THE YEAR OF GRITICAL THINKING
A VIVA EL BIRDOS PLAY IN ONE ACT
TONY LA RUSSA, an aspiring author
AARON MILES, gone to Los Angeles
MR. ECKSTEIN, no relation, a literary agent
BRYAN ANDERSON, a backup backup catcher
MATT HOLLIDAY, whose contract is signed
KYLE LOHSE, a pitcher who's reported
COLBY RASMUS, kind of a snob
DAVID FREESE, no stranger to heartache
JIM EDMONDS, experienced veteran
[TONY LA RUSSA is in a literary agent's office. He sent his query letters three or four days ago and nobody in New York City has yet gotten back to him. The SECRETARY, who has spent the better part of 10 minutes staring at the dirt on his gray away suit, finally buzzes him in.]
SECRETARY: Mr. Eckstein will see you now.
LA RUSSA [winking at audience]: I'd always heard the gritty controlled the media... this is a cinch.
[MR. ECK-STEEN's office is covered with the mementos of a long and successful publishing career. He's sold novels, popular and literary; biography, exposés and tell-alls; and in the fifties he briefly, unsuccessfully, launched a set of children's books based on the work of Machiavelli and Sun Tzu, which is where Tony La Russa found his name. He remembers Tony's query, for what that's worth.]
MR. ECKSTEIN: Ah—you must—you must be the Gritical Thinking fellow.
LA RUSSA: That's me! So you liked it?
MR. ECKSTEIN: It was very—memorable. I need to have a word with my secretary.
[Meanwhile, at ROGER DEAN STADIUM, in a locker room set positioned to the agent's office's right, MATT HOLLIDAY and BRYAN ANDERSON discover a manuscript sitting in the empty locker room. It looks like a first draft—all the names have been sharpied over, and there are marginal notes saying things like "Grittier!" and "This sounds too effortless." The locker room is half-empty—some of the team still hasn't arrived, and others are fogging up the windows outside JOHN MOZELIAK's office, where ALBERT PUJOLS is rumored to be sitting.]
ANDERSON: Every time I see something in his handwriting, I—well, I'm hoping I'll eventually figure out what I did to him. Is there any "B___ A____." character in there? Does he slash T___ L_ R____'s tires?
HOLLIDAY: There's a B. all over the place in the first few pages, but he got x'd out pretty early. Tell me if it starts to sound like you—"B. cannot hit and it does not worry me. B. plays shortstop like a gazelle and he runs the bases like a gazelle and you might ask if he hits like a gazelle. You might ask: Does he. He does not. Gazelles don't hit in the savanna, they run, and to hit a lion would be..." And so on.
ANDERSON: Nah, I kind of hit like a gazelle. Flip through a little more, it's getting kind of funny.
HOLLIDAY: Sure, sure. But you have to—you have to swear you'll tap my shoulder if you see Albert coming. Put the weights in my hands if you have to, I have to—I must be busy for Albert.
HOLLIDAY [clearing his throat]: "I knew A. when there was dirt on his uniform and the place where Busch Stadium sat was all dirt. Now there's fake grass there and places for cars to sit and he is gone from us,"
LA RUSSA: "... and the dirt on N.P. and S.S. seems false somehow without his there and Busch's." That's just from memory, though, so some of the particulars may be wrong. I must have misplaced my hard copy.
MR. ECKSTEIN: So this is a memoir about a baseball player.
LA RUSSA: Well—the baseball player, really. He's iconic. He stands for—
MR. ECKSTEIN: America?
LA RUSSA: —for grit. Scrappiness. Play-hardiness, Mr. Eckstein.
MR. ECKSTEIN: That's Eckstein. I'm not sure about the audience for this. And you are aware The Year of Magical Thinking is about Joan Didion's husband dying, I hope? I'm not sure it's quite appropriate to—
LA RUSSA: You must not have gotten to the end. After Aaron—after A. leaves for Hollywood I'm left at the foot of the Arch, pondering my life to this point. Pondering our lives to this point, as scrappers. "I'll remember I used to know A., and he..."
HOLLIDAY [choked up. It's been some time since he started reading and his voice is beginning to crack from the strain]: "... and he never washed the dirt off. He played in the dirt and the dirt was his. He wasn't like B. who could not hit like a gazelle might hit and eventually stopped running, and gazelles are eaten when they stop running, eaten and useless—"
ANDERSON: B., you miserable bastard.
HOLLIDAY: I know man, I know. "and on the savanna A. would have run not to draw attention to himself but to help the herd survive. Our herd was thinner now and taller, and he was gone to Hollywood where there is no one like A. And underneath the Arch with CUBS SUCK in the snow I thought about all the other things that sucked. The Arch is the Gateway to the West. Eero Saarinen designed the Arch and he went west as well and died there near the palm trees." The—the—the end, man.
ANDERSON: I can't believe it's over. I—I'm going to go cut myself from Major League camp. It'll feel like he's here, that way.
HOLLIDAY: My life is different now.
LOHSE [sobbing]: You—you can show me the illustrations now. I'm ready.
RASMUS: I found it somewhat derivative of the new journalism.
LOHSE: Yeah, but you always say that.
FREESE: My heart hurts now.
FREESE: But I'm not sure it's related.
MR. ECKSTEIN: I can see there's a lot of real emotion here, Mr. La Russa, but I'm not sure this is what the creative nonfiction audience is looking for. We get a lot of illness, and a lot of religious awakening, and a lot of travel, but I haven't sold anything about free agency in some time.
LA RUSSA: I figured we could work on that in the editing process. Los Angeles is really a metaphor for a lot of things. And when I say Dodgers—I hope you noticed that someone is always dodging their true feelings.
MR. ECKSTEIN: And to be honest I think a publisher would have legal problems if they were to print half of what you say about B.
LA RUSSA: You can't sue somebody for truth-telling, David. Mr. Eckstein. It's one thing to not hit, but the way he did it—it makes my skin crawl. As far as the auction for the rights goes, I was figuring we could pick out one publisher and just tell them that all the other publishers were out to get them. And we kind of get this sauna atmosphere going, really tense, and at the end of it we make the playoffs even though I'm throwing J. and J. and J. and A. out there every five days. Even S. a few times.
MR. ECKSTEIN: I'm—I'm still a little hung up on the title.
LA RUSSA: Ask Joan Didion to read through it. Ask her if she's a cat person or a dog person, too, I need to send her a thank-you card and I have to know which one.
EDMONDS: What are you guys up to? I heard someone doing a really bad Joan Didion impression from the showers.
FREESE: You know Joan Didion?
EDMONDS: Oh, yeah. You could say that.
HOLLIDAY: That's gross, man.
LOHSE: I'm not sure I—
HOLLIDAY: And probably not true.
EDMONDS: We were young, man, and Californian.
LOHSE: I don't—
LOHSE: This is another sex joke, right? B. used to explain all the sex jokes...