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October 22, 2017

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Jack Kerouac: Fantasy baseball, ‘Beat’ style


New York Public Library, Berg Collection, Jack Kerouac Archive via The New York Times

Among the teams thought up by writer Jack Kerouac for a fantasy baseball game he created, and played for most of his life, were the Boston Fords, New York Chevvies and Philadelphia Pontiacs.

News item: Throughout his life Jack Kerouac was obsessed with a fantasy baseball game he created (The New York Times, May 15).

The “King of the Beats” would meticulously track fictitious players with names like Wino Love and Heinie Twiett (though not, as far as we know, Old Bull Lee or Carlo Marx) who “played” on teams such as the Pittsburgh Plymouths, the Boston Grays and the Cincinnati Blacks (but not, alas, the Desolation Angels or the Mexico City Blues).

It’s no secret Kerouac influenced the likes of Jim Morrison and Thomas Pynchon. But who knew his greatest influence might have been on novelist Robert Coover, author of the fantasy baseball classic “The Universal Baseball Association, Inc., J. Henry Waugh, Prop.”?

Kerouac also kept detailed statistics from the game, analyzed his players’ performances and even “covered” financial news such as contract disputes. This level of dedication — together with the hieroglyphic symbols used in the game — has led to speculation that Kerouac, author of “On the Road,” “The Dharma Bums” and other important works, also might have been baseball’s first sabermatrician.

(For those more attuned to the world of Bill Burroughs than Bill James, sabermatricians are people who analyze baseball through the use of in-depth, often esoteric, statistical studies.)

Documents related to his long-running fantasy baseball league have been added to the Jack Kerouac Archive at the Berg Collection of the New York Public Library, although we can only imagine what excerpts from the ultimate Kerouac Retrosheet might look like ...

• “I first met Dean not long after my wife and I split up. You know, she could only take so much pillow talk about Fibonacci win scores.”

• “The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved — and not one of those cheap saves where the pitcher enters the game with a three-run lead and the bases empty and throws one measly inning.”

• “Pretty girls make graves, was my saying — and so do teams with lousy park-adjusted defensive efficiency ratings.”

• “I gaped into the bleakness of my own days. My average pitcher abuse points per game started (PAPGS) were off the charts.”

• “We picked up two girls, a pretty young blonde and a fat brunette. They were dumb and sullen, but we wanted to make them. Geez, talk about marginal lineup value.”

• “We turned at a dozen paces, for love is a duel, and looked at each other for the last time. It was like the quintessential late-inning pressure situation (LIPS).”

• “Hopping a freight out of Los Angeles at high noon one day in late September 1955 I got on a gondola and lay down with my duffel bag under my head and my knees crossed and contemplated the clouds as we rolled north to Santa Barbara. Yes! Another quality start, right there.”

• “I like too many things and get all confused and hung-up running from one falling star to another till I drop. This is the night, what it does to you. I had nothing to offer anybody except my own confusion. That’s what happens when you spend too much time trying to predict the number of a baserunner’s equivalent air advancement runs (EqAAR), particularly without consulting the multiyear run expectancy matrix.”

• “Where was Hassel? ... Where Dean? Where everybody? Where life? Hey, 11 more questions and this will be just like the Keltner List.”

• “He almost blushed. Finally he came out with it: he wanted me to work Marylou. Whoa, kind of gives new meaning to the term value over replacement player (VORP).”

• “We had come from Denver to Chicago via Ed Wall’s ranch, 1180 miles, in exactly 17 hours, not counting the two hours in the ditch and three at the ranch and two with the police in Newton, Iowa, for a mean average of seventy miles per hour across the land, with one driver. Which is a kind of crazy record. In its own way, in fact, it’s as remarkable as Addie Joss’s underrated record for best career WHIP (walks plus hits per innings pitched).”

• “The bus roared on. I was going home in October. Everybody goes home in October. It’s a good time to tabulate the season’s stats and begin preparing for next year’s draft. The Pittsburgh Plymouths have the first pick.”

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