Study Guide

Henry Skrimshander in The Art of Fielding

By Chad Harbach

Henry Skrimshander

From Zero to Hero

Henry Skrimshander doesn't whittle things for sailors, but maybe he would if he were born in a different century. Instead, he's living in a post-Doubleday world, and everything he does, he does for love of the game. "He's only ever wanted to play baseball" (2.12) we're told, and that's pretty much all he does. Henry goes from a small-town baseball player to a record-breaking college hero to… well, kind of back where he started—a 360-degree turn that happens so fast, it can make your head spin. So keep your eye on the ball while we talk about Henry's journey, an arc more dramatic than a hanging curveball.

Henry is first described through Mike Schwartz's eyes as "a scrawny novelty of a shortstop" (1.1). He's a zero, but for good reason: he's made zero errors in the game. He's so proud of his zero, he names his baseball glove Zero. His well-worn glove is talked about so much, it would be a symbol except for the fact that it disappears around chapter 3, never to be seen again. But maybe that's the point, because his zero-streak disappears too.

Henry's zero streak lasts a bit longer than the glove, though. He manages to tie the streak of his idol, Aparicio Rodriguez, but then… he chokes (and we don't mean like Mama Cass). "In thirty-one games he didn't make a single error" (5.91). Then, he can't stop making them. What gives?

I Am Error

Henry's first error goes unnoticed by officials, because it's the throw that hits Owen in the face and almost kills him. Henry, of course, notices this terrible mistake. It's hard not to notice a throw so bad it cracks your roommate in the face and gives him a concussion. Henry thinks he killed Owen right after the bad throw, and he seems to play every game thereafter as if someone else might die if he screws up again. He cracks under that pressure worse than Susan Boyle trying to sing live: "I keep seeing it over and over in my head. […] I've never made a throw like that. A throw that bad" (9.64).

That's the start of pressure in Henry building up like an ice dam until the roof caves in. "Don't overthink it," Henry is told. "Just let it fly" (23.3). But he can't stop thinking. "You couldn't choose to think or not think" (44.24), he says. Adding to the pressure are the scouts calling him and prospective offers from major league teams building up. Henry feels like he has to be perfect, and if he can't be perfect, he doesn't want to be. This is Henry's philosophy: "You improved little by little till the day it all became perfect and stayed that way. Forever" (54.12). Unable to be perfect, Henry ends up quitting in the middle of a game.

Play Ball

After Henry quits, it's a struggle to get him back into the game. Mike shows him videos of how he evolved from "a scrawny novelty of a shortstop" (1.1) into a brawny novelty of a shortstop. He's graceful. He has skill. But he's still not perfect.

After being a recluse in Pella's apartment and peeing in bottles for a few weeks (hey, at least he doesn't drink it like J.D. Salinger did), he sees that the Harpooners are able to make it to the championship without him. That might be an ego blow to others, but we think to Henry it's a relief. The entire success of the team doesn't depend on him. He can be a part of a team, instead of Henry the Perfect.

A series of injuries in the final game forces Henry to take the bat. Will he strike out, like mighty Casey? No. Henry strangely decides to take a bunt with his head—on purpose. If he doesn't want to think, that's one way to do it, we guess. Maybe he also did it as a bit of self-punishment for doing the same to Owen. Whatever the reason, the Harpooners win. Yay! And Henry is drafted by his favorite team, the St. Louis Cardinals. Double yay!

Well… not so fast. Remember how we mentioned "He's only ever wanted to play baseball" (2.12)? Being a Major League superstar like Charlie Sheen is still too much for Henry to handle. He decides to stay at Westish and only play college ball. What do you think Henry will do after graduation?

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