Guide to Baseball Fiction: W. P. Kinsella
It's too bad there are no Hallmark cards saying, "Sorry your loved one was killed by a foul ball." -- The Iowa Baseball Confederacy
W. P. Kinsella, Canadian fiction writer, is one of the most prolific authors of baseball fiction.
Kinsella's fiction is by turns exhilarating and irritating. He has a very creative-writerly prose and has a fount of clever ideas about baseball and life. His best work is among the best contemporary fiction of any kind, but his weaker work can be very trying. Below I try to offer a guide to the range of his baseball fiction (he has also written several other novels and story collections).
- "Barefoot and Pregnant in Des Moines." Virginia Quarterly Review. Repr. The Thrill of the Grass. A major league star has marital problems.
Slice-of-life story about ordinary folk turned ultra-rich.
- Baseball Fantastic. Kingston, ON: Quarry, 2000. A collection of uncanny and SF baseball stories edited by Kinsella.
- "The Baseball Spur." Descant. Repr. The Thrill of the Grass. A man muses about his wandering wife and about his ballplayer friend.
Tributary to The Iowa Baseball Confederacy.
- "The Baseball Wolf." Denver Magazine. Repr. The Dixon Cornbelt League. A minor-league ballplayer exiled to an obscure Caribbean league rooms with a shortstop who can transform himself into a wolf.
Dubious banana-republic humor blends with Kinsella's typical magical realism. Shares a setting with "How Manny Embarquadero Overcame" (below).
- "The Battery." In The Thrill of the Grass. A pair of magical twins become the greatest battery in baseball history.
- Box Socials. Toronto: HarperCollins, 1991. Life in rural Alberta during the Depression and the War, seen through the eyes of a growing boy and told around the saga of a hometown baseball hero who gets to bat against Bob Feller.
Notable for its narrative form, this book is told in a highly stylized language that repeats formulaic phrases over and over in a way that becomes positively Homeric.
- "Bud and Tom." In The Thrill of the Grass. An extended anecdote of two uncles who quarrel over baseball.
- "The Darkness Deep Inside." In The Dixon Cornbelt League. The narrator, a former hell-raiser, has found the Lord, stopped hitting, and become a "disruptive" influence on his ballclub.
A mirror-image to stories of the alienated athlete (think of Peter Gent's North Dallas Forty), this story stresses the loneliness and the pain even of the redeemed.
- "Diehard." Spitball. Repr. The Further Adventures of Slugger McBatt. A retired ballplayer dies; his widow and his best friend decide to bury his ashes in the foundations of a new ballpark.
- "Distances." Sport. Repr. The Further Adventures of Slugger McBatt. A grifter bets that he can lead a high-school team to victory against a crack amateur club.
Nice story of the Rainmaker / Music Man type.
- "The Dixon Cornbelt League." Baseball History 2 (1989). Repr. The Dixon Cornbelt League. An undrafted college ballplayer finds a job in Grand Mound, Iowa, but despite a loving welcome from the whole community, he finds that his team never plays a game.
The story's gimmick can be seen a long way coming but is no less effective for that--almost the definition of a good short story. Attenuated later on as the novel Magic Time. See Phelan and U'ren for a different treatment of the motif.
- The Dixon Cornbelt League and Other Baseball Stories. Toronto: HarperCollins, 1993. A collection of Kinsella's short stories, each with its own separate entry here.
- "Driving Toward the Moon." NeWest ReView. Repr. The Thrill of the Grass. A minor-league baseball player falls desperately in love with a married woman.
- "The Eddie Scissons Syndrome." In The Further Adventures of Slugger McBatt. An ex-ballplayer helps a professor research the phenomenon of men who lie about their athletic careers.
- "Eggs." In The Dixon Cornbelt League. A fading big-league pitcher wants to move to Florida, but some power keeps him in Alberta with his Ukranian-Canadian in-laws.
Weird and dreamlike, less effective than some of its companion stories.
- "The Fadeaway." In The Dixon Cornbelt League. A manager calls down to the bullpen, but instead of the coach, it's Christy Mathewson on the other end of the line.
- "Feet of Clay." Iowa City Magazine. Repr. The Dixon Cornbelt League. A retired major-league star decides he'll keep in perfect shape for Old-Timers' Games, but soon realizes that's not what the public wants to see.
Charming and rueful story of an aging athlete.
- "The Firefighter." Watershed. Repr. The Thrill of the Grass. A minor-league ballplayer describes his thieving, half-insane Oklahoma in-laws.
A story in doubtful taste. Among other things, Kinsella seems to believe that Oklahoma is a desert . . .
- "Frank Pierce, Iowa." Five Stories. Repr. The Further Adventures of Slugger McBatt. The title town suddenly disappears one day in 1901.
Another field-of-dreams story, which does not live up to its eerie promise.
- "Fred Noonan Flying Services." (1999) In Baseball Fantastic. A new lover tells a burnt-out ballplayer about a place they can both escape to.
- The Further Adventures of Slugger McBatt. Toronto: W. Collins, 1988. [Also published in the United States as Go the Distance (Southern Methodist University Press, 1995.]
