Vladimir Nabokov’s Mysterious Baseball Game

Famous for writing standing up, but he could do it all. Photo: Cornell.

In 1962, Vladimir Nabokov — author of Lolita — published a book called Pale Fire, which presents a long poem written by a fictional author, with another fictional character chatting to you about the poem along the way, and it’s all riddled with complicated allusions and things. Since my descriptions so often fall short, I will just report that it is considered a masterpiece.

What’s more, there’s a baseball angle! The poem within Pale Fire references a newspaper headline about a Red Sox-Yankees game, presumably a game from before 1962, since that’s when Pale Fire was published. But significant questions remain, namely: Was that Red Sox-Yankees game ever played in real life? And did Tim McCarver ruin it for everyone?

If I’ve piqued your interest,* I can’t take credit for the payoff. Brian Cronin over at the L.A. Times’ “Fabulous Forum” blog did not-inconsiderable legwork and posted a very enjoyable writeup exploring whether the game referenced by Nabokov was a real game. If you just want the answer, one Michael Donohue also discussed this question back in 2004, albeit succinctly.

And just on the off chance that any of our NotGraphs readers are also the kind of people who like to waste their time reading about sports on the Internet, I should point out Brian Cronin’s “Legends Revealed” website, which has lots of sports-myth-debunkery content, and his book, which leaves no comic book legend un-revealed.

* If I haven’t piqued your interest: Come on! This is like literary/baseball-historical Indiana Jones! It’s like if Harrison Ford got cast in Field of Dreams, but Dan Brown did a rewrite on the screenplay, and Umberto Eco was his writing partner. And Christopher Nolan directed it. And Harrison Ford’s wife in the movie was Salma Hayek. Interested yet? Need I point out that in 1989, when Field of Dreams was released, Salma Hayek was 23? Changed your answer?




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3 Responses to “Vladimir Nabokov’s Mysterious Baseball Game”

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  1. Awesome stuff, Leo.

    On Twitter earlier, Jesse Spector of the NY Post wrote that Ryan Giggs (who just re-upped with Man U) is “Welsh for Mariano Rivera.” Both have certainly enjoyed long and fruitful peaks.

    http://twitter.com/#!/jessespector/status/38619760648257536

    It occurs to me — with no intention of boys-clubbing this comment section — that Salma Hayek is the Giggs-Rivera equivalent of talented/beautiful actresses. She was pretty excellent in all the relevant ways on 30 Rock, and she’s 44 now, looks like.

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    • Leo Martin says:

      Notwithstanding what I wrote above, Salma Hayek has really become a better actress (and more beautiful) over time. Giggs is still great, but he isn’t as great as he was when he was young. As a young player he had just incredible speed. But he’s done an amazing job of changing his playing style as he’s aged to remain effective, kind of like Bergkamp did.

      At the risk of soccer-clubbing this comments section.

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  2. Dudley says:

    Pale Fire is a fantastic book. This debate reminds me of the literary sleuthing inspired by Henry James’ “The Ambassadors,” where he alludes to a semi-unrespectable product manufactured by a character’s family, but doesn’t actually ever tell the readers what it is (the best guess seems to be toothpicks).

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