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The Celebrant ()

        The poet Marianne Moore loved Christy Mathewson, no woman of Quality has ever loved
        a football player.
                    -Thomas Boswell (100 Reasons Why Baseball is Better than Football)

This cult classic was out of print for nearly a decade, but is finally available again.  Like Ragtime or Hoopla, it interweaves fact and fiction as a Jewish immigrant family's Jewelry business comes to rely on endorsements from baseball players in the first two decades of the century.

Yakov Kapinski  (Jack Kapp) & his brother Eli work for their Uncle Sid.  Jackie designs the pieces and Eli sells them.  Eli travels extensively and brings his clients to baseball games, where he bets on virtually every pitch.  The two brothers happen to be at the Polo Grounds for Christy Mathewson's first game and Jackie, a former pitcher himself, develops a very nearly homoerotic case of hero worship.  After Mathewson throws a no-hitter, Jackie designs a special commemorative ring for him  and Eli siezes on the popularity of the ring to garner business.  Over the succeeding decades, Jackie continues to witness many of Mathewson's greatest games, Eli gambles more and more and their younger brother Arthur comes aboard & begins to modernize the business.

The strength of the book is the meticulous recreation of these early games.  But the author's obvious intention to meditate upon the nature of heroes and hero worship is awfully murky.  I mean, I love Tom Seaver, (Hell, I tried convincing my wife that Seaver would be a great name for a daughter) but I don't think I'd tremble if I saw him naked, as the narrator does when he sees Mathewson fresh from a shower.

It all makes for a somewhat uneven reading experience, but on balance I'd recommend it.


Grade: (C+)


See also:

Sports (Baseball)
Book-related and General Links:
    -Career Stats of Christy Mathewson
    -Early Baseball Pictures on the WWW
    -Official Site of Christy Mathewson
    -Portrait Gallery
    -Marianne Moore (1887-1972)
    -ESSAY: The Smaller the Ball, the Better the Book: A Game Theory of Literature (George Plimpton, NY Times Book Review)