Summary (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
“You Could Look It Up” is an unusual Thurber short story in point of view: that of an illiterate trainer employed by a major league baseball team. Thurber thereby adopts a technique already made famous by Ring Lardner, in which much of the humor derives from the way the speaker fractures the English language. Unlike the typical Lardner story, Thurber’s also has a strong plot. The narrator recounts a story thirty years old, which prepares the reader for an old-fashioned “yarn.” It also makes more plausible the lowbrow characteristics of the trainer and the team members by placing them in an era when the men of professional baseball were usually little educated.
Manager Squawks Magrew’s team has been leading the league all season but has fallen into a slump that has melted its lead almost entirely away. In a bar Magrew meets an eccentric, fifty-four-year-old midget named Pearl du Monville. Magrew comes to enjoy his company and introduces him into the dugout as a kind of mascot. As Magrew grows more and more displeased with the performance of his players, he decides to sign and outfit Pearl as a player. In the ninth inning of a crucial game, with two outs, the bases loaded, and the team needing one run to tie and two to win the game, he calls upon the midget as a pinch-hitter with instructions to wait for the inevitable base on balls that any batter with such a tiny strike zone might reasonably expect.
The midget, however, does the unthinkable. He swings at a pitch and grounds out, ending the game. Magrew is so agitated that he picks up the midget by the ankles, whirls him around, and hurls him into the outfield, where the opposing center fielder catches him. Pearl disappears into the crowd and is never seen again, but the incident somehow gives the team a new spirit, and they go on to win the pennant.
Stories seldom make specific things happen, but this one inspired Bill Veeck, the owner of the real-life St. Louis Browns, to emulate the fictional Magrew’s tactic in a 1951 American League game. The midget obeyed his manager and drew a walk, after which baseball outlawed the employment of midgets as players.
Bibliography (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Fensch, Thomas, ed. Conversations with James Thurber. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1989.
Grauer, Neil A. Remember Laughter: A Life of James Thurber. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1994.
Holmes, Charles S. The Clocks of Columbus: The Literary Career of James Thurber. New York: Atheneum, 1972.
Kinney, Harrison. James Thurber: His Life and Times. New York: Henry Holt, 1995.
Kinney, Harrison, and Rosemary A. Thurber, eds. The Thurber Letters: The Wit, Wisdom, and Surprising Life of James Thurber. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2003.
Rosen, Michael J., ed. Collecting Himself: James Thurber on Writing and Writers, Humor, and Himself. New York: Harper & Row, 1989.
Tobias, Richard C. The Art of James Thurber. Athens: Ohio University Press, 1970.