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Pafko at the Wall

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"There's a long drive.

It's gonna be.

I believe.

The Giants win the pennant.

The Giants win the pennant.

The Giants win the pennant.

The Giants win the pennant."

-- Russ Hodges, October 3, 1951

On the fiftieth anniversary of "The Shot Heard Round the World," Don DeLillo reassembles in fiction the larger-than-life characters who on October 3, 1951, witnessed Bobby Thomson's pennant-winning home run in the bottom of the ninth inning. Jackie Gleason is razzing Toots Shor in Leo Durocher's box seats; J. Edgar Hoover, basking in Sinatra's celebrity, is about to be told that the Russians have tested an atomic bomb; and Russ Hodges, raw-throated and excitable, announces the game -- the Giants and the Dodgers at the Polo Grounds in New York. DeLillo's transcendent account of one of the iconic events of the twentieth century is a masterpiece of American sportswriting.

96 pages, Kindle Edition

First published October 9, 2001

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About the author

Don DeLillo

91 books5,758 followers
Don DeLillo is an American author best known for his novels, which paint detailed portraits of American life in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. He currently lives outside of New York City.

Among the most influential American writers of the past decades, DeLillo has received, among author awards, a National Book Award (White Noise, 1985), a PEN/Faulkner Award (Mao II, 1991), and an American Book Award (Underworld, 1998).

DeLillo's sixteenth novel, Point Omega, was published in February, 2010.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 238 reviews
Profile Image for Andrew Smith.
1,082 reviews620 followers
July 17, 2017
I’ve read a couple of DeLillo novels and found them barely penetrable. There’s something about the way he strings sentences together that confuses me. Each sentence seems perfectly formed, but when he links them together I just seem to get lost. It took me three attempts to read Falling Man and when I finally did finish it I’m not sure I got it at all.

I may not be a huge fan of DeLillo's work but I am a sports fan. A big sports fan. I love accounts of epic sporting events and this novella promised to be just that. I’m a baseball novice but I had completed some research: I’d read up on the history of the ‘shot heard around the world’ and I’d watched a video capturing the event on You Tube. I’d also read some reviews of the book – some saying it’s the best baseball story ever written. I even went to the trouble of ordering a second hand copy from America as I couldn’t track down a copy in the UK (and I had no intention of buying a copy of that huge tome Underworld - this novella is actually the opening section of the book). Despite some trepidation, I had big hopes.

So were my hopes fulfilled or my worst fears confirmed? In truth, a bit of both. There were elements of the story I really liked (Cotter and Russ Hodges) and bits I didn’t (the Sinatra party sections). I’m sure many of the nuances passed me by and I thereby lost out to some degree but if I judge this simply as a story about a great sporting event I’d say it painted an effective picture and did provide a sense of the excitement surrounding the whole thing. It’s ok and I did enjoy it – but I can’t believe it’s the best baseball story ever written!
Profile Image for Jim.
Author 21 books293 followers
January 7, 2010
In what is essentially the prologue to Underworld that ran in Harper's in slightly different form, Pafko at the Wall describes the events of October 3, 1951, when the Giants came from behind to beat the Dodgers on Bobby Thomson's walk-off home run. This happened way before my time, but I remember hearing Russ Hodges's famous "The Giants win the pennant!" on reruns of MASH and various sports broadcasts and I had a friend named Bobby Thompson when I was kid. So it's an event that kinda sorta feels "alive" in my memories. I was aware it happened; I knew of its importance. It's there even though I wasn't.

But after reading DeLillo's evocation of the event, I almost feel as if I was there. In many respects, Pafko at the Wall is all scene. There's a ton of exposition rendered in lush style. Grandiose and overheated, but squarely in the moment. We see the events through close to a dozen characters, including Russ Hodges, Bobby Thomson, Frank Sinatra, Jackie Gleason, and J. Edgar Hoover, among others. DeLillo hops from head to head and tells us what they see and hear and think and feel and it's all pretty marvelous.

That's not to say this isn't one hell of a self-indulgent piece of writing. There's a lot of riffing on baseball arcana, the advertisments contained in an issue of Life, and Hoover's fascination with details from Peter Breugel's The Triumph of Death, the kind of things that are wonderful to think about but awful to be bombarded with. DeLillo just loves tapdancing on that edge. This inclination to describe absolutely everything gets him into trouble every now and again, as with this sentence:

"You know those athletic jackets where the sleeves are one color and leathery looking and the body is a darker color and probably wool and these are the college colors of the team."

Well, no shit. This occasional tin ear for statements of the obvious is eclipsed by DeLillo's fondness for Joycean neologisms that compress a vast range of emotion into a sharp turn of phrase, such as "afterschool light." I read that, and I'm twelve all over again.

