecedents of a key game and the aftermath.

As baseball players and fans know, a key factor in pitching is how accurately the pitcher can place each throw within the strike zone of the batter at the plate, giving the batter a reasonable chance to hit the ball but otherwise making it as elusive as possible. An unusually short batter presents a disconcertingly small target space to the pitcher. In practice, a very small player is a doubtful athletic asset for a pro team, but there are circumstances —

... like you have prob'ly guessed.

Thurber's handling of the characters, with their dialogue and the first-person narration by one of them, breathes the spirit of old-time baseball.

Well, sir, the first game with St. Louis was rained out, and there we was facin' a double-header next day. Like maybe I told you, we lost the last three double-headers we play, makin' maybe twenty-five errors in the six games, which is all right for the intimates of a school for the blind, but is disgraceful for the world's champions. It was too wet to go to the zoo, and Magrew wouldn't let us go to the , 'cause they flickered so bad in them days. So we just set around, stewin' and frettin'.

But there is no need for us to fret, whether it's a baseball-sunny or rainy-at-home day. Find a few minutes to read Thurber's story; you'll likely enjoy it. You could look it up.


© 2010 Robert Wilfred Franson

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