The poet Marianne Moore said, “Writing is exciting, and baseball is like writing.”
This is a good month for fans of both.
The first pitch of the World Series is Oct. 22, a pleasant slide into autumn. Katharine White, writer and wife of E. B. White, used to listen to the World Series on the radio at their Maine farm while polishing gourds from her garden. Radio, baseball and writer — that was a different world.
I love baseball, but mostly I love the bygone era of baseball when it really was a national pastime. It’s no wonder that I loved a baseball player. Jay Cronley was a baseball star at the University of Oklahoma, All Big Eight Second Base. In the 1960s, OU’s conference was the Big Eight.
Jay played under the legendary coach Jack Baer, whom he described as “the meanest man that ever lived.” I’m sure he meant that fondly. It was a colorful time. Jay told me about an out-of-town game when the coach got so irritated with his wife, he stopped the car and put her out on the side of the road. The team bus stopped to pick her up.
I didn’t know Jay when he was in college. During all of our time together, his main identity was writer. It makes me so happy to learn that some of his books from the 1970s and 1980s are being reprinted. Some of the best words a writer can hear are, “The royalty check is in the mail.” The saddest are, “Out of print.”
Echo Point Books is reprinting “Funny Farm” and “Good Vibes.” Chevy Chase starred in the movie version of “Funny Farm” about a city writer who moves to the country. Richard Dreyfuss was the gambler on a lucky streak in “Let It Ride,” the movie version of “Good Vibes.” That book became so popular with horse race fans, the last time I checked, a used copy was $700.62. One review of his books called him “the funniest writer alive.” When his first book came out, he gave away pencils printed: Jay Cronley — Promising Writer. I Promise Anything.
I came across a diary I kept when he was writing his books, and memories of those days washed me back to another time. The writing was pouring out of him; eight books, award-winning stories for Playboy, Esquire, Sports Illustrated and newspaper columns for both the Tulsa Tribune and Tulsa World (a total of 46 years.) Later, horse-racing columns for ESPN.com.
Still, he found plenty of time to spend with his best buddies: Bob Gregory, Darcy O’Brien and Gailard Sartain. They were fixtures at the Press Club (until Jay and Gailard were barred for life for a food fight), Little Joe’s bar on 41st Street or the Cognito Inn downtown. We were all young, happy and creative. The future was so big we couldn’t see around it.
Jay wrote like he lived, fast and lively. Someone said talking to Jay was like having a conversation with a pinball machine. Being married to him was like living with a fireworks display. Not docile or saintly. But as an old cowboy told me, “A horse that don’t kick can’t run.”
His life philosophy was shaped by baseball. An injury? “Rub dirt on it.” Problems? “Don’t explain, don’t complain.” He hated “blowhards” and “grandstanders.” I think this comes from the example of gentlemen baseball players who politely trotted to the dugout after a homerun. Maybe, just maybe, if the crowd was cheering loudly, a modest doff of the baseball cap.
Baseball doesn’t seem as much fun as it once was. Too long, too slow. Jay wrote a column about how to make the game more exciting. “Plant trees in the outfield,” was one of his suggestions.
One of his books was dedicated to me. Lest I sound like a blowhard, he dedicated another book to Rambunctious Road, a horse that won the first race of a Daily Double.