So, I'm curious to see how the prologue's style carries over to the rest of the novel, if its overheated grandiosity is intended to be a comment of some sort on the rest of the novel, it's characters, the era it describes, etc. of if that's just the way this novel unfolds. But there's something suspiciously "The Dead"-like about the prologue's last line, "It is all falling indelibly into the past," that I find perfectly irresistable.
Profile Image for Chris.
248 reviews60 followers
April 27, 2023
Pafko at the Wall is a novella fictokn tale about the October 3, 1951 game between the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants, where the famous "Shot Heard Round the World" happened, and those who attended the game. You have well-known names, such as Frank Sinatra, Jackie Gleason, J. Edgar Hoover; and others such as Russ Hodges, announcer for the Giants whose repeated screams of "the Giants win the pennant!," are well known to baseball fans. Then, you have the everyday folks in the stands and a young gate hopper, sneaking his way past the ticker booth to see the game without paying.

I really enjoyed this, with how the game was viewed by both celebs, everyday fans, and the kid, who has to be sure watch out that he isn't discovered and tossed out of the stadium. I liked the characterizations of these figures and what was going on with them all at the time. I felt I got to know them well. The plot is excellent, and DeLillo does a phenomenal job of creating the atmosphere and excitement of the game and the fans in attendance. It was just like being there. I highly recommend the audio version as well, which was read by Billy Crudup, Tony Shalhoub, and Zachary Levi.
339 reviews6 followers
November 30, 2020
A brilliant prologue to Underworld, DeLillo at his best. It is fun, well-written, and overall, just amazing!
Profile Image for J.
730 reviews457 followers
July 19, 2014
I found this insufferable for the same reason I find most Delillo insufferable, his language is just too incantatory and too bloatedly self-important to really take seriously. He wants to attach profundity and portentousness to everything in sight. Baseball, Nuclear War, J Edgar Hoover, Peter Brughel, Frank Sinatra... everything becomes a part of this giant, humorously ritualized mythos, which would be fine, but unfortunately fiction needs to have more to it than the atmosphere of a catholic mass in old latin to really function (or at least is does for me). Delillo wants so desperately to be taken seriously, but his vague invocations make it obvious that he doesn't really even know what exactly he wants to be serious about. It seems like he wants to be a prophet of dread, anxiety, paranoia, really of modernity itself. Maybe instead of trying to be important he should just try to be a good fiction writer.
Profile Image for John Damaso.
100 reviews11 followers
May 8, 2014
In general, my students hated Pafko. They called it pointless, disjointed, devoid of the action they expected of a "baseball story." I love the novella for the reasons they don't. It's not a baseball story, I tell them. It marks the nervousness of a nation, beginning to understand its obsession with distraction, while all the while teetering on the Cold War.

Puke on the shoes of Frank Sinatra from Gleason's greasy mouth was supposed to prepare my students for reading "The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved," but I think Hunter S. Thompson's bravado made them forget Delillo's sentimentalism quickly. The narrator's camera in Pafko flashes around the stadium like a kid with binoculars who wants to see the tiny melodramas concurrent to the action of the game -- a famous game, too. The action is in the small stories -- the sharing of peanuts, J. Edgar Hoover's transfixed eyes, a hoarse throat, a stolen piece of memorabilia, and the many walls Delillo puts up for us to face: Pafko's wall, the racial divide in Harlem, the tenuous line between peace and war.
Profile Image for Aaron Burch.
Author 29 books125 followers
January 27, 2017
The escalating tension/energy/excitement, starting right around the halfway point, when it pushes from introduction and build-up toward the actual moment of Bobby Thomson's homerun is especially amazing and gripping.

Plus, Jackie Gleason vomiting what "seems to be...someone's taupe pajamas" and it "splashing freely" on Sinatra's "stout oxford shoes" was pretty much worth the read alone.
Profile Image for Joe Kraus.
Author 9 books102 followers
June 28, 2018
This is at least the third time I’ve read this. The first was when it appeared in Harper’s magazine in 1992 as the first-ever “portfolio” extended piece they published. (Now they do them once every three months.)

The second time was when I read all of Underworld, where this appears as the opening segment. That turned me into a DeLillo fan, something I had not been when all I’d read was White Noise. I thought then, and see no reason to think otherwise, that Underworld was one of the great novels of the late 20th century, a flat-out masterpiece.

I’m reading this again now for a particular and focused purpose. I’m trying to find baseball novels that explore the link between fandom and some larger faith. It’s for a class that my friend Will and I are planning to teach next spring.

If I weren’t looking, I might not see anything along those lines. As Underworld makes clear, this is primarily about the role of history in shaping us. Bobby Thomson’s 1951 home run to win the pennant marked an instant when all of post-war America – celebrities like Gleason and Sinatra, policy-shapers like J. Edgar Hoover, businessmen, kids, Blacks, and whites – came together in a shared experience.