A collection of baseball stories.
- "The Further Adventures of Slugger McBatt." In The Further Adventures of Slugger McBatt. An unathletic youngster wins the favor of a star school athlete when he draws a comic strip based on the star's exploits.
Well-done, archetypal story about art and life, also quite brutal at times.
- "How I Got My Nickname." Spitball. Repr. The Thrill of the Grass. A bookish twelfth-grader goes to the Polo Grounds and ends up as a key pinch-hitter for the literate, intellectual 1951 New York Giants.
Kinsella's greatest weakness as a writer--the fact that all his characters talk like creative writing M.F.A.'s--becomes a positive advantage in this audacious little story.
- "How Manny Embarquadero Overcame and Began His Climb to the Major Leagues." Orig. title "Too Good to Be True." Baseball History 4 (1991). Repr. The Dixon Cornbelt League. Aided by magic, a Detroit man rises in pro baseball by pretending to be a native of a Caribbean nation famous for its ballplayers.
Perhaps overly contrived--but then again, deliberately contrived. Shares a setting with "The Baseball Wolf" (above).
- "The Indestructible Hadrian Wilkes." (1999) In Baseball Fantastic. Hapless fan serves as the surrogate for every injury suffered by the title character on his way to setting baseball's iron-man record.
- The Iowa Baseball Confederacy. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1986. A narrator recalls a baseball league that no-one else can remember (cf. Roth, The Great American Novel) and especially recounts an epic game one of its clubs played against the 1908 Chicago Cubs.
Ends up being too solemn, but has flashes of humor and a nice eerie folkloric sense.
- "K Mart." Arete. Repr. The Further Adventures of Slugger McBatt. A grown man recalls pickup ballgames from his youth as he attends the funeral of a woman he knew then.
Mostly a heavy, plangent story, this one has a very satisfying final scene.
- "The Last Pennant Before Armageddon." In The Thrill of the Grass. That would be the next one the Chicago Cubs win, evidently.
A bit tired; Kinsella in his retro-wacky mode.
- "Lumpy Drobot, Designated Hitter." In Bjarkman, repr. The Dixon Cornbelt League. A stocky double-A designated hitter becomes an expert at getting hit by the pitch, and begins to grow tiny (and typological) baseballs all over his body.
Charming magical-realism that blends the symbolic and the eerie.
- Magic Time. Stillwater, MN: Voyageur Press, 2001. "The Dixon Cornbelt League" elaborated to novel-length.
It had been sharper and more unsettling as a short story.
- "The Night Manny Mota Tied the Record." CBC Anthology. Repr. The Thrill of the Grass. An angel offers a fan the chance to exchange his life for the late Thurman Munson's.
Distasteful, sharply misogynist story.
- "Nursie." The Spirit That Moves Us. Repr. The Thrill of the Grass. A minor-league ballplayer is put through the mill by the woman he desperately desires.
- "Punchlines." In The Further Adventures of Slugger McBatt. A maladjusted major-league star can't help getting into lethal trouble.
Recalls Ring Lardner's much earlier story "My Roomy."
- "Reports Concerning the Death of the Seattle Albatross Are Somewhat Exaggerated." Seattle Review. Repr. The Further Adventures of Slugger McBatt. A huge bird-like alien gets a job as mascot for the Mariners.
Bizarre, energetic story with a headlong confidence. Not zany; in fact, it turns quite grim.
- "Searching for January." Baseball History 3 (1988). Repr. The Dixon Cornbelt League. On vacation in 1987, a lone American finds Roberto Clemente on a beach, for all the world as if it's only been days since his plane went down.
Appealing short story, a nice tribute to Clemente.
- "Searching for Freddy." [do you get the feeling that Kinsella sometimes runs low on titles?] Canadian Fiction Magazine. Repr. The Further Adventures of Slugger McBatt. An ephemeral base-stealer of the 1930s becomes a mysterious coach of young ballplayers.
- Shoeless Joe. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1982. An improvident Iowa corn farmer hears voices that tell him to build a ballpark, and various people come, including J. D. Salinger and the 1919 Chicago White Sox.
Picaresque, parody, and magical realism blend well in this consistently funny fantasy. Filmed as Field of Dreams.
- "Shoeless Joe Jackson Comes to Iowa." Orig. publ. Aurora. Repr. in Shoeless Joe Jackson Comes to Iowa (1980). Dallas: Southern Methodist University Press, 1993. 32-47. The story that Kinsella would elaborate into the novel Shoeless Joe.
- The Thrill of the Grass. Markham, ON: Penguin, 1984. A collection of baseball stories.
- "The Thrill of the Grass." CBC Anthology. Repr. The Thrill of the Grass; Bowering. During the 1981 baseball strike, the men of a major-league city surreptitiously replace the local stadium's Astroturf with real grass.
Another of Kinsella's fields of dreams.
- "The Valley of the Schmoon." In The Further Adventures of Slugger McBatt. A garrulous old coach talks a rookie's ear off during a road trip.
Very nicely turned.