Guide to Juvenile Baseball Books: John R. Tunis
John R. Tunis (1889-1975) was one of the most prolific writers of juvenile sports novels in the 20th century.
- Tunis, John R. Buddy and the Old Pro. Illustrated by Jay Hyde Barnum. New York: Morrow, 1955. Buddy Reitmayer's team is cruising toward a school-league championship when they encounter stiff opposition from a team coached by a bitterly combative ex-major-leaguer.
I'll star this one for historical interest rather than quality. Contrary to the laws of the genre, the "old pro" McBride does not become Buddy's pal or mentor. In one of the gorier and more protracted Big Game sequences in juvenile baseball fiction, McBride's team systematically carves up Buddy's: spiking them, throwing inside, screaming at umpires in pursuit of an edge. Buddy's team loses. McBride has been Buddy's idol, but when Buddy sees the tactics that McBride has resorted to to win a grade-school game, Buddy lights a match to his collection of McBride clippings -- and the novel ends, without any upbeat reconciliation. Buddy and the Old Pro is notable for its stark lesson in the virtues of amateur sportsmanship; Buddy's team plays in street clothes and sneakers, and band together to do their own groundskeeping, while McBride's team of idlers is tricked out in crisp new uniforms (including those flashing spikes). Worst of all, the two schools are due to consolidate, so that next year Buddy and his rivals will be competing for spots on the same team. The implication is that professionalism will inevitably grind the life out of school sport -- and that there is little we can do to resist except to refuse to admire professional athletes.
- Tunis, John R. Highpockets. New York: W. Morrow, 1948. A slugging young Dodger finds his life transformed when he accidentally injures a kid in a car crash.
Male-bonding in life means success in sport, in this sharply ideological juvenile that spends much of its time off the field.
- Tunis, John R. Keystone Kids. New York: Harcourt, 1943. Two young brothers become the double-play combination for the Dodgers; the older fights his team's anti-Semitism when he is named manager and must act as mentor to a Jewish rookie catcher.
Fascinating blend of wartime propaganda and the notion of the team as the central American unit, this is also a Bildungsroman, a novel about the personal growth of young men.
- Tunis, John R. The Kid Comes Back. New York: William Morrow, 1946. Home from the war, Roy Tucker of the Dodgers fights injuries as the team drives for another pennant.
The wartime scenes are exciting; the rest of the novel basically turns Roy into a rookie again so that he can repeat the agonies and thrills of The Kid From Tomkinsville.
- Tunis, John R. The Kid From Tomkinsville. New York: Harcourt, 1940. Roy Tucker joins the Dodgers as a fresh young pitcher, throws a no-hitter, ruins his arm, and comes all the way back to star as a batsman.
Archetypal youth novel that shows its hero shedding bush-league brashness in favor of the functional role of Organization Man. Much-imitated, not least by Tunis himself; tributary to The Natural, among many other adult novels.
- Tunis, John R. Rookie of the Year. New York: Harcourt, 1944. In this sequel to Keystone Kids, the newly united Dodgers drive from far behind for a pennant behind impulsive rookie pitcher Bones Hathaway.
Thinner in plot resources than most of the series, this one seems assembled out of an impulse never to let the fictional Dodgers go more than one novel without winning a championship.
- Tunis, John R. Schoolboy Johnson. New York: W. Morrow, 1958. A rookie fireballer and a crafty old veteran meld to form the nucleus of another championship pitching staff for the Dodgers.
The series was showing its age by this time, but this novel is livened by some quirky off-field romantic twists.
- Tunis, John R. World Series. New York: Harcourt, 1941. An immediate sequel to The Kid From Tomkinsville, in which we follow Roy Tucker through a serious beaning and another remarkable comeback as the Dodgers win the Series.
More focussed than Tunis's other Dodger novels, this is a succession of game stories rather than an interpersonal drama.
- Tunis, John R. Young Razzle. New York: W. Morrow, 1949. A resentful son faces a wily old father as the Yankees face off against the Dodgers in the World Series.
Primal Oedipal conflict fuels this otherwise rather thin Dodger novel.