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Beatball

November 2023
1min read

JACK KEROUAC’S MAKE-BELIEVE BASEBALL GAME HAS BEEN ARCHIVED FOR POSTERITY

The New York Public Library recently acquired a copious archive left by the novelist Jack Kerouac, including, according to an announcement, “two sets of more than one hundred handwritten cards that allowed Kerouac to play a fantasy baseball game of his own invention.” The mass of Kerouaciana, ranging from manuscripts and diaries to his harmonica and railroad lamp to “seventy-two publishing contracts,” will be added to the NYPL’s Henry W. and Albert A. Berg Collection of English and American Literature. There the author will find himself in distinguished company alongside “Kerouac’s literary and spiritual forebears: Emerson, Thoreau, and, above all, Whitman.” While it’s hard to imagine Thoreau playing baseball with marbles, toothpicks, and an eraser no matter how much time he had on his hands, Whitman would no doubt have joined in with gusto.

Imaginary baseball was one of Kerouac’s favorite pastimes from the age of six or seven, and he kept meticulous statistics the whole time. In the early 1960s the sportswriter Stan Isaacs spent an afternoon with Kerouac sipping wine and playing the baseball game. The novelist improvised a running commentary: Pic Jackson, the league’s best-hitting pitcher, Kerouac said, “likes to read the Sunday supplements; his name, ‘Pic,’ is short for Pictorial Review .”

Not long afterward Isaacs mentioned Kerouac to Lou Little, the novelist’s old football coach at Columbia. “Kerouac... oh, yes, a good boy,” Little recalled. “He would have been a fine football player if he hadn’t gotten hurt. Say, what is he doing now?” Unfortunately, what Kerouac was mostly doing by then was drinking, perhaps the only more efficient way to waste time than playing fantasy baseball. He died of an alcohol-induced hemorrhage at the age of 47, on October 21, 1969, just five days after the Mets won the World Series, in the biggest baseball fantasy of them all.

Kerouac’s papers and artifacts will be included in “Victorians, Moderns, and Beats: New in the Berg Collection, 1994-2001,” on display at the NYPL from April 26 through July 27. For details, see nypl.org or call 212-869-8089.

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