HOME RUNS AND A FIELD GOAL
Here’s another one, recently re-broadcast. Remember the three versions he told of Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and Marius Russo hitting home runs and in each case almost clobbering Shep’s old man with the ball. I have suggested that these tales were less than truth. (Talk about diplomatic!) Here’s another ball tale. Shepherd on the air has just read a newspaper story about a baseball fan who had caught ninety-nine foul balls. He’s reminded about having gone to a Giants vs. Colts championship football game. Shep and his friend want a snack so he heads down around the end zone, getting hot dogs and coffees. The score is 20-18, Giants trailing near the end. They call for a field goal. Shep hears the ball kicked:
And all I felt was this fantastic shot. It was like somebody really hit me from behind….And the coffee flies all over the place. I look around. I have been hit by the damn football! Now if there’s one thing the football fan wants it’s a football getting hit into the stands! Shepherd gets hit with it! And I’m lookin’ the wrong way!! The ball hits Shepherd, bounced up, and seventeen guys fought over it.
I coulda caught that thing and had it in my hip pocket! I lost the coffee, I lost the hot dogs, and what’s worse, I lost the damn football! [End theme begins.] .…I coulda had the ball that was kicked by a Giant kicker that beat the Baltimore Colts for the championship of the NFL!! What did I get? I’ll tell you what I got—coffee all over my pants. I got some mustard on my new coat. That’s what I got. (September 29, 1972)
Okay, fans, anybody who thinks this really happened, raise your deluded hands. But, playing around with truth and fiction, Shepherd sometimes came out and told some truth. He did not do this when telling a story directly—in his normal way of first-person narration on the radio, he told stories as if they were true. But when discussing his writing, he would insist that he had really created a fiction, as in this introduction to reading the Ludlow Kissel story from his book, In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash:
The “I” in the book is not “Jean Shepherd.” I’ll warn you of that right away. It is an “I.” His name is Ralph Parker. It’s not Jean Shepherd. A lot of you have written and asked me why I’m different in life than I am in the book, but it’s not me. It’s a fictional character and he has—he lives in Manhattan. (July 4, 1972)
That what Jean Shepherd said and wrote could not be relied on as real-world-literal-truth is well substantiated. This could be caused by any combination of the following: conscious creation of an artistic fiction as he said above in reference to In God We Trust; conscious deception in order to give a false image of himself; faulty memory.
Excerpt of comment by Joel
A simpler explanation is that fiction allowed him to create a much broader and more humorous narrative and effective parables than he would have been able to write had he only used truthful anecdotes.