The literary world isn't the only 'sphere mourning today's passing of legendary writer John Updike.
Entitled 'Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu,' Updike's essay beautifully captured Williams' home run in his last career at-bat and the atmosphere at Fenway Park on that September day. Some call the piece the greatest essay of all time and there's little doubt it inspired legions of writers who could only hope to imitate Updike's talent for just one sentence. (Indeed, I'm one of them. I just looked at my copy of The Best American Sports Writing of The Century and noticed that first page of the article contains a well-worn crease on its corner.)
Bob Ryan of the Boston Globe actually wrote a great piece about the piece just last September, in which Updike noted that his attendance at the final game of Williams' career took a bit of luck. He had been planning to meet with a woman on Beacon Hill, but headed over to Fenway Park after discovering she was not home.
We ended up being the winners of that one, as the result was almost 6,000 words of perfection, including this graf that described Ted's last trot around the bases:
"Like a feather caught in a vortex, Williams ran around the square of bases at the center of our beseeching screaming. He ran as he always ran out home runs — hurriedly, unsmiling, head down, as if our praise were a storm of rain to get out of. He didn't tip his cap. Though we thumped, wept, and chanted ''We want Ted'' for minutes after he hid in the dugout, he did not come back. Our noise for some seconds passed beyond excitement into a kind of immense open anguish, a wailing, a cry to be saved. But immortality is nontransferable. The papers said that the other players, and even the umpires on the field, begged him to come out and acknowledge us in some way, but he refused. Gods do not answer letters."
I can't say that Updike's piece is my favorite sports piece ever — "Pure Heart" by Bill Nack takes that title — but I haven't read many passages that suck the breath out of you quite like that one. And as Salon's King Kauffman notes, the piece was ahead of its time in detailing the strange relationships Boston always seems to have with its star athletes.
But do yourself a favor. If you haven't read the essay — or even if you have — print it out for your train ride home or for some good evening reading later tonight.
That'd be a worthy tribute, I think. Rest in peace, Mr. Updike.