As Mao II, written just before, makes clear, there’s also a concern with the power of crowds, with what happens to people when they blend into some larger formation. As a set piece, this is all about the crowd, about a collective hope that the Giants can win the impossible game.

But since I am looking for notions of fandom as a kind of faith, I do find them, and I don’t think I’m imagining them. We get it bluntly in a few places, for instance when our 14-year-old African-American protagonist Cotter admires what his seeming friend Bill has to say about believing the Giants can still win it. “Cotter likes this man’s singles of purpose, his insistence on faith and trust. It’s the only force available against the power of doubt.” (48)

We also get a sense of the religious, at least in passing. At the moment when Thomson hits his home run, for instance, the Giants manager Leo Durocher goes into a strange dance that DeLillo describes in religious terms. “The manager stands and spins, he is spinning with his arms spread wide – maybe it’s an ascetic rapture, some kind of Sufi exercise, they do it in a mosque in eastern Turkey.” (60)

And then there’s also the strange sub-plot of Hoover catching a stray bit of magazine someone has torn out and let float. It turns out to be a reproduction of Breughel’s “The Triumph of Death,” and Hoover can’t put it down. It’s a great DeLillo moment to have Hoover dwell on a notion of hell as everyone around him experiences a peculiar and fleeting heaven, but I don’t it’s a stretch to read it that way.

At a fuller level, then, I see a way to read this novella as a description of a kind of perfect moment, an instant of innocence and magic that briefly redeems the squalor of the crowd (Hoover alone absent from the elect). It helps to know the history of Thomson’s home run before reading this, to know it as a moment that lived in the memory of a generation coming to adulthood a couple years too late to have participated in World War II.

The end of this, and forgive me if it’s somehow a SPOILER, deals with Cotter trying to hold onto the ball that he’s caught. DeLillo doesn’t tell us, but the later parts of Underworld make clear – as does cultural memory – that the Thomson ball is one of the great lost artifacts of the American 20th century. It would be a highlight of the Hall of Fame or the making of any restaurant that could display it.

As I see it, Cotter has found a totem, something that carries the residue of the redemptive power of the home run. For one ecstatic moment, everyone together experienced the power of Thomson’s bringing the Giants back from the near-dead to the heights of winning the pennant. He wants to hold onto it despite Bill’s offer of close to $20. He knows, without being to articulate it, that he’ll never experience anything so transformative – anything so, for lack of a better word, holy – again.

If that sounds like I’m forcing it, consider what Toots Shor says to Sinatra when Sinatra starts to complain about Gleason’s having just vomited all over his feet. “Let me get to the point. This is an all-time memory. This is a thing I’ll never forget in my normal life span except you’re ruining my memory in advance by standing her with your hands flapped out saying, ‘My shoe.’ “

Or, even more directly, consider the evidence of the final paragraphs of the story, as Giants announcer Russ Hodges – whose “the Giants have won the pennant” cry is one of the most famous baseball calls of all-time – reflects as the stadium remains in bedlam and the confetti swirls around him. “Russ thinks this is another kind of history. He thinks they will carry something out of here that joins them all in a rare way, that binds them to a memory with protective power.” (70)

All in all, this certainly holds up on a third reading, and I’m hungry now to read all of Underworld again. There are many reasons to read it; maybe fandom as a metaphor for some larger spiritual hunger is one of them.
Profile Image for Angus McKeogh.
1,109 reviews56 followers
August 2, 2015
An interesting piece on historical events tied together in a small space of time.
8 reviews
April 5, 2017
Pafko at the Wall is an interesting Novella that encapsulates many aspects of America. It is for one a retelling of "the shot heard around the world", one of the most famous baseball moments of all time. But even more than that, it is an in depth look into the attitudes and lives of Americans in the 1950s. There are characters from all walks of life, such as Cotter from the marginalized, Hoover from the government and Frank Sinatra from the entertainment world. Delillo blends all of these characters into one entity at the baseball game. During the game they are all united watching the same sport. If this novella is not about baseball, then it is about the diversity of America and the uniting power of baseball. This baseball game is one of the rare times that all walks of life in America were united under a singular cause.
7 reviews
April 5, 2017
I personally did not like the book, but that is because it wasn't entirely about baseball. It used the setting of a baseball game to describe certain characters at the game. DeLillo took a panoramic photograph at the game and then picked a few people to write about. I thought it was an interesting style to use in a novella and it worked. At times the read felt very slow, but overall there was enough baseball in the book to keep it moving. At the end of the book, DeLillo used the baseball to help illustrate the culture of the time and he did so in a sly manner. I would recommend this book to non-baseball fans, because baseball fans will be disappointed with the content of the novella.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Michael Rowe.
14 reviews
April 5, 2017
This book is interesting because while it's about baseball, there is so much more going on. It's about the anonymous faces of the fans. In this book there are musicians communicating with businessmen and comedians and then marginalized people communicating with the wealthy. It shows how big sports events can bring us together but then also tear us apart. Rather than being about the game of baseball, this story is about what happens outside of the game and in the crowds, providing a very interesting and realistic depiction of the sport.
Profile Image for Chris.
20 reviews7 followers
April 29, 2012
Yesterday, Jonathan Schwarz was talking about how New York hasn't been the same since the Dodgers and Giants left. I didn't live here back then, but he claims it was perfect, so I'll have to to take his word for it. Anyway, I think that's something DeLillo is trying to get at with this story, a fictionalized account of the 1951 playoff between the Brooklyn Dodgers and the New York Giants. Seven years after this game, both the Giants and the Dodgers would leave for California; the Polo Grounds and Ebbets Field would both be turned into rubble.

