Pure Baseball

27 August 2015

Pure Baseball: The Carl Jaxsom Legend
by Ryan Thaddeus
Published by DriverWorks Ink
Review by Keith Foster
$9.95 ISBN 978-0-9940720-0-9

First came baseball. Then came pure baseball. That’s where the top slugger squares off against the very best pitcher. This ultimate challenge is where Ryan Thaddeus’s Pure Baseball: The Carl Jaxsom Legend takes readers.

The story is related by a grandfather telling a bedtime story to his grandson huddled under the covers next to an old, worn teddy bear named Roosevelt. Gramps tells the incredible tale of a ball player named Carl Jaxsom who retired with a batting record of one thousand – one thousand hits at one thousand times up to bat. This is the stuff legends are made of, and this fictitious account reads more like a fantastical fantasy.

Gramps speaks of his experience as a ten-year-old in Boston, teaming up with his pal Sal to hawk newspapers. “Locals called us the Pepper Salt twins and for good reason,” he says. “Partly because Sal was black as a burnt match to my Irish turnip-white skin, but mostly for the stinging way we seemed to rub folks.” They witness Jaxsom’s remarkable feat in 1904, the second year of the modern-day World Series.

Jaxsom is a phantom with the uncanny ability to slip in and out of crowds undetected. A master of disguise, he would assume the name and persona of another player, mimic his movements, score a few impressive hits, then vanish. After the game, the real player would be found tied up on his bunk.

One day a stranger shows up under the name of Bill Owen and the guise of a drifter, looking “as if he had just gotten off a long train ride, the kind that doesn’t require a ticket.” He’s a man with magic hands that move faster than a speeding bullet. He snatches a glass thrown at him in mid-air, then putting it to his lips, drains the contents.

Pure Baseballhas a colourful cast of characters, like Irish Benny, also known as Benny the Leprechaun, “the crown jewel of sleazy society.” He bets heavily on the game, which he fixes, and he doesn’t like to lose. There’s also the luscious Karly Dean, a vaudeville performer and Bill Owen’s love interest.

The classic match pits the stranger against the top pitcher, Jack Chesbro, renowned for his saliva-saturated spitball, “more spit than ball.” When the shady umpire calls a strike, even though the pitch is clearly high and outside, even Chesbro is shocked. But that’s not the only dirty trick the umpire has up his sleeve. And Benny’s henchmen are standing by, just in case the stranger turns out to be Jaxsom, to make sure he doesn’t get far.

Pure Baseball is a pure delight that deserves a prominent place in baseball lore. This slim, sixty-two-page volume, with seven black and white archival photos, comes in a handy pocket-sized format.

Is this story true? The book is classified as fiction, but who knows? For those who believe, no proof is necessary. For those who don’t, no proof is possible.


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