Not many people knew where Jack Kerouac was in 1965.
He was a few years removed from his heyday as King of the Beats and living, mostly in obscurity, in a small house with his mother in St. Petersburg they’d moved into in 1964.
Before he made his mark as a counter-culture icon, known for hard living and hard drinking, Kerouac was a renowned athlete and all-American football prospect at Columbia University. He remained an avid sports lover throughout his life.
Fifty years ago, on Oct. 21, 1969, Kerouac died of an abdominal hemorrhage, the result of years of liver damage, an untreated hernia and a beating he’d taken weeks earlier, at St. Anthony’s Hospital in St. Pete.
One night, in the summer of 1965, Kerouac went to the offices of the Evening Independent, a sister paper of the then-St.Petersburg Times that published night editions, and wrote three sports stories the paper published in June and July of that year.
The Independent’s sports editor, Mike Fowler, said Kerouac was one of America’s foremost sports experts and writers.
“Jack Kerouac dropped by the office last night and batted out three stories while I was trying to get one paragraph right,” Fowler wrote in the June 16, 1965 edition of the Independent.
The stories he wrote talked about that year’s MLB pennant race, his favorite sports writers and the historic boxing match that pitted Sonny Liston against Muhammad Ali. He even mentions Robert Goulet.
Like much of Kerouac’s time in St. Pete, the stories were lost to time and changing worlds.
In Mid-June My Ideas About The Major League Race
by Jack Kerouac
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (Independent) June 16, 1965 — This old sorry horse will now predict the end of the pennant race, and lay it on the line on a 5 cent bet with the thousands of eager fans who will challenge me no bout contest.
You guys better look out for the Detroit Tigers. Mickey Lolich, Dave Wickersham, Hank Aguirre and some other kidneys ah caint remember are good pitchers: but the main thing is: Don Demeter at first base, a tall longball hitter, the great Al Kaline (perennial bonus boy and destined for the Hall of Fame), Norm Cash, a great favorite among solid Detroit lovers of good hitting, even Jake Wood lately sick, (to come back), and not that I can’t finish a sentence but there’s Willie Horton currently leading the league in hitting, and the grand rookies (they are the ones who make all the difference): Jim Northrup and George Thomas: and lastly, not least to mention, and the true measure of the Tigers, Dick McAuliffe (a name I’m proud to type down) and Jerry Lumpe. There you’ve got your infield, your outfield, your pitching staff, and the catcher is another future hall-of-famer Bill Freehan. Let us watch that for gas.
My bet is now five dollars.
In the National League I pick the Milwaukee Braves. Rico Carty makes the difference, with the greatest living ballplayer Hank Aaron at his side, and then add Mac Jones, the Hall of Fame Eddie Mathews (right among us now), and pitchers like Cloninger, the enormous power and precision of that lineup: Joe Torre the best catcher since Roy Campanella and not only because he also has a Spanish name. The Milwaukee Braves, if the pitching holds up, have the power to DOWN anybody in the National League. Franchises have nothing to do with this. Simple baseball is beautifully played before people. As Dizzy (Jerome Hanna) Dean says, “Aint nothin I like better than a good ball game.” Every American is interlocked with Cooperstown. (Look out for the Dodgers in the National, and the Yanks in the American.)
Note: The Dodgers did win the pennant that year and made it to the World Series, beating the Minnesota Twins in seven games.
The Greatest Sports Writers Who Ever Lived As Far As I’m Concerned
By Jack Kerouac
ST. PETERSBURG, FLA. (Independent) July 10, 1965 — As for me, it was Don Parker. I never thought Jimmy Cannon was so hot as he thought he was because of all his dismal attempts at trying to sound like Hemingway, or like Runyon, or rather he was trying to sound like somebody’s avant garde idea of what a sportswriter should sound like if he were (or was) really smart. Jimmy Cannon I read with an avid interest, but for information I go to Frank Graham and Dan Parker and Red Smith ain’t bad and James Daley purty good. Now you know I can spell but so many of us spend our time reading sports pages we might as well for once start talking about the quality of the prose of our sports writers. I don’t wish to knock Jimmy Cannon. But please pay attention, will you, to the old Daily Mirror columns of Dan Parker and put them together in a book. Frank Graham had a sparse, thin-as-a-rail style that appealed to me simply as reportage devoid of style-consciousness and yet conscious of the quality of what prose should be. This may sound silly to readers of sports pages but it’s true.
Dan Parker was the dean of American sportswriters because he wrote a long column every night, using dialects which were Italian, Jewish, Greek, French-Canadian, Irish, Polish, but he could never master the Okie accent. My father, an old printer, used to read him with massive delight and I mean massive. He drew my attention to Dan Parker. After Dan Parker there can be no sportswriter in America. Let’s just call this a little eulogy to Dan Parker’s genius. (Am I allowed this, James Wechsler, Editor of the New York Post, where some great new sportswriters are working?) (And there’s Stan Isaacs of the Long Island paper, NEWSDAY, excellent.) As for Grantland Rice, that belongs to the Thomas Wolfe period of American sportswriting.
I could go into a long story about Clem McCarthy, the radio announcer but let the Monaghans, the O’Reillys, the Cassidys, the McInerneys and the Kerwicks laugh awhile about that.
What Was The Punch That Knocked Out Liston
ST. PETERSBURG, FLA. (Independent) July 10, 1965 — Somebody said it was a Karate punch, somebody said Liston flopped for money, somebody said it was a hard punch, Muhammad Ali said it was a “surprise” punch he’d been laying up, and some said it was whatever. Somebody here in the office said it was a “six-inch Twist.” And somebody else said he didn’t know what it was but it floored him.
Robert Goulet forgot the words to the National Anthem because he was probably having a big time with the French-Canadians of Lewiston, Maine, where an aunt of mine lives. The referee was that great fighter: Jersey Joe Walcott. Joe Louis, the Left Jab Champ, said he couldn’t understand what happened. The eyes of all men in the world were on that fight. All men are interested in the World’s Heavyweight Boxing Championship fight. The mayor of the town was only in his thirties. From the Maine woods maybe a couple of old-timers came in, in Jeeps, after a snowshoe trek, to see the oldtime American cigar-smoke fight scene. It was all over. Everybody thought it was mysterious. In the old days there was nothing mysterious about Carnera hitting Schaaf. I have no right to write this because I wasn’t there. But the Clay-(Muhammad Ali)-Floyd Patterson fight is coming up sometime and once again men all over the world will be interested. Every man in the world had to put up his dukes at one time or another, or refused to (as Jesus refused to), but it’s always interesting because it’s so personal, immediate, no-bull-allowed. A good prizefighter, because with gloves, is still Christianly legal. And remember that they started out without gloves: John L. Sullivan, James Corbett, Sam Langford. ...
I may be whistlin’ thru Dixie, but I’d rather see a Heavyweight Boxing Championship fight than a P.G.A. anyday. (Golf being long distance pool.) (Jack Nicklaus forgive me.) You can bet your life: boxing matches are sad, and everything is sad anyhow, till that day when the Lion lies down with the Lamb.
Editors note: The prose and grammar were copied as they originally appeared in print in 1965.