Jim Basso and Papa Hemingway

Ernest Hemingway and former Houston Buff Jim Basso Spring Training 1952 Vest Tuba

Ernest Hemingway and former Houston Buff Jim Basso
Spring Training, 1952, Havana, Cuba
A Party at Finca Vigia

Ernest Hemingway loved baseball and boxing. During his days in residence in Cuba, he also loved inviting a few ballplayers over to Finca Vigia, his suburban home in the hills overlooking Havana, for a few drinks and cigars – and sometimes, the kind of unplanned boxing that occurs only after too many whiskey glass humidity circles are left upon the surface of furniture for their seldom-taken trips away from the face.  Hemingway and Brooklyn Dodgers pitcher Hugh Casey both were known to possess mean streaks. All each needed sometimes was the fuel of alcohol to light blaze. And this time, during spring training of 1942, as a few of the Dodgers were present at Finca Vigia at Papa Hemingway’s invitation, a fight broke out between them – for reasons long ago lost to booze and common sense.

Hemingway was 42 and fit, but Casey was 28 and a bit larger – and a man young enough to be playing baseball in the big leagues. By all accounts, Papa gave the brief and sloppy fight exchange his best shots, but Casey the Younger still managed to clean his clock before others stepped in to stop it. Hemingway apologized the next day, but the Dodgers never went to Finca Vigia again. At the deepest level of ironic tragedy, history would be forced to record that both writer Ernest Hemingway and pitcher Hugh Casey would each later leave this earth by taking their own lives.

In relief from that horrific word-visual, now skip ahead fifty-five years to a humble residential garage on a small acreage house near Pearland, Texas. Yours truly was visiting the late former 1946 Houston Buff, Jim Basso, and I had been invited to his detached garage to see something that he had been working upon. Jim was a tinkerer in his retirement. He liked doing things, fixing things, helping others. Publicly with me, the old outfielder from Omaha wasted no lifetime “at bat” pitches on mental anxieties, but he did have one clear regret. – He nursed the disappointment that he never got so much as a single time at bat in the big leagues until the day he died at age 79 on May 21, 1999.

As Jim was talking to me in the garage, my eyes fixed upon a book that lay resting on another table between a hammer and an assortment of pliers and screwdrivers. I was compelled to check out its title. Once I did, I found myself struck by a massive adrenaline rush, especially as I read the title and opened the book to find and read the ink-signed personal dedication by the author.

"For Jim and Connie Basso with all good wishes always from their friend Ernest Hemingway Finca Viglia 1952"

“For Jim and Connie Basso with all good wishes always from their friend
Ernest Hemingway
Finca Vigia


It was a 45-year old first edition 1952 copy of “The Old Man and Sea” – written and signed personally by Ernest Hemingway – and dedicated in personal friendship by Papa Hemingway to Jim and Connie Basso. – WOW!

Of course, you may probably guess the two questions that jumped from my soul into words in a virtual dead heat: (1) “What’s this all about?” And (2) “Why, Jim,  have you left this rare and valuable book out here is the heat and humidity of our Southeast Texas summer climate?”

(If you’ve read the book, or even seen the Spencer Tracy movie, you are already aware that the book is about what happens to a humble, aging Cuban fisherman who dreams of two things: Joe DiMaggio and “the baseball” – and having one more big day of fishing before he dies. It the book that personifies Ernest Hemingway’s life and grand scale passions during his time in Cuba.)

My questions were inquisitive, not accusative, and Jim Basso didn’t take them that way. He simply mentioned that he had been meaning to take the book inside the house for some time. And so he did, that very day, and we had a chance to talk about how he had come to own such a rare prize from such a famous writer as Ernest Hemingway – and in the comfort his air-conditioned home – and with the book now resting on the cooler surface of a kitchen table.

