Guide to Baseball Fiction: Frank O'Rourke
Frank O'Rourke (1916-1989), American genre-fiction writer, was one of the most productive sport-fiction writers for American magazines in the post-WWII period. A selected edition of his stories, The Heavenly World Series, appeared in March 2002 from Carroll & Graf.
- "The Catcher." In The Catcher and the Manager (1953). A sportswriter reflects on the quiet heroism of a catcher who, traded away by perfidious ownership, returns to prove a point.
It's O'Rourke's typical story, the veteran coming back with an exclamation point; this time, however, it's sharply handled, with first-rate dialogue and keen character development.
- The Catcher and the Manager. New York: A.S. Barnes, 1953. Two novellas.
- "Close Play at Home." The Saturday Evening Post (1955). Repr. The Heavenly World Series (2002). "Si Collins" -- a dead ringer for Ty Cobb in terms of personality and mystique -- comes back at the age of 69 to manage in a pennant race against Leo Durocher.
O'Rourke loved to present real people under a thin coating of fiction; this story is one of the farther-fetched examples of his technique.
- "Decision." In The Greatest Victory (1950). Repr. The Heavenly World Series (2002). Two minor-league umpires nearly throw their careers in to take steady, remunerative jobs; then, in the aftermath of a riot over a call at second base, they decide that umpiring is the only life for them.
The story is narrated by the man who wants to hire them; it's a curious study of male-bonding on the margins of baseball.
- "Flashing Spikes." The Saturday Evening Post 220.48 (29 May 1948): 32-33, 132, 134. Repr. Lewis; The Heavenly World Series (2002). A ballplayer remembers how, many years before, he'd played a bush league game against a player who once helped throw a World Series.
Good character sketches of both men, but an excessively pat ending.
- "The Greatest Victory." The Saturday Evening Post (1946). Repr. The Heavenly World Series (2002). An unassuming veteran pitcher holds his own when called upon to pitch a crucial game; though he loses, his unbowed performance is really "the greatest victory."
In many ways this is O'Rourke's archetypal story, the one he kept telling over and over with minor variations.
- The Greatest Victory and Other Baseball Stories. New York: Barnes, 1950. A collection of baseball short stories.
- "The Heavenly World Series." Esquire (1952). Repr. The Heavenly World Series (2002). John McGraw challenges the American League to the grudge match of all eternity -- but are there any umpires in Heaven?
The supernatural ballgame that goes into serious extra innings reappears in later baseball fiction, notably Kinsella's Iowa Baseball Confederacy.
- The Heavenly World Series and Other Baseball Stories. New York: A.S. Barnes, 1952. A collection of baseball stories.
- The Heavenly World Series: Timeless Baseball Fiction. New York: Carroll & Graf, 2002. A selection of O'Rourke's baseball stories, drawn from book and magazine publications; not a reprint of the 1952 volume that has the same main title. Includes an appreciative introduction by Darryl Brock.
- "Home Game." In The Greatest Victory (1950). Repr. The Heavenly World Series (2002). A son remembers a story about his father, a town-team catcher back at the turn of the 20th century, and one impossibly great moment that he shared with a rival (in several senses) outfielder.
One of the best game anecdotes ever done, in the context of a classically-plotted short story with considerable nostalgic depth.
- "The Impossible Play." The Saturday Evening Post (1949). Repr. The Heavenly World Series (2002). Needing one run for his first pennant, a veteran manager calls for an audacious offensive play.
Keenly described game action.
- "The Last Pitch." The Saturday Evening Post (1949). Repr. The Heavenly World Series (2002). An aging star pitcher, reduced to work-for-hire for town teams, throws his last game --with the help of a sympathetic catcher-manager and a brave young shortstop.
- "The Last Time Around." Collier's (1952). Repr. The Heavenly World Series (2002). An aging utility man gets cut, and is on his way to down to AAA, when he gets a sudden reprieve --one that he realizes will be his last.
- "Look for the Kid with the Guts." The Philadelphia Inquirer (1950). Repr. The Heavenly World Series (2002). A veteran scout comes to rural Minnesota to sign a pitching phenom; he comes away with a plucky third baseman instead.
As often in O'Rourke's stories, the central events are given depth, here with the character of the scout's terminally ill wife, who shares his love of the game.
- "The Magic Circle." In The Heavenly World Series (1952). Repr. The Heavenly World Series (2002). A veteran big-leaguer enters his final game with 1,998 base hits.
Interesting study of the magical quality of statistical milestones in baseball. The hero gets his final hits against O'Rourke's "Philadelphia Quakers," a thinly fictionalized version of the Phillies' "Whiz Kids" team.
- "The Manager." In The Catcher and the Manager (1953). Knowing that he's about to be fired, a veteran manager, disillusioned by his dealings with ownership, wins a key game.
A reflective, well-written story, focussed on a typical O'Rourke hero: a self-effacing ordinary Joe with a sense of perspective.
- "Moment of Truth." The Saturday Evening Post (1952). Repr. The Heavenly World Series (2002). The aging "Duke DiSalvo" -- a fictionalized Joe DiMaggio -- comes to terms, in the middle of a pennant race -- with the fading of his talents.
- "Nothing New." In The Greatest Victory (1950). Repr. The Heavenly World Series (2002). A sportswriter agonizes -- as much as his poker-faced profession will let him -- over the playing debut of a shortstop he has discovered on the sandlots.
- "One More Inning." The Saturday Evening Post (1948). Repr. The Heavenly World Series (2002). An aging pitcher, driven from the league years before by merciless bench jockeys, comes back for one last game against his old tormentors.
This story lies on the hokier side of O'Rourke's work, with its big galoot of a hero and its villain redeemed by a final magnanimous gesture.
- "One Ounce of Common Sense." In The Heavenly World Series (1952). Repr. The Heavenly World Series (2002). A clubhouse lawyer advises a pal to hold out for a higher salary -- and for his trouble, he's traded to the Browns.
- The Team. New York: A.S. Barnes, 1949. The Quaker City club bonds and struggles almost all the way to a pennant.
O'Rourke's first baseball novel, based on his up-close observations of the Whiz Kid Phillies team; its earnest appreciation of ballplayers and coaches muffles any dramatic potential the story may have. Similar to Mark Harris's Southpaw, but lacking that later novel's linguistic inventiveness and ear for character. Where Harris has Henry Wiggen, The Team has the somewhat lifeless Benny Benson, a sober and un-smart-alecky veteran coach, as its narrator.
- "The Terrible-Tempered Rube." The Saturday Evening Post (1954). Repr. The Heavenly World Series (2002). The title character can't stop his tantrums -- till he marries a woman with a temper to match his.