DeLillo’s fictionalized account of the game is told through the points of view of a rotating cast of spectators, some of them real—J. Edgar Hoover, Toots Shor, Frank Sinatra, Jackie Gleason, Russ Hodges—and others imagined, mainly, Cotter Martin, a black schoolboy from Harlem who plays hookie, sneaks into the game by jumping the turnstile, and wrestles the winning ball away from a dogpile of other fans.

I first read Pafko at the Wall with the alternate ending, as the prologue to Underworld, where it’s titled, The Triumph of Death. It frames the rest of the book with what is meant to stand for the beginning of Cold War nuclear proliferation as J. Edgar Hoover receives news that the Russians have The Bomb. After hearing this, Hoover is showered with intact pages from Life Magazine mixed among the rest of the tickertape celebration. Two of the pages contain the Peter Bruges painting, an apocalyptic scene of carnage from which the prologue derives its title. The short lived post war peace is over. The nuclear arms race, and the fear and terror that would go with, have just begun.

Hoover, the painting, and news of the Soviet nuclear test remain, but the tone of the stand-alone novella is much more optimistic, much more upbeat, ending before Cotter’s ball can be stolen by his alcoholic father. Instead of the inevitable evil conquering good, we’re left with an image of a victorious underdog, and the takeaway is a feeling more of nostalgia than dread. The only dread is Cotter’s—of having to go to school the next day.
Profile Image for Маx Nestelieiev.
Author 21 books164 followers
May 7, 2019
журнальна версія суттєво відрізняється від книжкової: деякі другорядні персонажі отримали повноцінне життя, майже нічого не зникло, усі фрази перейшли в Underworld, хоч і не в Пролог. Дійсно, найкращий текст про бейсбол - поліфонічний і захоплений.
21 reviews
March 21, 2020

This is a beautiful story about a historic moment in baseball. Packing watches the ball as it soars over the wall, leaving the Dodgers behind.
Profile Image for Jeffrey Bumiller.
578 reviews22 followers
April 5, 2022
A masterpiece. DeLillo's writing is as miraculous as the subject of nearly perfect novella.
Profile Image for Terri.
143 reviews3 followers
May 21, 2020
The reason why I begrudgingly held onto Underworld with the claim of wanting to finish it, because its opening chapter was so beautifully told despite being about a subject I cared little for. I've formally admitted defeat to that novel, but this section remains untarnished in my memory.
Profile Image for Luke.
246 reviews3 followers
April 8, 2021
I rate this as the best piece of sports writing I've ever read, and yes that includes DFW's Roger Federer as Religious Experience. I first read it as part of Underworld, and found that 90% of the best writing in that enormous book was in this short novella spliced throughout it. Here are my favourite sections - the writing so good it turns sport into a symphony:

He speaks in your voice, American, and there’s a shine in his eye that’s halfway hopeful. It’s a school day, sure, but he’s nowhere near the classroom. He wants to be here instead, standing in the shadow of this old rust-hulk of a structure, and it’s hard to blame him—this metropolis of steel and concrete and flaky paint and cropped grass and enormous Chesterfield packs aslant on the scoreboards, a couple of cigarettes jutting from each. Longing on a large scale is what makes history. This is just a kid with a local yearning but he is part of an assembling crowd, anonymous thousands off the buses and trains, people in narrow columns tramping over the swing bridge above the river, and even if they are not a migration or a revolution, some vast shaking of the soul, they bring with them the body heat of a great city and their own small reveries and desperations, the unseen something that haunts the day—men in fedoras and sailors on shore leave, the stray tumble of their thoughts, going to a game.


They are waiting nervously for the ticket holders to clear the turnstiles, the last loose cluster of fans, the stragglers and loiterers. They watch the late-arriving taxis from downtown and the brilliantined men stepping dapper to the windows, policy bankers and supper club swells and Broadway hotshots, high aura’d, picking lint off their mohair sleeves. They stand at the curb and watch without seeming to look, wearing the sourish air of corner hangabouts. All the hubbub has died down, the pregame babble and swirl, vendors working the jammed sidewalks waving scorecards and pennants and calling out in ancient singsong, scraggy men hustling buttons and caps, all dispersed now, gone to their room-lets in the beaten streets. They are at the curbstone, waiting. Their eyes are going grim, sending out less light. Somebody takes his hands out of his pockets. They are waiting and then they go, one of them goes, a mick who shouts Geronimo ...