Jim Basso’s explanation fit perfectly into what I already knew about Hemingway’s invitations to ballplayers in spring training in Cuba. Jim and his wife Connie and a few other minor league couples also had been invited to Finca Vigia for dinner and drinks one spring near the 1952 publication of “The Old Man and the Sea” – with apparently no problems along the lines that Papa encountered with Hugh Casey. They also drew distantly close to the man in the very short time they were with him. Jim couldn’t explain it – and I wouldn’t be so presumptive as to try and interpret it personally. Sometimes, in general, instant bonding is simply as powerful as immediate loathing. Hugh Casey and Jim Basso, indeed, may simply have been the “yin and yang” of negative and positive transference for Ernest Hemingway in this regard.

Jim Basso never had another opportunity to discuss this matter in person, but, I did, at his request, look into possible ways he might sell the book, if he ever chose to do so. As far as I know, that never happened – and book passed on to his children after Jim’s death in 1999.

With Jim’s permission, I did make some free-hand photo copies of the pictures the Bassos took of their day at Finca Viglia. We were later given permission by the Basso family to use one of them in our 2014 Larry Dierker SABR Chapter book, “Houston Baseball History: The Early Years, 1861-1961. Unfortunately, due to other commitments and the distance between us, I never again had the opportunity to get with Jim Basso for the purpose of identifying the other players depicted. It would not have worked well to have tried it over the phone – and time pressure was my excuse for not getting the ID’s on the day I saw the originals.

I hadn’t gone to Basso’s home that day to do unexpected historical research, but I did learn a valuable lesson: Anytime we have a chance to nail down all the facts, do it then. Tomorrow may never be there for us to get it done later .

Hemingway and Guests (Jim Basso, 2nd from Left) Finca Viglia (Photo Used in Houston Baseball: The Early Years, 1861-1961)SABR Book of Houston Baseball History)

Hemingway and Guests
(Jim Basso, 2nd from Left)
The Party at Finca Vigia, 1952
(Photo Used in Houston Baseball: The Early Years, 1861-1961)

If you recognize any of the three other players in the above photo, please comment.

Papa and The Baseball Wives The Party at Finca Veota

Papa and Mrs. Hemingway Enclosing Two of  The Baseball Wives
The Party at Finca Vigia, 1952

With the book coming out that same year of 1952, Jim and Connie Basso – and possibly the others too – may even have received their autographed copies at the party at Finca Vigia. We simply don’t know for sure when and how they received it. One of the women in the photos may be Connie Basso, we are not certain. Even though it is an even longer shot, let us know if you recognize either of the middle ladies in the above photo.

Papa Hemingway Greeting Party Guests At Telia Virgo

Papa Hemingway
Greeting Party Guests
At Finca Vigia, 1952


A Favorite Hemingway Tale

F. Scott Fitzgerald once wrote to Ernest Hemingway, complaining of his unfair treatment by the New York media critics. Hemingway responded to his friend as we might have expected. I have to paraphrase here: “Scott, the critics’ job is to criticize. Our writers’ job is to write. I probably write 99 pages of crap for every good page worth keeping. My problem comes after the writing draft is done – when I then have to go back in there and find that one page that isn’t crap.”


Bill McCurdy

Publisher, Editor, Writer

The Pecan Park Eagle

Houston, Texas



3 Responses to “Jim Basso and Papa Hemingway”

  1. Gary Trujillo Says:

    This is great….thank you for sharing this wonderful story.

  2. Frank Mancuso Says:

    Great story! I remember Jim Basso was a friend of Dad’s and ran the Meadowcreek Bowling Lanes for a long time.

  3. Kyle Voorhees Says:

    Hello, I believe I may be able to help with identifying someone… My name is Kyle and Jim Basso was my great uncle, through marriage of his second son Danny. I believe the woman in the middle, with a simple white blouse and dark hair is his wife Constance “Connie” Walker Basso. I have seen a few younger photos of her and she seems to bear some resemblance to this woman here. Hope this helps!

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