Sunday, June 01, 2014

Savage Cruelty

When two activities that are obviously connected happen seemingly by chance one has to wonder whether fate intervened.  On Thursday I read a piece by Tim Kurkjian on the ESPN Web site, The Unwritten Canon, Revealed.  It is about professional baseball and the code that guides players actions and responses - but none of this is in the official rules of the game.  I thought it a good read and sent the link with that recommendation to a friend.  Much of it is about the difference between showing off, which is okay, and showing up somebody else, which is taboo. The retaliation for showing up is having the pitcher throw at a batter, sometimes the perpetrator but other times a teammate.  The players would say throwing at a batter, in the shoulder or at the hip, is part of the game.

Throwing at the head is not.  It is deemed out of bounds as it might end a player's career or even kill him.

On Friday, in anticipation of our six hour drive to Des Moines, I download Calico Joe to my laptop (and later to my iPhone).  I knew I wanted a Grisham novel for the trip.  Light fiction for me is best while traveling, one story to keep me absorbed and less focused on joint pain which flares up when sitting in the same position too long.  When you go to Grisham's page at, there are so many recent novels to choose from.  He is a machine churning this stuff out.  I started to ask myself whether you could infer quality of the book from its Kindle price.  Then I decided that it didn't matter because I wasn't going to make a comparison across many of these books.  I just needed one for the trip.  I was anticipating getting a story about a lawyer.  Calico Joe, instead, is about baseball.  That's why I chose it.  The only reason.

I'm guessing most of my readers won't read Calico Joe, so I'll talk about it a little, though I hope what I have to say doesn't put anyone off from reading the book.  Calico Joe is fundamentally about a beaning.  One that ends a very promising player's career.  One where the pitcher claimed that is was an accident, but it really was deliberate.  I didn't get that this was the focus of the book till about 1/3 of the way through.  It is written from the perspective of the son of the pitcher, who hated his father for his cruelty and viewed the promising player as an idol.  And while there is quite a buildup to the beaning, it is mainly about the aftermath - 30 years later.

In real life the major league baseball player you think of with this sort of cruelty was Ty Cobb.  He is said to have sharpened his spikes so that when stealing second base he could inflict more damage on the player who was trying to apply the tag.  Cobb may have been crazy.  It is nuts to have a belligerent mindset essentially all the time.  I don't know people like that, other than in fiction.  I suppose that's one compelling reason to read this book.

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