by James Scott Bell
On this day in history, in 1936, the Baseball Hall of Fame selected its first group of inductees. They were inarguably the five best players of their time: Ty Cobb, the greatest hitter. Babe Ruth, the greatest slugger. Honus Wagner, the best all-around player; Christy Mathewson, the most skilled pitcher; and Walter Johnson, the man with the greatest (and most feared) fastball. No one seriously questioned this inaugural class.
But during the first two decades of the 20th century, the question of who was the best player of all boiled down to a choice between Cobb and Wagner.
Thy Cobb, the ultimate (and many considered dirtiest) competitor.
Honus Wagner, quietly dominant as both hitter and fielder.
Cobb, an outfielder, trim and fast as an antelope.
Wagner, a shortstop, bow-legged and built like a beer truck.
The one time they faced each other was in the 1909 World Series. Wagner’s Pittsburgh Pirates beat Cobb’s Detroit Tigers in seven games.
In one game, Cobb got to first base and yelled at Wagner. “I’m gonna steal second, krauthead!” The mild-mannered Wagner said nothing.
On the next pitch Cobb took off. The catcher threw the ball to Wagner, who knew Cobb’s penchant for sliding into bases spikes high, often ripping flesh from an opponent’s leg. Wagner gracefully avoided Cobb’s dreadful skewers and slapped his glove across Cobb’s face. Cobb was out and with a bloody lip for his troubles. (This account comes to us through oral history. If it isn’t true, well, it should have been.)
In the series, Wagner outhit Cobb, .333 to .241.
I bring this up because I am a baseball history buff, and recently ran across a YouTube video of Honus Wagner, age 59, talking about how he still loves being around the game of baseball. It was during spring training for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1933, and Wagner, now a coach, was out there taking batting practice and fielding with the young players.
It’s wonderful to see! Here he is, smacking fastballs and scooping up grounders. And not like some old man. His swing still had power, and his fielding was beautiful.
Then we see him coaching a runner at third, clapping his hands, chattering, “Come on now, here we go now, let’s go now, come on, baby!”
He is having so much fun. He played the game because he loved it, not because of the peanuts players were paid in those early days. He did eventually get paid the princely sum of $10,000 a year. (In 1930, Babe Ruth managed to squeeze $80,000 a year from the Yankees. When a reporter asked how Ruth could accept a larger salary than President Herbert Hoover, and during the Depression yet, Ruth said, “I had a better year than he did.”)
So…have fun when you write! When I’m typing, I try to stay loose and let the words flow. I tell myself, “Come on now, here we go now, let’s go now, come on, baby!”
You know who was the Honus Wagner of writing? Ray Bradbury. You can sense the joy he had when writing his stories. He talked about the need for this mindset, especially in Zen in the Art of Writing. His prime output was the 1950s, but he never stopped, all the way until his death in 2012. “Every morning,” he wrote in Zen, “I jump out of bed and step on a landmine. The landmine is me. After the explosion, I spend the rest of the day putting the pieces together.”
That’s the sense of play we need to nurture.
Yes, there’s work involved with this craft. Of course. But treat it like practice. You can still have fun knowing the effort it making you better.
Another thing about Wagner (which was the opposite of Cobb) is that both fans and fellow players loved him. On the field, he played fair. Off the field, he was humble and thoughtful of others. He famously demanded that the American Tobacco Company stop distributing his baseball card with their product because he didn’t want his likeness to entice kids to smoke. As a result, the few of those 1909 cards that remain are the holy grail for collectors. Last year one of them sold for $7.25 million.
Remember that, writer, when you put yourself out there on social media, which pretends to “reward” rudeness, confrontation, and ranting with “likes.” That becomes a drug from which you will inevitably crash.
Keep it fun, keep it clean, keep writing.
So what about you? Do you do have a sense of fun when you write? Is there anything you purposely do to keep it that way?
And here is that two-minute clip of the great Honus Wagner, talking about the game he loved:
The only time writing isn’t fun is when I get stuck on a particular story problem & can’t get past it for what seems like an inordinantly long period of time. It’s somewhat less fun when you’re feeling the crunch of trying to find just 15-20 minutes to get some writing done, but there the frustration isn’t the writing but the never-ending to-do list.
Bottom line – it will always be fun to think about and write “What if?” scenarios. I can’t turn that faucet off, even if sometimes it’s only a trickle. 😎
You describe the writing life well, BK. I think my favorite time is when I’m sitting down to start mapping out my next book, and the whole universe is open to “What if?”
Wow, Jim, what a cool find that video is. Honus was a class act on field or off field–a good role model for kids back in the day and a good role model for writers every day.
The T206 card is the McGuffin in my thriller Dead Man’s Bluff published in 2020 https://www.amazon.com/Dead-Bluff-Tawny-Lindholm-Thriller-ebook/dp/B0892RCZMG
At that time, the record price was only $3 million!
Thanks for a fun read about the fun of writing.
That’s a perfect MacGuffin, Debbie. It’s a good thing one never came to me when I was a kid. I probably would have done with it what I did with so many others, use a clothespin to clip it to my bike’s back wheel so it made a motorcycle sound in the spokes.
The day I don’t enjoy the journey (not saying every minute is joyful), is the last day I write.
Key factor, joy. It shows up in the writing. There are ways to nurture it and keep the keyboard clacking, like Bradbury’s morning pages. I try to do a little of that every day.
Thanks for the baseball history, Jim. Wonderful stories.
I, too, love the feeling of creating a story, making something out of nothing more than ideas, leaning back in a recliner, fingers on the laptop, lines and phrases flowing, moving them around, popping back up to the top of the list to add another potential title, dropping down to the trial first line and paragraph and trying something different. There is something totally undisciplined about that magic process of playing in the clouds of imagination and recording thoughts until they coalesce into something that can be written, understood, and appreciated by the reader.
