Well. I have finally finished this small collection of short stories, and found in it a few home runs and a few foul balls. I struggled a bit in the early part of the book, but the later stories were all pretty good, and the writing also seemed stronger and more sure of itself, more distinctive and precise.
The last couple of stories I thought particularly good. “His Big Chance,” by John Hildebidle, tells the story of a small town kid, a ball player who is pretty good and is trying to decide on going to college or taking up baseball as a career. His uncle arranges a game, the home town team against a negro barnstorming club, to lure some scouts to town to see the boy play. It’s a big event in the small town, and the boy looks forward to the game confidently. Unfortunately, he seems to run into Satchel Paige, and things go a bit differently than what had been expected.
The last story, “Browning’s Lamps,” also was particularly enjoyable. The main character, Howard Gammill, is a writer, working on a book of interviews with old baseball players — something akin to The Glory of Their Times, I guess. At the start of the story he’s interviewing an old ball player who says the at the he ever saw wasn’t himself, it was a guy named Pless.
“Pinch Pless they called him. Worst glove ever, couldn’t catch a pea in a bushel basket… but stick a bat in his hand, man, that sucker could hit a apple seed blowed off a barn roof”
The odd thing, for Gammill, was that he had heard Pless’s name before, mentioned in the same context by another old ball player. So he does some research and finds out when and where Pless played, and also his batting statistics.
“He picked up a paper and pencil and began making columns of Pless’s batting achievements, going all the way back to 1921. When he finished he caught his breath. Pless had an average in organized baseball of .447, and once led the Bluegrass League in homers and triples despite having fewer than 100 at bats.”
Gammill places an ad in the Sporting News, asking anyone with knowledge of the whereabouts of Walker B. Pless to contact him, and several weeks later, an envelope arrives.
This story in particular was very nicely developed, I thought. The writer, David Nemec, really set the stage well, and reeled the reader into the story. There’s an unfortunate twist to the story about half way through, that I thought diminished the story. I suppose it just changed the story into something a bit less interesting for me, it wasn’t the sort of story I was looking for. Despite that, this was still one of my favorites in the book.
The book concludes with a couple of lists. First, “Baseball’s Dozen Best Adult Novels” – I’ve only read four of these, and the ones I read were certainly good, so this is a list worth exploring more. Now that I’ve finished this book of stories, I’m looking for something else, but I’m inclined a bit more now towards nonfiction, perhaps history, so the novels will have to wait a bit. The second list seems a bit redundant, “Fifty Recommended Baseball Novels.” Some possibilities there as well, but for a later time.