What does the “Succession” finale have to do with baseball history? It’s all in a name
In a long, slow build, the hit HBO show “Succession” dropped a bombshell that some viewers saw coming by dint of baseball history.
Writers tend to write stories backward. There, just in case you didn’t know, that is one of the insider trade secrets of writing. Start with the end.
As long as you have an ending in mind, then you as a writer are free to work it backwards, dropping hints and clues along the way which all must inevitably point toward the final scene.
Jesse Armstrong is an old hand at the trade, having written some of Britain’s best comedy sketch shows of the last two decades like Peep Show and That Mitchell and Webb Look. With episodes of Veep under his belt, his move into US drama was cemented with HBO’s Succession.
The show follows the fortunes of the Roy family as the three children of the patriarch each vie to succeed him as CEO of their media empire.
Several astute viewers had worked out a theory that the eventual winner of the duel would be neither of the brothers Kendall or Roman, nor the sister Siobhan who would inherit, but Siobhan’s husband Tom.
The interesting thing about the theory, which (spoiler alert) turned out to be correct, was how it was deduced. You see, it all has to do with names.
Characters are routinely given meaningful names in screenplays (think of Chinatown’s Noah Cross as a classic example) and Armstrong’s oeuvre is brimming with them. In a show titled Succession, the protagonists’ family is called Roy (French for “King”).
Siobhan was referred to as “Shiv” throughout the four-year run of the show, giving a clear image of the knife or weapon that would be used to bring someone down. And her husband Tom? It is his last name that is the important one. Wambsgans.
While the name may be new to many viewers, fans of baseball and baseball history will at once recognize the moniker as that belonging to Bill Wambsganss.
Not a great, in the sense of the Baseball Hall of Fame, Bill Wambsganss nevertheless had a solid career, playing second base for the Cleveland Indians for ten of his 13 year career. He hit a respectable .241 over his career and a rock-solid .954 fielding percentage. And that defense is the key to Wambsganss’ claim to fame.
You see, he made the only unassisted triple play in baseball history. It was in the 1920 World Series and is still the only triple play of any kind to be made in a World Series game.
As soon as the unique surname was pronounced in Succession, the baseball-versed fans suspected that he would single-handedly put out three players, i.e. usurp the Roy children and take over the reins of the family business.
And it was indeed so, with the help, naturally enough of his wife, Shiv, the knife who stabbed her brothers in the back.
Easy enough to write the details into place, once you know how. Just start with the end.