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The Southpaw [Secure eReader]
eBook by Mark Harris

eBook Category: Sports/Entertainment
eBook Description: With The Southpaw, novelist Mark Harris begins the remarkable saga of a gifted baseball pitcher named Henry W. Wiggen, which would unfold in four novels over the course of some 27 years between the publication of The Southpaw (1952) and It Looked Like For Ever (1979). Harris frames The Southpaw in an irresistible way, letting the fictional hero Wiggen "tell" his own story in the vernacular--bad grammar, run-on sentences, the works. In fact, the title page tells the reader that The Southpaw is "by Henry W. Wiggen / Punctuation freely inserted and spelling greatly improved by Mark Harris." Henry Wiggen is a beautiful athlete--a perfect physical specimen and a gifted left-handed pitcher in a world that generally favors the right-handed. Despite his talents and his natural grace, the unpretentious small-town boy reaches manhood by the same arduous route followed by most boys. It is complicated, in his case, by that very talent and grace, and the expectations they create in everyone. Wiggen is that rarest of fiction heroes, a certifiable good guy, without guile, who wants always to do the right thing. Even for him, the challenges posed by personal and professional needs sometimes seem to be too much, as the stakes in his career steadily rise. The Southpaw follows Wiggen from his early days all the way to the World Series, a winning story of a good man living an extraordinary life. The Southpaw defines Wiggen, and Harris wields his vivid, stream of conscious style with wizardly skill. His hero is not a simple or uncomplicated man, he simply sees things as they are and says what he thinks. Wiggen is one of the most disarming characters in modern American fiction, in the age of the anti-hero. Harris does not paint him as a role model but as something much more compelling--a good man, with his share of flaws, whose basic decency allows him to be a hero. The acid test is whether the experience of The Southpaw encourages the reader to follow Wiggen's saga in Bang the Drum Slowly. Invariably, it does.

eBook Publisher: RosettaBooks, Published: 1952
Fictionwise Release Date: August 2002


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"By far the best 'serious' baseball novel published."--San Francisco Chronicle


Chapter 1

First off I must tell you something about myself, Henry Wiggen, and where I was born and my folks.

Probably you never been to Perkinsville. How you get there you get an Albany train out of Grand Central Station. About halfway to Albany the conductor comes down the isle mumbling "Perkinsville." Then the train slows and you got to be quick because most of them don't exactly stop at Perkinsville. They just slow to a creep, and if you're an old man or woman or if you got a broke leg or something of the sort I don't know how you get off. Generally there will be no trouble. You just throw your bags clear and you swing down off on the cement platform and you fall away the way the train is going, and then you go back for your bags. Now you are in Perkinsville.

The last time I come by train through Perkinsville it was a rainy night and the platform was slick and I damn near skidded when I hit the cement. You have saw an outfielder start after a fly ball on wet grass and how he skids before his spikes take hold. That was how I skidded on the wet platform. But nothing come of it. It was midnight or after, and it was quiet on the square, and I cut across past the Embassy Theater and down past Borelli's barber shop where I remember a long time ago they had a big picture of Sad Sam Yale hanging over the coat-hooks. But they have since took down the picture of Sam and put up 1 of me. Now my picture is took down, too, and the space is bare.

Next to Borelli's is Fred Levine's cigar store where you can get most any magazine, in particular magazines like "The Baseball Digest" and "Ace Diamond Tales" and such newspapers as "The Sporting News" and 1,000 other things. Then after Fred Levine's is Mugs O'Brien's gymnasium, just opposite the statue of Horace Cleves, and on the corner is the Perkinsville Pharmacy.

The way you get out home from Perkinsville is a question. If you own a car like me (a 50 Moors Special) or any other car for all of that, you just drive out the hard-top road 2.7 miles from the square to where you will see a sign saying "Observatory" with an arrow pointing west. This Observatory (star-gazing) is exactly 1 mile west of the highway. It has a big telescope, 1 of the biggest. The Government wanted to use the Observatory during the war, but Aaron turned them down. Aaron rules the whole works under orders from his group of scientists and it can be used only to look at the stars and moon and such. I have saw Mars and Saturn and all the rest through it, and they all look the same except Saturn. I have also saw the moon. Sometimes there will be a squad of professors come down to look at some particular situation in the sky.

Aaron Webster kills me. I was very young when the argument with the Government took place, but I remember there was a good deal of discussion in the papers, not only in Perkinsville but everywhere, Aaron holding fast and finally winning out, and you have got to admire him for that. He is over 80 years old, his face all wrinkled up but otherwise in excellent shape, a gangly man, built like Carl Hubbell, though lighter of course, weighing about 140, mostly bone. If you ever stop at the Observatory he will come right up to you, squinting and looking at you, and tell you his name and pop right out with questions and answers, what do you think of this and that and your politics. It used to be I never liked him much. But you got to get to know him and he will grow on you.

It is partly on account of Aaron that I am lefthanded in the first place. Pop wanted me to be righthanded. Not that Pop had anything against lefthanders because he himself is lefthanded and pitched for a long time for the Perkinsville Scarlets. But Pop wanted me to be righthanded because when you come to think of it a lefthanded baseball player has got 2 strikes on him from the beginning. First off, as everybody knows, a lefthander has got only 5 positions he can play. He can pitch or play first base or 1 of the outfield spots. But he can't be a catcher or a second baseman or a third baseman or a shortstop, not usually. If you are righthanded you can play anywhere. Then too, even a lefthanded pitcher is considered a sort of a risky proposition because many of them are wild and most hitters are righthanded, and a lefthanded pitcher is supposed to be at a disadvantage against a righthanded batter. So Pop wanted me to start off right in life, and he done what he thought was best at the time, and nobody blamed him.

