The Year the Yankees Lost the Pennant

I just finished reading Douglass Wallop’s classic novel about the beloved Washington Senators. Although I am sure that more people know the story from the stage musical Damn Yankees. The book tells the Faustian tale of a downtrodden die-hard Senators fan who makes a deal with the devil to become the star of the Senators and help the team move up from the cellar. The Washington Senators were best known by the punchline “First in war, first in peace, and last in the American League”. The book is a little different from the musical version but I’ll get to that later one. Spoilers to follow.

Joe Boyd is the devoted fan of the Senators and a middle-aged real estate salesman who makes a deal with Mr. Applegate to become the best baseball player in the world (Joe Hardy) if he only sells his soul, however Boyd will only agree if there is a way out of the contract. Applegate and Joe agree that on this but Applegate won’t give any real details about the contract, so Joe leaves his wife and heads to join the Senators on the road. When Joe gets to the stadium in Detroit he knocks on the locker room door and says he’s here to tryout. At the tryout Joe smashes balls out of the park and is signed on the spot and joins the team in their next game as a pinch hitter. When Joe returns to Washington DC, Applegate introduces him to another “lost soul” Lola, the world most beautiful woman, and tries to get them together, but Joe is concerned about his wife. The book has an interesting character which didn’t make it to the musical Roscoe Ent who is a little person who the Senators have on roster to entertain the crowds and pitch an inning when the Senators are down by a lot. Roscoe is jealous when Joe comes to town and basically eliminates his role with the team. The book also has a journalist who is out to get Joe who is from New York and wants his Yankees to win the pennant. One of the things that the book has is the whole ending is different as Lola sacrifices herself for Joe to be free and Applegate find another sucker to be Joe Hardy for the World Series and to follow through with his plans. The book also has a part when it basically says that the devil is the reason why the Yankees are so good.

If you are a fan of baseball this is a must read, it takes the Faust story and adds a baseball twist. I really liked how everything felt real as if it could actually happen. Many fans across the nation would make a deal with the devil for their team to beat the Yankees and make their way to a pennant. With Baseball in DC yet again the story still holds up sure the team is better now than it was in the 40s and 50s but fans are sill hoping for the team to bring home a pennant (they last one was back in 1933, and the World Series is even longer back in 1924). Maybe one day the long suffering fans in Washington will have something to cheer about.

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