Themes and Meanings

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

For Dutch, the epitome of softness and failure is to become a “gymnasium teacher.” A gymnasium teacher does not understand that games must be won at any cost. The principal contrast to Dutch Schnell is afforded by Mike Mulrooney, the manager of Queen City in the Four-State Mountain League. Henry describes Mike Mulrooney as “one of the grandest men that ever lived,” emphasizing his humanity. Unlike Dutch, Mulrooney “will not eat you out in front of all the rest,” and he “will treat you all the same, no matter if you are on the way up or the way down, for he takes the attitude that if you are not the greatest ballplayer in the world still and all you are a human being.” Harris, however, avoids sentimentality and keeps the portrait balanced. To maintain his humanity, Mike Mulrooney has to be willing not “to run the whole show but just live an easygoing life and not worry you ragged about setting the whole world on fire.” Mark Harris unsentimentally recognizes that the Dutch Schnells win games while the Mike Mulrooneys end up in the minor leagues. To avoid compromising, Mike Mulrooney may have to be willing to retreat to his ranch in Colorado, appropriately named Last Chance.

Henry Wiggen will never be Mike Mulrooney because he desperately wants to win, to become a baseball immortal. (Henry’s father can never explain to his son why he quit after two years of professional ball and spent the rest of his life driving a school bus and playing for the Perkinsville Scarlets.) Nevertheless, he is not prepared to sacrifice everything merely for the sake of success. Summing up the challenges he faces, Henry’s wife Holly tells him that “the world needs all the lefthanders it can get, for it is a righthanded world”; he is “a southpaw in a starboarded atmosphere.” Henry’s left-handedness, like his cowardice when it comes to military training, is identified with honesty and humanity. He rejects any kind of hypocrisy: “It seemed to me that if I was too much of a coward to go and fight in the war against Korea myself I had no business going over and playing ball for them and encouraging them to be fighting it.” Thus, Henry refuses to concede to the pressures—material, social, or psychological—which eat away at the other characters.