Any baseball book beginning with a descriptive list of characters that includes a Benedictine nun, the hold-out college player of the year, a woman pitcher, a 300-pound pig, a seemingly washed-up Darryl Strawberry, a blind announcer, comedian Bill Murray, Rolling Stone
publisher Jann Wenner, and the spirit of Bill Veeck--the game's greatest showman--hovering over it all as the holy ghost, is a book that swings for the fences. Slouching Toward Fargo
does go deep, even off the deep end at times. The really amazing thing is that it's all true.
A resourceful veteran writer, Karlen spends the summers of 1996 and 1997 following the mismatched misfits who mold themselves into the St. Paul Saints of the unaffiliated A-level Northern League, one of the strangest clubs in one of the oddest leagues in the history of organized baseball. On one level, his chronicle is a certified hoot; the presence of team owners Murray and Mike Veeck, who inherited his father's gene for baseball theatrics, ensures that Fargo flirts with the unpredictable. But this is also a circumspect tale filled with second chances--not the least of which is Karlen's own redemption as a journalist, which resonates in counterpoint throughout. His adventure begins at a personal crisis point when he accepts an assignment from Wenner, who's had a longstanding grudge against Murray, to follow the comedian and do a hatchet-job on him for Rolling Stone. Karlen needs the check, sure, but he needs a reality check too. "It was time to put my scorecard in order," he admits; after all, this isn't his grudge. Can you hear the bass chord of conscience beginning to thrum? "As I followed the team, I would be searching for some clue to my own battered spirit." By the end of his journey, both the clues and the Saints entertainingly add up to a winning volume and a winning team. --Jeff Silverman
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From Publishers Weekly
Freelance writer Karlen tells the antic story of how, in order to get back in the good graces of his former boss, Rolling Stone founder Jan Wenner, he agreed to spend a season covering the minor league St. Paul Saints. "Wenner made it clear to my beleaguered editor what he wanted done if I wanted back into Rolling Stone after a long stint as a prodigal: Bill Murray, a co-owner of the St. Paul Saints, and Darryl Strawberry, he of the notable rap sheet, had to be carved." But though he set out with the intention to write a hatchet job, Karlen was won over by Murray (who was hiding from fame), Strawberry (who was on his way back to the majors after drug and tax problems) and the Saints. His book is about how baseball can redeem the human spirit. In fact, just about everyone associated with the teamAfrom owner Mike Veeck (son of the legendary baseball owner and showman Bill Veeck) to the author himselfAfinds redemption. Karlen documents numerous team subplots (the travails of famous has-beens and anonymous hopefuls), comes across high-profile stories (e.g., those of former pro pitcher Jack Morris and Ila Borders, the first professional female pitcher) and re-creates a host of colorful characters, some charming (minor league fans), some despicable (TV and magazine people from the big cities). Readers not acquainted with the independent leagues will appreciate the portrayal of life on baseball's back roads. Unfortunately, Karlen reveals his own redemption within the first few pages, rendering later personal epiphanies anticlimactic. Plenty of rich anecdotes shine through the moralizing, but Karlen's entertaining book would have been even better had he trusted readers to draw their own conclusions about the beauty of baseball.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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