Despite its Luddite tendencies, The Scrapbook is sufficiently au courant to be aware that many of its readers are no longer packing canvas bags of paperbacks for their summer vacations but loading up their e-readers of choice. So let us recommend to the non-Luddites that they download contributing editor Joseph Bottum’s new Kindle single, The Summer of 43: R. A. Dickey’s Knuckleball and the Redemption of America’s Game. Bottum’s winning essay on the New York Mets’ celebrated pitcher will charm baseball fans especially, but like all the finest writing on that quintessentially American game, it is a treat for nonfans as well. Here’s a short sample:
A-Dieu-va, French sailors used to call out as the command to bring their wooden ships about—a more difficult maneuver than you might think, turning one of those old high-masted vessels and hoping it had enough momentum to swing it through the eye of wind and over onto a new tack. A-Dieu-va: We must take the chance, the phrase came to mean in ordinary French, and trust to God.
The throwing of a knuckleball has something of the same quality about it. You grip the ball with your fingernails, lean back, and push it toward the batter, across the eye of the plate. And then you wait to see what happens. Sometimes it just floats, a slow, easy pitch any good hitter will crush into the bleachers. Sometimes it drops suddenly, as though it had rolled off the edge of a table, batters swinging futilely a foot above it. Sometimes it flutters like a sail taken aback. Nobody knows what will happen, not the pitcher or the hitter. Not even the catcher who had signaled for the pitch: “You don’t catch the knuckleball,” Joe Torre once famously complained, speaking for long-suffering catchers everywhere. “You defend against it.”
And to our fellow Luddites, we can only say that Bottum’s Kindle singles (this is his third so far) are a powerful inducement for making your peace with this new technology.