Death as Symbol in “Death of the Right Fielder

One of the great things about baseball is that there was a time when I was good at it. Hell, there was a time when everybody was good at the game. Of course that was when we were all young, and maybe we weren’t so much good as there were just plenty of other kids who were just as bad. As we grow older some of us continue to think of baseball as a game and others, those with talent and skill, begin to view it as a sport. Stuart Dybek’s “Death of the Right Fielder” is symbolic for all of us in the former group who realized the big leagues weren’t in our future.

Dybek’s short story centers around a group of children playing a game of baseball when they realize that the right fielder has died. The children discuss some possible causes for the right fielder’s death, reflect on some philosophical issues regarding life and baseball, and then bury the right fielder in a shallow grave in the outfield. Dybek delivers the story in such a matter of fact manner that one can’t help but believe some magical realism is at play, but I don’t want to focus on that element of the story (which could be an article all by itself) as much as Dybek’s use of death as a symbol for a lack of talent and skill.

The young right fielder’s death is symbolic for that moment when a person realizes he or she doesn’t possess the talent or skill necessary to play baseball in the major leagues. After they discover his body the other teammates wonder how the right fielder may have met his end. One theory is that he may have died of natural causes, but this is quickly dismissed with the following, “Nor could it have been leukemia. He wasn’t a talented enough athlete to die of that.” This is one of our first clues that the right fielder wasn’t that talented of a ball player. There are a couple more points that show the right fielder did not have what it takes to play major league ball. One example, “He was just an ordinary guy, .250 at the plate…” shows that he was not a stand out among his peers. He did not possess the talent or skill necessary to rise above his teammates.  Another example regarding the right fielder’s lack of talent is shown in the final sentences of the story, “It’s sad to admit it ends to soon. Most guys are washed up by seventeen.” The the right fielder’s career ends with his symbolic death which is viewed as too soon.

Many of us can remember playing baseball when we were children, and as children we had dreams of playing in the major leagues. Stuart Dybek’s “Death of the Right Fielder” is a symbol for that moment when we realized our dreams of playing in the majors die. Those final sentences really hit home (you know there had to be at least one in this article) for anybody who played the game of baseball but never got to play in the show. How many of us have buried our dreams in right field, second base, or some other position out there on the diamond?

-K-

“Death of the Right Fielder” The Coast of Chicago (1990) by Stuart Dybek