Goodwood Comes Back by Robert Penn Warren, 1948
The magic trick:
Portraying Goodwood’s life at home but sharing very little about his life as a professional pitcher
This is an old story. Sad thing is, it remains all too relevant. One glance through the daily headlines on ESPN will tell you that. Immense talent does not necessarily equal success; certainly not sustained success in every aspect of life.
In this story, Warren details Luke Goodwood’s difficult transition from small southern hometown to the life of a professional baseball player by focusing almost entirely on the hometown. It’s an interesting way to present a compare-contrast: really just a one-sided portrait. However, it’s effective, both because the portrait is so complete and because it’s so obviously a lifestyle that is light years away from professional baseball. Luke walks down the street with no shirt on. He sleeps in his front yard under a tree. He spends his days in the woods, sunrise to sundown, hunting pheasants.
We do get a brief description later in the story of Luke’s time with the Philadelphia Athletics, but by then it only confirms what we already suspected. The scenes of him back home, with his alcoholic father, country habits and lazy disposition, were enough to convince us that he’d never be able to adapt to world of professional baseball, no matter his talent. And that’s quite a trick on Warren’s part.
Luke didn’t finish high school. He didn’t stop all at once, but just came less and less, coming only on bad days most of the time, for on good days he would be off hunting or fishing. It was so gradual, him not coming, that nobody, maybe not even the teachers, knew when he stopped for good. In the summer he would lie around the house, sleeping out in the yard on the grass where it was shady, stretched out like a cat, with just a pair of old pants on. Or he would fish or play baseball. It got so he was playing baseball for little town teams around that section, and he picked up some change to buy shells and tackle.