You may be familiar with Jack Kerouac (1922-1969) as the author of novels (e.g., On the Road) and poetry that established him as an iconic figure of the Beat Generation. But did you also know that he was a big sports fan who blended a love of baseball and a rich imagination to create a homebrewed tabletop baseball game? The game featured a league of fictitious teams and ballplayers that he played for years, well into his adulthood.
With baseball season moving into full swing, I’m delighted to highlight Isaac Gewirtz’s Kerouac at Bat: Fantasy Sports and the King of the Beats (2009), a colorful 100-page book about Kerouac’s fantasy sports world, including plenty of photos of Kerouac’s own baseball game and the voluminous league records he maintained. The book is published by the New York Public Library (Gewirtz is a curator there), and it’s listed in the NYPL’s online catalog.
Through his game, Kerouac created his own fictitious world of baseball, proceeding from season to season. During the earlier years of his baseball league, he named his teams after car brands:
Kerouac added journalistic touches to his baseball league. Here’s a write-up of early-season league action, including the nascent standings and a game summary:
Kerouac’s game slightly preceded the arrival of dozens of commercially marketed baseball board games, such as APBA and Strat-O-Matic, in which players recreate the performances of real-life major leaguers via game engines that blend assorted charts, player performance cards or roster, and activators such as dice or spinners. Computer and videogame platforms have now brought baseball simulations into the digital age. (For those who want to check out the contemporary tabletop sports simulation scene, the Tabletop Sports game forum on Delphi is a good starting place.)
Perhaps newspaper reporter and APBA baseball fan Kenneth Heard is following in Kerouac’s footsteps with his terrific personal blog, Love, Life and APBA Baseball, in which he mixes game and league summaries with personal stories and observations about life.
Kerouac’s fictitious tabletop baseball world also preceded Robert Coover’s The Universal Baseball Association, Inc., J. Henry Waugh, Prop. (1968), the tale of a man who invents his own cards & dice baseball game and becomes lost in the life of his fictitious baseball league. It’s considered a minor classic and one of the best books about the dramatic pull of baseball.
I’ve been playing tabletop sports games since I was in grade school. Last year I played the 1969 Chicago Cubs schedule on the iPad version of Out of the Park baseball. I was attempting to reverse the fortunes of a favorite team that, in real life, slumped badly at season’s end and lost the division title to the New York Mets, the eventual World Series champs. (I’m afraid that my management of the digital Cubs resulted in a much worse record!)
But I digress! You see, it comes easily for those of us who, like Kerouac, enjoy recreating a favorite sport with the mind’s eye. Even if we lack his gift for writing novels, we can build a world of legendary sports accomplishments on our tabletops.