October 23: Onthis day in 1939, Zane Grey died. Grey was born as Pearl Zane Gray inZanesville, Ohio, a town founded by his ancestors. After high school, his firstmove was not west but east, to study dentistry at the University ofPennsylvania, financed by a baseball scholarship. His next move was to New YorkCity as a dentist, but only because New York was a literary center, a placewhere Grey would pull teeth by day and write or play baseball by night.
These three—dentistry, baseball and storytelling—converge inthe following anecdote. Grey’s father was a dentist, and Grey was compelled tohelp 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. SoonGrey was sent out to surrounding towns for this task—a traveling and totallyunlicensed tooth-puller. On one visit to Baltimore, Ohio he heard talk of a bigbaseball game that afternoon, the local squad against an unbeaten team fromnearby Jacktown. Grey was a star in the Columbus semi-pro league and proud ofhis 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 offerto pitch that afternoon immediately accepted. With the game tied in the bottomof the seventh inning, Grey hit a grand slam; in the eighth, he threw aroundhouse curve so slow and strange that the batter fell over swinging. Withthe other team yelling, “Ringer! Ringer! Ringer!” the umpire took tothe mound: “Game called. Nine to nothing, favor Jacktown. Baltimore’sringer pitcher throws a crooked ball!”
In the ensuing riot, Grey slipped to the barnto change, but when still only half-dressed he saw the Jacktown team and fanscoming with a fence rail to ride him out of town. Grey bolted, and after a longchase escaped to a farmer’s cornfield, where he spent the night in hiding. Thenext morning the farmer congratulated him on a great game, and gave him a pairof 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.