Baseball Literary Journals: The Grass-Roots Literature of the Game

By Puerzer, Richard J. | Nine, Fall 2005 | Go to article overview

Baseball Literary Journals: The Grass-Roots Literature of the Game


Puerzer, Richard J., Nine


The literature of baseball is perhaps the richest of any sport. A wealth of histories, biographies, and reference works as well as novels, poems, plays, and movies is associated with the game. When reflecting on baseball writing, one may be drawn to think of such well-known writers as Roger Angell, Bill James, and W. P. Kinsella, and such landmark books as The Glory of Their Times, The Natural, and Moneyball. However, just as baseball is not limited to the Major Leagues but is also played on sandlots and in backyards around the world, the literature of baseball is not confined to eminent authors and best-selling books. Many fine literary works on baseball are also created by writers unknown to large publishing houses and the shelves of bookstores. The work of many of these writers has been featured in small journals published solely to provide an outlet for writing on baseball. Three such journals--Spitball, Fan, and Elysian Fields Quarterly (previously known as the Minneapolis Review of Baseball)--demonstrate that the literature of baseball, like the game itself, can be found in abundance and splendor at a grass-roots level.

SPACE

Over the years Spitball, Fan, and Elysian Fields Quarterly (EFQ)--as well as the latter's predecessor, the Minneapolis Review of Baseball (MRB)--have been the three predominant baseball literary journals, publishing poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction on baseball. These journals are unique both in the literary world, in that they are focused exclusively on baseball, and in the baseball world, in that they are true literary journals. All founded between 1980 and 1990, these journals each have a unique personality and approach in the writing they feature. However, they all also have much in common both from a business perspective and from an appreciation of all levels of the vast world of baseball.

From a business standpoint none of these journals is conceived or managed based on a profit motive; these journals are veritable labors of love. All of the journals had humble beginnings. Each was initially staple-bound and distributed primarily to friends of the publishers and writers. Still, they have persisted and, in relative terms, have flourished. Each journal has spawned a book compiling many outstanding pieces from the journal. Each has been recognized by national publications, including Sports Illustrated, the Wall Street Journal, and The Sporting News. They have collectively enabled a handful of contributing writers to gain an audience on their way to publishing their own baseball-related books. And while they have not been the most profitable of publishing ventures, these journals have found a niche market of literate baseball fans that has supported them financially and encouraged them spiritually.

Spitball, Elysian Fields Quarterly, and Fan, while unique in their perspectives and individual visions, all share a common outlook on the game of baseball. This outlook may be idealistic, with regard to the beauty of the game, or realistic, when, for example, they discuss the game's history of segregation. When discussing the state of professional baseball, these journals often take an antiestablishment stance in discussing the business of professional baseball or the ethics of those in power. While this view may not differ from that of general journalism on baseball, the voices heard in these journals are not those of baseball beat writers but are instead those of baseball fans. It is the honesty of this writing--whether presented as poetry, fiction, or reportage--that makes these journals unique.

Still these journals are differentiated by their personalities. Fan usually featured writing of an idealistic and positive bent along with a number of pieces relying on nostalgia. On the other hand Spitball has been especially earnest in its take on the fiction and poetry of baseball, often displaying how baseball affects individuals. The writing found in EFQ, and earlier MRB, has been perhaps the most eclectic, ranging from cynical pieces on the business of professional baseball to buoyant stories of baseball as played in backyards in the United States and around the world. …

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