Keeping it that way? Writing in the morning after a good night’s sleep, plenty of caffeine to put the brain into high gear, and exercise in the afternoon to keep the arteries clean.
Can’t think of a better prescription, Steve! Write on.
Writing has almost always been fun for me from the first story I wrote and illustrated when I was six to now.
I’ve always loved Ray Bradbury, not only for his work but because people who knew him speak about how kind he was to them and how encouraging.
I quit writing for a long time because I was consistently getting on my submissions “We love your romance, but you have to put sex in the elevator on page one or it won’t sell.” “We love your mystery but can you rewrite it to a psychopath who kills a kid in the first scene?” or “You’re really good at dialogue but nobody curses. That’s not realistic. You need the F word on every other page to punch up the realism.” That one always made me wonder “Who have you been hanging around?”
I decided a long time ago if that’s what it took to be successful, then I wasn’t going to do it. I’m beginning to be hopeful now that people are tiring of those things and there may be space again for fun stories that make people laugh and forget their troubles for a minute. At least I hope so.
I hope so, too, Cynthia. We need those kinds of stories!
Re: Bradbury. I’m reading one of his later collections, and you can just feel the fun jumping off the pages, even with those stories that don’t seem to wrap up at the end…it’s like he’s simply inviting us out to play.
I just dowloaded Fahrenheit 451 as this week’s commute book. That’s one I’ve never read.
I heard this is what eventually drove Isaac Asimov to quit writing. The editors demanded more and more filth until he finally burned out and quit. I wonder how many other authors this has happened to?
Such an inspiring clip of Honus Wagner, Jim. I love how much fun he is having at practice. There’s the attitude to embody.
No doubt allowed in writing practice, I want to have fun.
Having fun, even when writing is work, is so important. It makes all the difference. Having a sense of play, that I am in written game of pretend, where I am playing all the roles, is key. It’s a game of “let me create a story.” Keeping self-doubt and the inner critic out of the game is also key.
Yeah, it’s like “let’s pretend” when we were kids. We get to play it whenever we want!
Thanks for introducing us to Honus Wagner, Jim. Another hero to add to my list.
Yes, it’s all fun. I like wrestling a plot to the ground until it behaves. And the characters! They keep me shaking my head at their antics. And when it all fits together like a well-crafted puzzle, there’s that sense of satisfaction that must be similar to hitting the game-winning home run.
I’ve recently taken to writing limericks (for home consumption only) that skewer certain well-known figures. Talk about fun!
Love it, Kay. I, too, find that writing funny poetry (a la Seuss or Ogden Nash) gets me laughing and loosens up the writing muscles.
Thanks for a good round of encouragement, Jim.
I’ve been in a slump the last few months, but I’m gonna yank that cord again. I’ve got two WIPs on the hot seat that I need to get busy on.
Yank that cord, Deb. Reminds me of another Bradbury encouragement: jump off a cliff and grow wings on the way down!
That’s a sweet way to roll yourself into the play of writing, the daily “opening day” pages, ala Bradbury. I use a quirky habit of writing songs about my characters. Lyrics. Two or three verses, a bridge and a chorus. Ha! I find this habit, finding the “lyric” of a character is an amusing why to discover who I’m dealing with. This community is wonderful, by the way.
I love that idea for exploring character. Thanks!
*way to discover. Early.
I have a blast! I slide on my headphones, music cranked, and the world fades away. Most of the time the music becomes white noise, but every now and then, a favorite song comes on and I’ll belt it out, fingers still racing across the keys, totally oblivious to how I might sound to others. LOL So fun!
I used to “crank” the music, too, Sue. These days I’m more apt to opt for coffeehouse ambient sounds w/ smooth jazz. Or a movie soundtrack for mood.
I can’t help but think about the baseball greats their own sense of accomplishments. I would argue that there are players that feel different levels of fun between striking out and getting a homerun. Winning can make your life fun.
I’ve been writing professionally, nearly every day since my 20’s. Most of that time has been devoted to technical writing, with creative writing coming around 2006.
Fun is a grey area for me and I have various levels of enjoyment depending on what I’m writing. Yes, writing is fun but not 100% of the time. I think writing is mostly fulfilling and I thrive on the sense of accomplishment.
I would imagine it’s the same for authors. For me, whether I’m finishing a novel or writing manuals, I’m having some level of fun. When I finish my goals, my enjoyment escalates. However, when I have writer’s block, or I’m stuck on a plot issue, or having problems with editing—there are days I could throw that F*&ING computer in the trash.
I have a hugely successful writing friend who says, “I don’t love writing; I love having written.” I actually think he loves writing more than he lets on, but his main point emphasizes the work aspect. He’s like the Soup Nazi on that Seinfeld episode. “You suffer for your soup!”
That’s inspiration to aspire towards for all us anal people.
My advice to new writers is that if the writing doesn’t give you joy, find another outlet for your creativity. Long term, it isn’t worth it.
If someone tells me “I think I have a novel inside me” I say, “That’s a good place to leave it.”
If they say “I have to write” I say, “Okay, I’ll lend you a hand.”
Here I am, battin’ cleanup as usual.
I think the fun for me comes when I find something that I think “Here’s something I can wrap my hands around.” Then the story almost writes itself.
Now. How to find more of those moments? The only way is to keep your eyes and ears open, maybe keep your trap shut, and read as much as you can.
Last line is gold, Robert.
I do go back and read what’s been added after my comment(s). Lots of good stuff lurking here.