Cotter sees the first jumpers go over the bars. Two of them jostle in the air and come down twisted and asprawl. A ticket taker puts a headlock on one of them and his cap comes loose and skims down his back and he reaches for it with a blind swipe and at the same time—everything’s at the same time—he eyes the other hurdlers to keep from getting stepped on. They are running and hurdling. It’s a witless form of flight with bodies packed in close and the gate-crashing becoming real. They are jumping too soon or too late and hitting the posts and radial bars, doing cartoon climbs up each other’s back and what kind of stupes must they look like to people at the hot dog stand on the other side of the turnstiles, what kind of awful screwups ... The shout of the motley boys comes banging off the deep concrete. Cotter thinks he sees a path to the turnstile on the right. He drains himself of everything he does not need to make the jump. Some are still jumping, some are thinking about it, some need a haircut, some have girlfriends in woolly sweaters and the rest have landed in the ruck and are trying to get up and scatter. A couple of stadium cops are rumbling down the ramp. Cotter sheds these elements as they appear, sheds a thousand waves of information hitting on his skin. His gaze is trained on the iron bars projected from the post. He picks up speed and seems to lose his gangliness, the slouchy funk of hormones and unbelonging and all the stammering things that seal his adolescence. He is just a running boy, a half-seen figure from the streets, but the way running reveals some clue to being, the way a runner bares himself to consciousness, this is how the dark-skinned kid seems to open to the world, how the bloodrush of a dozen strides brings him into eloquence ...
He comes down lightly and goes easy-gaiting past the ticket taker groping for his fallen cap and he knows absolutely—knows it all the way, deep as knowing goes, he feels the knowledge start to hammer in his runner’s heart—that he is uncatchable. Here comes a cop in municipal bulk with a gun and cuffs and a flashlight and a billy club all jigging on his belt and a summons pad wadded in his pocket. Cotter gives him a juke step that sends him nearly to his knees and the hot dog eaters bend from the waist to watch the kid veer away in soft acceleration, showing the cop a little finger-wag bye-bye. He surprises himself this way every so often, doing some gaudy thing that whistles up out of unsuspected whim. He runs up a shadowed ramp and into a crossweave of girders and pillars and spilling light. He hears the crescendoing last chords of the national anthem and sees the great open horseshoe of the grandstand and that unfolding vision of the grass that always seems to mean he has stepped outside his life—the rubbed shine that sweeps and bends from the raked dirt of the infield out to the high green fences. It is the excitement of a revealed thing. He runs at quarter speed craning to see the rows of seats, looking for an inconspicuous wedge behind a pillar. He cuts into an aisle in section 35 and walks down into the heat and smell of the massed fans, he walks into the smoke that hangs from the underside of the second deck, he hears the talk, he enters the deep buzz, he hears the warm-up pitches crack into the catcher’s mitt, a series of reports that carry a comet’s tail of secondary sound. Then you lose him in the crowd.


Peanut vendor’s on his way up the aisle and headed over to the next section when he spots Cotter and drops a knowing smile. The kid thinks here comes trouble. This gatemouth is out to expose him in some withering way. Their glances briefly meet as the vendor moves up the stairs. In full stride and double-quick he dips his hand for a bag of peanuts and zings it nonchalant to Cotter, who makes the grab in a one-hand blur that matches the hazy outline of the toss.


The crowd noise breaks above them, a chambered voice rolling through the hollows in the underbody of the stadium. Now this, he thinks. The sun’s own heat that swallows cities.