But nothing he could do could change me, and finally what he done he took me to Aaron, for Pop has the greatest faith in whatever Aaron says, and Aaron said there wasn't nothing wrong with being lefthanded and some of the best people were lefthanded and all.

I guess I could not of been more than 4 at the time, and Pop done what Aaron said and it all turned out for the best.

Yet you should not get the idea that Pop is simply some sort of a wooden dummy that Aaron can twist around his little finger, for Pop has a mind of his own as you will see between here and the end of this chapter. This chapter is Pop's, for it seems the least I can do is give him number 1 like the club give Swanee Wilks the number 1 shirt last spring, Swanee the oldest of all the boys. I am putting the club roster up in front of this book. Take a look at it once in awhile and keep things straight in your mind.

Pop is everything you could ask for, and more, born and raised in Perkinsville. When he was a sophomore at Perkinsville High he was the first-string pitcher, though I will admit that is no special trick even in a place which takes their baseball so serious as Perkinsville. He finished up and would of graduated but got sick and tired of school in his senior year and took off in May, right after the Tozerbury game which is always the wind-up for Perkinsville High, and went to Cedar Rapids in the Mississippi Valley League, winning 12 and losing 5 on what was left of the year. He says he always wished he had stood for graduation, though I myself graduated from Perkinsville High and can't see any special benefit in it. Graduation night was probably 1 of the most boring things I ever been through. I wore a cap and a gown and felt unusually foolish and wouldn't of bothered to go a-tall except it give Pop a terrific thrill. Aaron said it was rubbage and I agree. Aaron belongs to the Board of Education of Perkinsville and once in a fit of disgust voted to abolish the whole entire system. He got ruled down. He usually always does.

Pop played 2 years with Cedar Rapids, weighing about 180, standing 6 feet in his socks and just about full growed. The second year he won 19 and lost 7, mighty good pitching in any class of ball.

The exact story on what happened after the second year is still not clear in my mind and probably never will, though after last summer I can actually see where a man might do what Pop done. It is partly on account of last summer that I am writing this book for the benefit of the 100,000,000 boobs and flatheads that swallow down everything they read in the papers, in particular the writing of Krazy Kress in "The Star-Press." That fat horse's tail! All I know is that Pop simply up and quit after the second summer at Cedar Rapids. He done this in despite of the fact that his wife that he married the previous winter was expecting a baby, which was me, and in despite of the fact that Pop had all the makings of a great. He could of been an immortal. He was fast and had good control and an assortment of curves of all speeds and a smart head for baseball. More then anything he loved the game, and when you love the game of baseball you eat it and sleep it and are bound to succeed if you got the stuff to go with it.

Pop was none of your average ballplayer. He was the stuff which greatness is made of. They will tell you in Borelli's barber shop in Perkinsville that Pop was the greatest that ever come out of the area, not even barring Slim Doran that won 18 and lost 11 in the 1 good year he had with Newark before his arm give out from a cold he caught in Montreal.

Pop could of went up with Boston the following year, and you would think he would of jumped at the chance. But he didn't, and I do not know why, and over all the years I have pumped him time and again for the answer but never got a good 1. All I know is that he built on land he bought from Aaron, located right next to Aaron's house about 1 mile up from the Observatory, and he got the job driving the school bus, which he still does, also working as caretaker at the Observatory, and he pitched semi-pro ball for a long time for the Perkinsville Scarlets, right up till last summer. They play the touring teams such as the House of David and the Cuban clubs and the Columbus Clowns. They used to play only Sundays until night ball come in, and now they play Wednesday nights as well.

Concerning my mother I can tell you practically nothing, for she died when I was 2. Pop don't talk much about her. About the only thing she means to me is I think of her whenever I write my middle name, which is Whittier, because she was a fan of a poet by that name. Holly says Whittier was quite famous.

When professional baseball lost Pop it lost a great southpaw. Yet you might say that between Pop and my mother in their short time together come a greater southpaw yet, which was me. I believe that some day I will be counted amongst the immortals and have my statue in the Hall of Fame at Cooperstown. Connie Mack says Lefty Grove was the greatest, and maybe so, and some say Mathewson and some say Walter Johnson, some say Bobby Feller and some say Satchel Paige. Yet you will see some writers that say that on my best days I am better and faster than any, and I believe them. You got to believe. Pop says you got to believe in yourself and know every time you pitch that ball that it is the best pitch ever throwed.

Another thing Pop says is, "Hank, never feel sorry for yourself. You will have good days and bad days. Keep thinking, keep learning, keep throwing, and you will have twice as many good days as bad." Pop himself has followed his own rule. He never feels sorry for himself. He is really a pretty happy fellow. He is crazy about kids and gets a big bang out of driving the bus, and he likes to work for Aaron, for he admires Aaron. Such spare time as he has got you can usually find him hanging in Borelli's. He keeps busy. If he ain't monkeying with the school bus he is under the hood of his old 32 Moors. He is in love with that crazy car. Myself I own a 50 Moors Special. Right at this moment it happens to be sitting out in the yard, its Evva-life battery deader then hell. It been sitting there since after the Series last October, and it can sit there 80 years more for all of me.

* * *

1 other person I had better mention fairly quick is Holly Webster, Aaron's niece, now Mrs. Henry W. Wiggen by marriage. However, there was a number of stormy brawls before it come to pass.

So Pop is actually moved out of the house now, and over with Aaron, and Holly is moved in over here. I kid Aaron and tell him I have got the best of the swap by far. We kid back and forth a hell of a lot.

That's it. Those are the folks and also the end of the chapter. Holly says try and write up 1 thing and 1 thing only in every chapter and don't be wandering all over the lot, and then, when the subject is covered, break it off and begin another.

Copyright © 1953 by Mark Harris


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