By John Grisham
To put it in sports jargon, this novel is a hanging curve ball over the middle of the plate.
Famed for his stories about lawyers and courtrooms, Grisham branches into a different world — baseball, a sport he obviously loves. The story is told through the eyes of Paul Tracey, the pre-teen son of a New York Mets pitcher when, in 1973, rookie “Calico Joe” Castle bursts on the major league scene with a record-shattering batting performance for the Chicago Cubs.
Castle quickly supplants Warren Tracey as Paul’s baseball hero, which wasn’t especially hard to do since Warren was a middling pitcher and a horrible father.
But, inevitably, the pitcher and the batter face each other at last, and a fastball changes all three lives forever. This serves as a springboard for what the book jacket calls a story of “forgiveness and redemption.”
And so it is. Goodness knows, we can all use more of those. We could also use a story more aptly told.
The biggest problem with Calico Joe is not that Grisham doesn’t bring the same sense of authenticity to a story about baseball as he does to law.
Certainly, it would help if Calico Joe’s rookie season produced batting numbers somewhere in the range of mortal man, or if this book made memorable players like Tom Seaver and Ron Santo more than just names on a page to remind baseball fans of the era when the story takes place.
Calico Joe falls short because those who read the book jacket and the first five of 24 chapters, if they’ve ever followed baseball, can tell exactly where this is going. The fateful moment is as obvious as the Goodyear blimp. The feel-good climax is as surprising as hearing cliché s in a post-game interview.
It’s a nice story that could have used a better telling.