Jack Kerouac and Fantasy Baseball

>> Wednesday, November 25, 2009

I've had baseball--particularly fantasy baseball--on the brain lately as I've been hard at work on the third draft of my new middle grade novel, Fantasy Baseball, due out in spring of 2011. Writing about fantasy baseball made me remember a story from earlier this year about beat writer Jack Kerouac and his secret preoccupation with fantasy baseball.

For the uninitiated, fantasy baseball is an umbrella term that covers most stat-based, pen and paper (now computer spreadsheet) baseball simulations. Players either use real baseball players and their actual statistics, "drafting" teams from Major League rosters and comparing stats, dropping, adding, and trading players all season long, or they use statistics from previous seasons to provide a mathematical basis for ability, and play out an entirely new season on paper using dice and modifiers. Sound geeky? It is. And for geeky sports enthusiasts like me, they are incredibly addictive. In fact, the real irony for me is that to make more time for writing books like Fantasy Baseball, I had to drop my fantasy baseball addiction cold turkey.


But apparently I'm not the only writer to have had an addiction to fantasy baseball. Kerouac at Bat: Fantasy Sports and the King of the Beats, a new book by New York Public Library Jack Kerouac Archive curator Isaac Gewirtz, reveals Kerouac's obsessive hobby, which he pursued privately from childhood until two years before his death. From an article about the book in The New York Times:
Among other things, Mr. Gewirtz has learned that Kerouac played an early version of the baseball game in his backyard in Lowell, Mass., hitting a marble with a nail, or possibly a toothpick, and noting where it landed. By 1946, when Kerouac was 24, he had devised a set of cards with precise verbal descriptions of various outcomes (“slow roller to ss,” for example), depending on the skill levels of the pitcher and batter. The game could be played using cards alone, but Mr. Gewirtz thinks that more often Kerouac determined the result of a pitch by tossing some sort of projectile at a diagramed chart on the wall. In 1956 he switched to a new set of cards, which used hieroglyphic symbols instead of descriptions. Carefully preserved inside plastic folders at the library, they now look as mysterious as runes.
Kerouac's fantasy baseball league was of the made up variety, with teams like the Boston Fords, New York Chevvies, and Cincinnati Blacks. For each team, Kerouac invented managers and twenty-five man rosters, and he chronicled his players' exploits in newsletters and broadsides meant for his eyes only. He even invented a fictional sports writer, "Jack Lewis," an Anglicization of Kerouac’s French first name, Jean-Louis.


In his introduction, Gerwitz suggests that Kerouac perhaps invented the elaborate fantasy league to "escape the pain and confusion he suffered from the death of his older brother, Gerard, when Gerard was 9 and Kerouac just 4." Whatever the case, it was an exercise that let Kerouac practice his writing chops at an early age.

According to the article, the book is only available from the New York Public Library gift shop. Next time I'm in New York it'll be at the top of my "get" list!


Kristin Tubb November 25, 2009 at 4:35 PM  

Alan, you've just made my afternoon with this. I'm writing a mg in which Mr Kerouac makes a guest appearance, so I've been a little obsessed with the man lately. Thanks for the post! And Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours! :)

Alan November 25, 2009 at 10:09 PM  

Thanks, Kristin! I can't wait to read it.

Fantasy Baseball December 1, 2009 at 7:09 AM  

Fantasy baseball has a very special place in the world of fantasy sports. Baseball being the national pastime, it is natural that many Americans take a lot of interest in the fantasy game too.

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