In the Records Department at the Ministry of Truth

Patrick McDermott

Meet the man whose job it is to make the record books fit the story you want to tell ...

It was a hot and sunny day in July, and the clocks were striking. Thirteen floors up, Winston Smith pulled the keyboard towards him, blew the dust from the home row and put on his spectacles. Then he opened two unassuming emails which had already arrived on his desktop.

Inside his cubicle there were signs of the League everywhere. Photos of ballplayers diving to the left, arms outstretched. Team patches arranged in geometric shapes on each wall, the bright uniform logos trying their best to lighten the dreariness of the cell. To the left of the monitor stood a miniature statue of a man in a suit. The grim, bespectacled face bobbled up and down each time Winston moved in his seat, as if following his every movement. It was the same at every desk.

Winston examined the electronic messages. Each referred to statistics or news-items which for one reason or another it was his job to "rectify." The text of the first message read:

LDR AVG NL 2012 malreported refs unpersons rectify RC

Winston looked it over. The 2012 National League leader in batting average needed to be changed. It seems that the current leader board referenced a certain player who was no longer in the League's good graces. Winston checked the rolls. Melky Cabrera, the rightful title-holder, had recently failed a performance-enhancing drugs test and was, therefore, an "unperson" in the eyes of the League. Official references to the unperson, no matter their factual or mathematical basis, needed to be scrubbed. The League could not be seen to endorse these feats in any way. It was Winston's job to rectify this "malreport" by way of a rule change.

All that was necessary, Winston decided, was to claim that Cabrera had had a change of heart and had asked the League to disallow his name from appearing in the record books. Cabrera had learned his lesson, Winston reasoned, and had chosen to sacrifice his own ill-gotten glory in favor of strengthening the League's good name. The League, in its wisdom, would relax the rules in this case so as to accept Cabrera's heartfelt sacrifice. It was an easy fix.

Winston was good at this kind of thing. He switched to the next message. In the League's abbreviated jargon, the message read:

network 7.8.13. plusgood refs LDR HR ML 2001. doubleplusungood refs LDR HR ML 1961. rectify.

Translating it to Standard English, the message said:

A recent article on the Network makes positive references to the 2001 major league home run leader and negative references to the 1961 major league home run leader. Correct these errors.

This was a very common task for Winston. It all stemmed from an event years ago, during Nostalgia Week. Winston had actually been in Cooperstown when it happened. It was night, and Doubleday Field was brightly lit, the field's lights reflecting off the dew on each blade of grass. The park was filled with several thousand people, including a block of schoolchildren in the uniforms of their favorite sluggers.

On a scarlet-draped platform a representative of the League, a small lean man with disproportionately long arms and a large bald skull over which a few lank locks straggled, was haranguing the crowd. Soaked in sentiment, he gripped the neck of the microphone with one hand while the other, enormous at the end of a bony arm, caressed the air gently above his head.

The speech was standard Nostalgia Week fare, reminding the crowd of how great and pure the League is, how it unites the children of today with the children of yesterday and of decades past. The speaker highlighted the level of talent currently in the League, singing glorious praise for today's ballplayers as paragons of athleticism and power. The League, he purred, while greater in the past than anyone could ever remember, had never been better.

The speech had proceeded for perhaps twenty minutes when a messenger hurried onto the platform and a scrap of paper was slipped in the speaker's hand. He unrolled and read it without pausing in his speech. Nothing altered in his voice or manner, or in the content of what he was saying, but suddenly the names were different. Without words said, a wave of understanding rippled through the crowd.

Barry Bonds was not the legitimate home run king. Roger Maris was the legitimate home run king! Roger Maris had always been the legitimate home run king.

The next moment there was a tremendous commotion. The banners and plaques with which the park was lined were all wrong! Posters were torn from the wall, jerseys thrown on the ground and trampled underfoot. But within two or three minutes it was all over. The Nostalgia continued exactly as before, except that the target had been changed.

That was years ago, but Winston was still working to curb the repercussions. Since that day in Cooperstown, the League had banded together with the Network to fight the insidious rot that unpersons like Bonds and Cabrera represented. It had become second nature to Winston to replace "Bonds" with "Maris" and to otherwise eradicate Bonds from the record book. The work came in spurts, as the crowds reacted to events on the field, but it always came.

As he made the adjustments to the article, Winston noted that the Bonds corrections were on the rise again. He steeled himself for a summer filled with talk of the legitimate home run king.

* * *

When the work for the day was done, Winston left his office and retired to the Chestnut Tree Cafe. He was a fixture there after work, with large screens showing nothing but the finest sport ever conceived. A waiter approached with a gin bottle. Winston paid no attention, his eyes instead fixed on the statue of the bespectacled man standing next to the cashier's computer. A throng of fans in jerseys from decades-long-gone passed outside the cafe and the statue's head began to bobble up-and-down with each footstep. Winston's attention returned to the screens as a trumpet-call blared from the speakers. He cheered. The games were starting. He loved the League.

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