Russ feels the crowd around him, a shudder passing through the stands, and then he is shouting into the mike and there is a surge of color and motion, a crash that occurs upward, stadium-wide, hands and faces and shirts, bands of rippling men, and he is outright shouting, his voice has a power he’d thought long gone—it may lift the top of his head like a cartoon rocket. He says, “The Giants win the pennant.” A topspin line drive. He tomahawked the pitch and the ball had topspin and dipped into the lower deck and there is Pafko at the 315 sign looking straight up with his right arm braced at the wall and a spate of paper coming down. He says, “The Giants win the pennant.”
Yes, the voice is excessive with a little tickle of hysteria in the upper register. But it is mainly wham and whomp. He sees Thomson capering around first. The hat of the first-base coach—the first-base coach has flung his hat straight up. He went for a chin-high pitch and cold-cocked it good. The ball started up high and then sank, missing the facade of the upper deck and dipping into the seats below—pulled in, swallowed up—and the Dodger players stand looking, already separated from the event, staring flat into the shadows between the decks. He says, “The Giants win the pennant.” The crew is whooping. They are answering the roof bangers by beating on the walls and ceiling of the booth. People climbing the dugout roofs and the crowd shaking in its own noise. Branca on the mound in his tormented slouch. He came with a fastball up, a pitch that’s tailing in, and the guy’s supposed to take it for a ball. Russ is shouting himself right out of his sore throat, out of every malady and pathology and complaint and all the pangs of growing up and every memory that is not tender. He says, “The Giants win the pennant.”
Four times. Branca turns and picks up the rosin bag and throws it down, heading toward the clubhouse now, his shoulders aligned at a slant—he begins the long dead trudge. Paper falling everywhere. Russ knows he ought to settle down and let the mike pick up the sound of the swelling bedlam around him. But he can’t stop shouting, there’s nothing left of him but shout. He says, “Bobby Thomson hits into the lower deck of the left-field stands.” He says, “The Giants win the pennant and they’re going crazy.” He says, “They’re going crazy.”

Profile Image for Aaron Sinner.
66 reviews2 followers
January 14, 2017

National Book Award finalist (within Underworld)

Briefly: A microcosm of fandom

“Pafko at the Wall” presents a well-crafted trek into the experience of what is likely the second most famous ballgame of all time. As such, it rightly focuses not on the excitement of the game itself—knowing its readers will know the outcome in advance—but on the crowd and the pure experience of a ballgame.

DeLillo’s focus is on what it means to be a fan. He writes, “Russ [Hodges, the broadcaster] feels lucky to be here. Day of days and he’s doing the game and it’s happening at the Polo Grounds—a name he loves, a precious echo of things and times before the century went to war. He thinks everybody who’s here ought to feel lucky because something big’s in the works, something’s building… When you see a thing like that, a thing that becomes a newsreel, you begin to feel you are a carrier of some solemn scrap of history.” Throughout the novella, Russ is one of the “true fans” who understands baseball and its meaning. He, along with the hooky-playing Cotter and Bill the businessman, understand baseball for what it means. They know the importance of the game—“The game doesn’t change the way you sleep or wash your face or chew your food. It changes nothing but your life.”

As a foil to these true fans, DeLillo presents a luxury box with four celebrities, who with the exception of Toots Shor don’t truly understand the game. J. Edgar Hoover, Frank Sinatra, and Jackie Gleason are all too self-absorbed and grounded in the “real world” to understand the love of the game—highlighted in the fact that they don’t fully see Bobby Thomson’s famous home run.

All of these events are buttressed by DeLillo’s startling juxtaposition of “the shot heard round the world” with the other shot it shared the front page with the next day—a secret Soviet testing of an atomic bomb. DeLillo succeeds in drilling down into the human psyche, past the well-known clichés, to highlight the strange but true fact that it’s the baseball shot and not the nuclear one that has stood the test of time. And he offers not critique, but rather celebrates that fact.

“Pafko at the Wall” is a novella ripe for analysis and deeper meaning, written with the crispness of a true literary author.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Edie.
5 reviews3 followers
January 12, 2011
DeLillo begins his novella with the line, "He speaks in your voice, American." Throughout the course of this sleek, condensed narrative, the author challenges his readers to examine the American voice. The mythology of baseball explodes in a crescendo of refuse, all the while underscored by the destructive power of atomic energy. DeLillo examines the reality of historical events, making us wonder if our emotions are the result of nothing more than good narration. It may be hard to find this book on the shelf, but it's worth tracking down such a brilliant snippet of DeLillo's narrative prowess.
Profile Image for Brad Lyerla.
209 reviews174 followers
March 10, 2017
I love this novella. It is a faces in the crowd treatment of the "shot heard round the world" game when Bobby Thomson took Ralph Branca deep for a three run homer in the bottom of the ninth to win the NL pennant in 1951 at the old Polo Grounds. DeLillo's story features Russ Hodges, Frank Sinatra, J. Edgar Hoover, Jackie Gleason, Toots Shor and various New York Giants and Brooklyn Dodger players and coaches.

Among three principal subplots, the best is about a teenager from Harlem who skips school and winds up grabbing the homerun ball hit by Thomson. He is chased by a threatening middle-aged white guy who wants the ball too.
Profile Image for Matt.
Author 1 book13 followers
September 5, 2007
This story -- the opening chapter of "Underworld"-- is a dizzying collage of Cold War Americana that plays out against the backdrop of the famous Giants-Dodgers playoff of 1951. (Think "The Shot Heard 'Round The World.") As the game is played, Frank Sinatra, Jackie Gleason and J. Edgar Hoover share a field box, a young black kid from Harlem named Cotter Martin jumps the turnstiles and eventually gets his hand on the famous ball, and the Soviets get ready to test a nuclear weapon. Intense is an understatement. Now if I could only finish "Underworld."
126 reviews18 followers
June 27, 2011
Yes, yes, I know this is the prologue to Underworld, but since I've heard so much about the prologue itself, I've decided this will be my first foray into DeLillo.

