Richard Ford's The Sportswriter, 1986:
"I write sports, Wade. If I can write a piece for the magazine on, say, what's happening to the team concept here in America, and do a good job there, I feel pretty good about things. Pretty patriotic, like I'm not isolating myself . . . If you talk to athletes and coaches the way I do, that's all you hear, from the pros especially. Baseball, football. The line is, everybody has a role to play, and if anybody isn't willing to play his role, then he doesn't fit into the team's plans."
"It sounds all right to me, Frank," Lynette says.
"It's all a crocka shit's what it is." Cade scowls miserably at his own two hands, which are on the table. "They're just all assholes. They wouldn't know a team if it bit 'em on the ass. They're all prima donnas. Half of 'em are queers, too . . ."
"That wasn't too nice, Cade," Lynette says. "Frank had the floor then . . . "
"Okay, seriously, Frank." Wade is still leaning up on his elbows like a jurist. He's hit a subject with some meat on its bones, and he's ready to saw right in. "I think Lynette's got a pretty valid point in what she says here." (Forgetting for the moment Cade's opinion.) "I mean, what's the matter with following your assignment on the team? When I was working oil rigs, that's exactly how we did it. And I'll tell you, too, it worked."
"Well, maybe it's too small a point. Only the way these guys use team concept is too much like a machine to me, Wade. Too much like one of those oil wells. It leaves out the player's part---to play or not play; to play well or not so well. To give his all. What these guys mean by team concept is just cogs in a machine. It forgets a guy has to decide to do it again every day, and that men don't work like machines. I don't think that's a crazy point, Wade. It's just the nineteenth-century idea---dynamos and all that baloney---and I don't much like it."
"But in the end, the result's the same, isn't it?" Wade says seriously. "Our team wins." He blinks hard at me.
"If everybody decides that's what they want, it is. If they can perform well enough and long enough. It's just the if I'm concerned about, Wade. I worry about the decide part, too, I guess. We take too much for granted. What if I just don't want to win that bad, or can't?"
"Then you shouldn't be on the team." Wade seems utterly puzzled (and I can't blame him). "Maybe we agree and I don't know it, Frank?"
". . . What you're telling me then, Frank, and I may have this all bum-fuzzled up. But it seems to me you're saying this idea---" Wade arches his eyebrows and smiles up at me in a beatific way "---leaves out our human element. Am I right?"
"That says it well, Wade." I nod in complete agreement. Wade has got this in terms he likes now (and a pretty versatile sports cliche at that). And I am pleased as a good son to go along with him. "A team is really intriguing to me, Wade. It's an event, not a thing. It's time but not a watch. You can't reduce it to mechanics and roles."
Wade nods, holding his chin between his thumbs and index fingers. "All right, all right, I guess I understand."
"The way the guys are talking about it now, Wade, leaves out the whole idea of the hero, something I'm personally not willing to give up on yet. Ty Cobb wouldn't have been a role-player."
"I'm not either," Lynette says, her eyes alarmed.
"It also leaves out why the greatest players, Ty Cobb or Babe Ruth, sometimes don't perform as greatly as they should. And why the best teams lose, and teams that shouldn't win, do. That's team play of another kind, I think, Wade. It's not role-playing and machines like a lot of these guys'll tell you."
Tags: Richard Ford, The Sportswriter