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When Jack Keefe, a baseball pitcher, is brought up from the minor leagues by the Chicago White Sox, he begins writing a series of letters to his hometown friend, Al Blanchard. It is a peculiar friendship, however, for Jack is basically incapable of any of the emotions that real friendship requires. He patronizes Al and uses him. Jack is a braggart and a chronic self-excuser, and the letters give him a chance to exercise his ego. Al apparently never sees through Jack.

So sublimely self-confident that he feels every trifling detail of his life is important, Jack writes full accounts of his adventures. Having neither modesty nor shame, he even includes episodes in which he appears foolish. When Jack reports to training camp on the West Coast, he immediately annoys the team’s manager with his overeating, his refusal to take orders, and his laziness. Although he is a powerful right-handed pitcher, he is an indifferent fielder and careless about base runners. The manager tries to handle Jack with irony, but it is lost on him. Whenever Jack has a bad day pitching, he claims that his arm is sore. Any hits made against him are the fault of the fielders, the umpires, or the scorers. Jack also believes that he is irresistible to women. In training camp, he meets a girl from Detroit named Violet, and he plans to romance her when the White Sox are playing in Detroit.

Jack does well enough in spring training to be included on the White Sox roster, but in his first starting assignment against the Tigers, he pitches miserably. The manager leaves him in the game as punishment, and sixteen runs are scored against him. In addition, Ty Cobb steals four bases. As usual, Jack blames his poor performance on a sore arm. By now, the manager is thoroughly disgusted with him, and Jack is sold to a minor-league San Francisco baseball team. He sulks and says he will quit baseball, but he goes. Violet calls him a “busher”—a bush-league player.

In San Francisco, he wins eleven straight games and becomes engaged to a girl named Hazel. Recalled by the White Sox at the end of the season, he pitches well enough to be used in the City Series between the White Sox and the Cubs. Hazel asks him for one hundred dollars to pay her fare to Chicago for their wedding. He sends her only thirty dollars, and she marries a boxer instead. Jack then attempts to marry Violet, but she marries another ballplayer. Jack finally marries Florrie, the sister-in-law of a left-handed White Sox player named Allen.

When Florrie refuses to spend the winter in Bedford, Jack’s hometown, they rent an apartment across the hall from Allen and Marie, Allen’s wife. There are many quarrels between the two families, most of them occasioned by Jack’s stinginess. Jack has always been convinced that all left-handers are crazy, and his trouble with Allen only serves to strengthen his conviction. Allen is planning to take Marie along to spring training. Florrie wants to go too, but Jack says that he cannot afford to take her. Since he feels that he is underpaid, he tries to get a raise from the ball club, even though he has already signed a contract. Charles Comiskey, the owner of the White Sox, has already had contract trouble with Jack and refuses to grant him any concessions.

Jack then tries to join the Federal League, a third major league that is hiring players away from the American and National leagues; however, the Federal League will have nothing to do...

(This entire section contains 1065 words.)

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with him because he has signed a contract with the White Sox. Then his team learns about his attempted defection, and he is sold to a Milwaukee minor-league team as a disciplinary measure. Florrie leaves him, and Jack, protesting that he will not go to the minors again, borrows money from Al to return to Bedford. The White Sox are finally forced to keep Jack because of a technicality in the waiver rule. After gorging himself on food and liquor all winter, Jack is fat when spring training begins, but the manager limits his diet and he gets into good enough shape to be given another chance with the White Sox.

Florrie and Jack reconcile because she is pregnant, and she soon presents him with a son. At first, Jack worries because the baby appears to be left-handed. Florrie names the baby Allen, for her brother-in-law, but Jack insists that the baby is named for Al. Although he continues to display the same old patterns of bragging and complacency, Jack turns out to be a doting father in his own fashion. After a successful season, he is selected to pitch in the City Series, a cause of fresh strife with Florrie because she wants to attend the games and he wants her to stay home with the baby. Jack is not concerned about the money for a babysitter as much as he is worried about the welfare of his son. When the team bribes Florrie to stay home, she uses the money to hire a babysitter. Jack then decides to leave her, but he changes his mind when he learns that Florrie will have custody of the child if he does. After another argument with Allen and Marie, Jack moves his family out of the apartment they all share and for which Allen pays the rent.

The White Sox want Jack to join the world tour the team is making with the Giants, but he does not want to be away from the baby. The real reason the manager wants Jack to be on the tour is to keep him in shape, but Jack believes that baseball fans in other countries want to see him play. The team coaxes him to go as far as Canada by telling him that Christy Mathewson, the famous Giants pitcher, is going that far. Jack is also told that President Woodrow Wilson is afraid Japan will declare war if Jack does not go there to play. Convinced at first, he later begins to worry about the dangers of the ocean voyage and backs down, but when he is told that Allen will be taken in his place, his vindictiveness triumphs over his fear. He sails away with the team, boasting of victories to come.