ETA: I come to find that this is not the *original* version of Pafko at the Wall (published in Harper's in 1971); rather, it's the version that appeared as the prologue of Underworld.

It costs $16.00 and some change to subscribe to Harper's for a year; I may do it, just so I can read the archived pages at their website - because that's just the kind of nerd I am.
Profile Image for Don.
326 reviews8 followers
January 18, 2015
This is just a small part of DeLillo's massive Underworld (which I couldn't get through; my bad)... and it is absolutely pitch perfect (unlike Ralph Branca's pitch). If you don't know who Ralph Branca is, this book is not for you.
Profile Image for Quo.
292 reviews
June 15, 2023
Pafko At The Wall represents a climactic moment in American sports, the 3rd & decisive game of the 1951 New York Giants vs. Brooklyn Dodgers playoff series at the old Polo Grounds in Manhattan, won by the Giants on a dramatic 9th inning home run by Bobby Thomson, with the winner to face the Yankees in yet another inter-borough New York World Series.

It was a more innocent time, just a few years after the end of WWII, an age when most baseball games were still played during the day & when radio gave voice to the proceedings on the field far more than television, with many fans waiting for "late editions" of their local afternoon paper to check the box scores of their favorite teams.

What author Don DeLillo does in this rephrasing of the moment of Thomson's home run, "the shot heard round the world", is to populate the audience with a fictional character named Cotter who jumped the turnstile to gain free entry, placing him in the leftfield grandstand where Thomson's home run ball was to land. He also inserts some other more high-profile characters in the prime box seats, J. Edgar Hoover, restaurateur Toots Shor, Frank Sinatra & Jackie Gleason among them.

Were they in fact present that afternoon? I am not opposed to this embedding of contemporary figures who may or may not have shared this memorable game in adjacent seats. As E.L. Doctorow said when questioned if the characters in Ragtime had really ever met, he responded, "they have now!" Writers of fiction are permitted certain liberties not available to others.

And as the game proceeds, Hoover frets about the USSR's planned perfidy to destroy the west, while also carrying in his suit pocket the image of Bruegel's painting, "The Triumph of Death", with the FBI head focusing on nuclear devastation & sensing an "apparitional force". Meanwhile, Gleason is felled by his ballpark meal of beer & hotdogs, vomiting at a pivotal moment in the game.

This is a time well before designated hitters, pitch-clocks, phantom runners staged at 2nd base in extra-inning games, decades before long-term contracts worth more than the GNP of some countries.

Instead, it is an age when a fellow born in Glasgow, Scotland named Bobby Thomson hit his historic home run off a "poor-luck loser" named Ralph Branca, the 15th of 17 children, whose uncle was murdered at Majdanek concentration camp & whose aunt died at Auschwitz. These were working class guys with limited portfolios playing at a game that offered them possibilities to be found nowhere else.

Counterposed with what happens in the box seats, there is a fight in the leftfield stands over Thompson's home run ball, featuring the fellow who had evaded Polo Grounds security & ushers who pursued him. DeLillo collates periods of time & classes of people in this inventive novella.

And the Dodgers Andy Pafko, standing helplessly in left field as the ball sails over his head somehow becomes a symbolic figure, along with Branca, as one New York team is exalted & the other vanquished, all in an instant.

Amidst the repeated exclamations of radio announcer Russ Hodges, "The Giants win the pennant, the Giants win the pennant", Delillo tells us that:
People are climbing lampposts on Amsterdam Avenue, tooting car horns in Little Italy. Isn't it possible that this midcentury moment enters the skin more lastingly than the vast shaping strategies of eminent leaders, generals in their steely sunglasses--the mapped visions that pierce our dreams?

This is a thing that will pulse in the brain come old age, double vision & dizzy spells--that surge sensation, the leap of a people already standing, that bolt of noise & joy when the ball went in, a thing to keep us safe in some undetermined way.
Pafko At The Wall serves as a kind of outtake from from a larger DeLillo novel, Underworld, but more than that, it stands as a time-defining moment in America, lesser in national importance than the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the assassination of JFK, or the attack on the Twin Towers & the Pentagon but still a consequential frame of reference for those alive when it happened.

*Within my review are a newspaper photo of the moment when Bobby Thomson connected with the baseball + the images of the Giants' Thomson and also pitcher Ralph Branca & outfielder Andy Pafko of the Brooklyn Dodgers.

