Zane Grey's Curve

October 23: On this day in 1939, Zane Grey died. Grey was born as Pearl Zane Gray in Zanesville, Ohio, a town founded by his ancestors. After high school, his first move was not west but east, to study dentistry at the University of Pennsylvania, financed by a baseball scholarship. His next move was to New York City as a dentist, but only because New York was a literary center, a place where Grey would pull teeth by day and write or play baseball by night.

 

These three—dentistry, baseball and storytelling—converge in the following anecdote. Grey's father was a dentist, and Grey was compelled to help out around the office, at first cleaning up but eventually pulling teeth, a job for which a baseball pitcher's strong hands and arms came in handy. Soon Grey was sent out to surrounding towns for this task—a traveling and totally unlicensed tooth-puller. On one visit to Baltimore, Ohio he heard talk of a big baseball game that afternoon, the local squad against an unbeaten team from nearby Jacktown. Grey was a star in the Columbus semi-pro league and proud of his curve ball, a pitch new to the game and virtually unseen by the farm boys. He introduced himself to the manager of the Baltimore team, and had his offer to pitch that afternoon immediately accepted. With the game tied in the bottom of the seventh inning, Grey hit a grand slam; in the eighth, he threw a roundhouse curve so slow and strange that the batter fell over swinging. With the other team yelling, "Ringer! Ringer! Ringer!" the umpire took to the mound: "Game called. Nine to nothing, favor Jacktown. Baltimore's ringer pitcher throws a crooked ball!"

 

In the ensuing riot, Grey slipped to the barn to change, but when still only half-dressed he saw the Jacktown team and fans coming with a fence rail to ride him out of town. Grey bolted, and after a long chase escaped to a farmer's cornfield, where he spent the night in hiding. The next morning the farmer congratulated him on a great game, and gave him a pair of overalls.


Daybook is contributed by Steve King, who teaches in the English Department of Memorial University in St. John's, Newfoundland. His literary daybook began as a radio series syndicated nationally in Canada. He can be found online at todayinliterature.com.

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