Monday, June 1, 2009

TBBBC Book 2 review

Time for TBBBC Book 2 review. The May entry was Frank Deford's The Entitled, a Tale of Modern Baseball. It's a bit of a lofty title, but then again, Deford is a bit of a lofty writer. One of the true living legends of the sportswriting biz, Deford has dabbled in the fiction world before, most notably with Everybody's All-American, a tale of a college football hero's rough transition into the real world. And much as that book was about characters who happened to play football, The Entitled is another character study that just happens to be set in the world of Major League Baseball.

The two central figures in this book couldn't be more different. The protagonist is baseball lifer Howie Traveler, a guy who parlayed a minor-league baseball career into a comfortable life as a major league coach before finally landing his first managerial gig as the skipper of the Cleveland Indians. His star player is five-tool outfielder Jay Alcazar, a cosmopolitan celebrity athlete who seemingly has the world by the tail at every turn.

The drama centers on an incident that takes place in the first 20 pages -- as Traveler wearily returns to his hotel room, his job hanging by a thread after another string of listless play by his Indians, the door to Alcazar's room flies open. A woman appears to be struggling to leave, but the star player roughly yanks her back into the room and slams the door. Will Howie go to the police? Will he cover for his star player and use the situation to his advantage to save his job?

The rest of the book plays out in a series of flashbacks the tell the backstories of Howie and Jay, how they reached the point where their futures are indelibly intertwined, and a deeper examination reveals that each man is not quite what he seems to be on the surface.

Because Deford deals with real-life athletes in his A job, and because he uses actual MLB teams in the story, it's tempting to draw comparisons to the figures you see on ESPN and in the sports pages on a daily basis. Alcazar has a lot of A-Rod in him -- multi-talented on the field, an enigma off it, a man obsessed with his image and endorsements who doesn't really know who he is when you strip away the uniform and sportscars and mansions and designer sunglasses. The incident at the hotel has overtones of the Kobe/Colorado case, although sadly, it's probably even more common than we know.

Traveler reminds me of a cross between Tom Kelly and Joe Madden -- TK in that he had a cup of coffee in the majors before making it back to the bigs as a coach and manager, and Madden in that he didn't get his first shot a running a club until he was well into his 50s, so he swore to do it his way no matter how unconventional his methods appeared.

I found it to be a quick read -- lively prose, an engrossing story -- and Deford's characters are far from the one-dimensional stereotypes that we imagine professional athletes to be. If you're looking for a good beach novel this summer, The Entitled should work for you.

TBBBC rating: Four fungoes (out of five)

Now batting: Crazy '08 by Cait Murphy

On deck: The Soul of Baseball by Joe Posnanski

See also: TBBBC Book 1 review, The Last Real Season

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