**My online-purchased hardcover copy of Pafko at the Wall bears the stamp: "Discarded From The Nashville Public Library" but I have used a 1954 Pafko (Topps #79) baseball card from my boyhood (said to be worth $100) as a bookmark within the book.
Profile Image for Ipeh Alena.
526 reviews22 followers
April 2, 2019
Bagi seorang yang tak paham dengan olahraga softbal. Agak sulit mengikuti kisah pada bagian olahraganya. Begini, di US, olahraga ini memang seperti didewakan. Setiap orang bisa benar-benar menghentikan aktivitas mereka hanya untuk menyaksikan tayangan pertandingan. Bisa juga terjadi pertengkaran hanya karena mendukung tim tertentu. Sama seperti posisi sepak bola di Indonesia. Namun, di US memang lebih parah. Semua orang baik perempuan maupun lelaki, benar-benar mengerahkan perhatian mereka pada layar televisi. Nah, Don DeLillo ini yang ternyata sudah menyambet banyak penghargaan. Merekam sejarah dalam olahraga di abad 20. Disertai dengan fakta sejarah lainnya yang dikemas dengan unik.

Pernah menonton film Vantage Point? Jadi, penggambarannya hampir sama sepert film tersebut. Setiap tokoh dan pergeserannya yang halus bahkan cenderung bagus peralihannya ini. Memiliki sudut pandang yang sama dalam satu kejadian. Yaitu, pada pertandingan softbal antara Giant dengan Dodgers. Ada Cotters yang bolos sekolah demi menonton pertandingan. Ada pula dari sudut pandang Edgar yang tengah berpikir, bagaimana reaksi masyarakat ketika membaca fakta bahwa UniSoviet membuat bom nuklir. Kemudian berganti lagi ke beberapa artis papan atas seperti Frank Sinatra.

Semua yang dimuat di sini benar-benar memang terekam dalam sejarah. Namun, menariknya adalah Don DeLillo ini bukan warga US. Namun, berhasil menggambarkan secara mendetil mengenai kondisi saat itu. Itulah yang membuat banyak orang memuji kehebatannya ini. Bagi kalian yang belum pernah membaca karyanya, jangan sampai terlewat. Karena, memang isinya menarik. Meski alurnya cukup lambat, tapi tidak membuat bosan karena bikin penasaran.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
431 reviews1 follower
December 18, 2021
Really more like 4.5 stars.

Extremely short. I guess this was originally just a prelude to another book. I’m not sure how it got on my list as a stand-alone book. I’m glad it did. It’s beautifully written.

It all takes place during the third game of the NL playoff in 1951 to determine who goes to the World Series. (The regular season had ended in a tie between the Dodgers and the Giants.) My mother is of the age to remember that game, and she was a huge Giants fan. Perhaps for that reason, I read a more serious history of that game and season, probably 40 years ago. ("Miracle at Coogan’s Bluff” I believe.) Weirdly, I remembered a whole lot of the game action.

The book follows several different stories at once: the radio announcer; the game action (of course); Jackie Gleason, Frank Sinatra, Toots Shor, and J Edgar Hoover sitting together watching the game (I wonder if that really happened); and a Black kid who sneaked into the game without paying, who ends up with the home run ball.
Profile Image for Ella Igwe.
31 reviews2 followers
October 26, 2022
Jesus Christ, the man is insufferable.

This story is the first part in DeLillo’s behemoth Underworld. I recognized it with the uneasinest of dejavús because it was obnoxious and unimpressive when I attempted to read it there and remained obnoxious and unimpressive when I read it here.

DeLillo’s writing just does not work. In trying to have every sentence mean something, every paragraph feels cluttered and ridiculous. He is always going for the symbolic and it often comes off hammy. I also felt this when I read Zero K (which was just unbearable). I was hoping that that book was just one of DeLillo’s misses.

This last complaint is a personal thing but I just don’t like baseball. And even if I did, DeLillo is a horrible sports writer. He doesn’t capture the game, he acts as if it’s a religious service. This may be how some people feel about baseball but he wasn’t able to share that feeling with me through his writing. If this is really his style I don’t know how I’m going to make it through Underworld and I don’t know whether to even bother with White Noise.
Profile Image for Steven.
176 reviews
February 8, 2021
Mostly I think baseball should just be watched. There's so much out there that elevates baseball to a religious experience [Field of Dreams, most Billy Crystal movies], it makes my eyes roll.
But there are are a few good ones out there, including this one. It is Don DeLillo at his best. I'd put it up there with Updike's New Yorker article "Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu".
It is Don DeLillo, so it's about a little more than baseball, as you can imagine, but there some observations about the communal feeling of being at a game that are really right on.
Found this book in a mini-library on someone's front lawn and picked it up because of the title - and author. I didn't realize at the time that this is the opening chapter of "Underworld". If I were you, I'd take the plunge and read that instead - it is a great work. But if you just want to scratch a baseball lit itch, this novella is a nice afternoon read.
And then go listen to the Russ Hodges call.
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