Autry's War Follow-Up: An Interview With Don Delillo
Editor's Note: The opening chapter to novelist Don Delillo's Underworld might be the greatest thing ever written about the game. And with books such as Libra, which tackled the plot to assassinate Kennedy, under his belt, he was the perfect person to discuss the story's larger implications. Delillo graciously agreed to sit down with Yard Work to talk about it.
Yard Work: How should Sy Hersh's piece change the way we look at baseball?
Don Delillo: In 1955, Ray Kroc opened the first "franchised" McDonald's. In 1955, Elvis Presley became a star. There are histories within histories, connections of the subconscious that follow to the grave or grill. In Europe, Africa, Asia and South America, these strands are connected like telephone wire; those are places unafraid of subtext or the supernatural. But in America, where the distance holds us together, there are never hidden meanings — it's God's way and the highway. That's it.
It has always been American's Americans who have perpetuated its greatest crimes. For love of country and money, they have exploited the cubbyholes of capitalism. And these men know those intricacies because their ancestors — the slave drivers and merchant ship captains and plantation owners — wrote them, and there is a gene passed along those lines whose sole purpose is to manipulate the lower classes. And make no mistake: we are all the lower classes.
YW: Were you surprised to learn that a conspiracy so deep could exist in baseball?
DD: Society is a conspiracy. Marriage is a conspiracy. You can never reveal everything — we are unaware of so much about ourselves. Some are attuned to the unsaid, others only the obvious. To know both is to be an artist, and to be an artist is to be a narcissist. What Freud meant to say but didn't is that there are conspiracies even within the self. The id, ego and superego are in collusion; toward what, we will never know. And death — death is the biggest conspiracy of all. There are infinite dead somewhere, and we like to think of them as omnipresent and omniscient, but what if there is death after death? There is a religion of death, and it worships at gravestones on full moons, when the heavens open their gates and breathe down upon us. It is the religion of life that has ruined us. Its god is greed, and the men who run baseball are its bishops, pastors and rabbis. There can never be surprises, only minor revelations of what was already known.
YW: What impact did Gene Autry's efforts have on the game?
DD: He was a fraud. It was an empire built on the decayed flesh of beasts that he lacked the courage to kill himself. And so he sang ditties about the frontier to reassure our children that they were right to be carnivores, that they should always consume. He wrote capitalism's scores of the 20th century, odes to lust and destruction, two impulses that inevitably draw toward casualty. If it wasn't Autry it would have been someone else: John Wayne, Jim Morrison, Tom Cruise. There will always be another parasite to take that place. It's the one thing capitalism produces with minimal effort, its greatest export.
YW: Should the people involved in this plot who are still in baseball be punished?
DD: By whom? We are all complicit. There are no innocents. We crack peanut shells and stomp our feet. We study the numbers in search of epiphany. We follow the standings as if they judged our own self-worth. New York's greatest economic boom coincided with a remarkable Yankee run — which is responsible for which? There is no purity in baseball. There never was and never will be. "Purity" only exists in America as a consumable quality: drugs, milk, children. Those things are pure, and those are commodities. This is no coincidence.
And who would punish them? The only possible solution would be to somehow extricate money from the entire enterprise — an impossible task for sure. What is left is Little League, skinned knees sliding into home plate and sunflower seeds dotting dugout floors. This is what we want to see when we watch the Major Leagues, but it's a simulacrum of the worst sort, because those Little Leaguers dream of becoming their imitators — not vice versa. We are already being punished. Go Red Sox.