The Old Man’s Balls


I realize he’s not really in fashion these days, but I still have a soft spot for Ernest Hemingway. His short stories are tremendous, and I love For Whom the Bell Tolls. That probably puts me in the minority.

Of course, his most famous work is also one of his shortest, The Old Man and the Sea, a novel in which a Cuban fisherman hooks a beautiful marlin, and struggles to get it to shore before the sharks rob him of his prize catch. While it’s not, in my opinion, his best work, it does have the weight of a Nobel Prize for Literature behind it, and famously includes some warm words about Joe DiMaggio.

What people do not know is that the first draft was actually much more focused on baseball. One of my former graduate school compatriots has become one of the leading authorities on Hemingway, and she assures me that I did not just make this up this morning before having any caffeine:

“He always thought of the baseball as ‘la pelota’ which is what people call her in Spanish when they love her. Sometimes those who love her say bad things of her but they are always said as though she were a woman. Some of the younger ballplayers, those who used iPads as ways to review video in between at bats, bought when the home runs had brought much money, spoke of her as ‘el pelota’ which is masculine and not grammatically correct in Spanish. He had learned as, like, a freshman in high school. They spoke of her as a contestant or a place or even an enemy. But the old man always thought of her as feminine and as something that gave or withheld great favors, and if she did wild or wicked things it was because she could not help them. The moon affects her as it does a woman, he thought. Then he swung mightily at an Addison Reed slider down and in, and clubbed it well over the wall in right field to win the game and bring joy to the multitudes of Cleveland.  He could die now, alone and happy, in the rain.”

Weirdly prescient:

Mike Bates co-founded The Platoon Advantage, and has written for many other baseball websites, including NotGraphs (rest in peace) and The Score. Currently, he writes for Baseball Prospectus and co-hosts the podcast This Week In Baseball History. His favorite word is paradigm. Follow him on Twitter @MikeBatesSBN.

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A Pilgrimage
9 years ago

To fit in with this article:

I had no idea that Moby Dick was written to parallel not only the union-threatening pre-Civil War party warfare, but also to parallel the career of Ubaldo Jimenez.

Also of note: Will Smith turns 45 today.