‘You Could Look It Up’ by James Thurber

Thurber, James 1941

You Could Look It Up by James Thurber, 1941

The magic trick:

The comedy of the story’s scenario

Happy Opening Day! Newly relocated in Washington D.C., I will not be cheering for the hometown Nationals. Sadly, my loyalties remain tethered to the lowly Cincinnati Reds.

Today’s wonderful Thurber story might be the highlight of my baseball season.

The colloquial language is great. The behind-the-scenes realism is of actual worth to baseball historians. The narrative hi-jinx is hilarious. But the magic really comes down to the story’s central idea – a baseball manager so disgusted by his team’s losing streak that he decides to use a midget as a pinch hitter. It’s absurd, it’s memorable, it’s kinda offensive. It’s an idea so dynamic that it actually influenced real baseball. Ten years after the story, the Bill Veeck famously signed Eddie Gaedel, the shortest player in baseball history, for one at bat. That’s when you know your story made an impact. And that’s quite a trick on Thurber’s part.

The selection:

The midget puts down the harmonium and turns on me. “Sneeze,” he says; “your brains is dusty.” Then he snaps a couple drops of water at me from a tumbler. “Drown,” he says, train’ to make his voice deep.

Now, both of them cracks is Civil War cracks, but you’d of thought they was brand new and the funniest than any crack Magrew’d ever heard in his whole life. He started hoopin’ and hollerin’, and the midget started hoopin’ and hollerin’, so I walked on away and set down with Bugs Courtney and Hank Metters, payin’ no attention to this weak-minded Damon and Phidias acrost the aisle.

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 lose the last three double­headers 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 movies, ’cause they flickered so bad in them days. So we just set around, stewin’ and frettin’.


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