Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The Might Have Been

Baseball is special.  The number of novels about the game, both in quality - and certainly in quantity - probably exceeds that of all other sports combined.  The length of the baseball season, the pace of an individual game, and the potential for any player (regardless of size, position, or past performance) to be a hero for at least one day all lend themselves to good storytelling.  And, because good storytellers seem particularly drawn to the sport, baseball fans who read novels are a lucky bunch.

Joseph M. Schuster is one of those good storytellers, and the good news is that he has chosen organized baseball as the centerpiece of his debut novel, The Might Have Been.  As the book’s title implies, the hero of this story, however, is only a baseball hero if one considers perseverance to be the stuff from which heroes are made.  At age 27, Edward Everett Yates (who prefers being called by both his first and middle names) does make it all the way to the show with the St. Louis Cardinals, but what happens to him there is the very definition of tragedy.  He experiences the kind of nightmare one rainy day in Montreal that often crosses the mind of anyone who dreams of getting his name in the baseball record books as his only chance of making a mark on the world before he leaves it.  No one, though, will ever call Edward Everett a quitter. 

Now, fast approaching 60 years of age, he is managing a team barely perched on baseball’s bottom rung; it’s A-ball in the middle of nowhere.  The Might Have Been is the story of how he ended up there despite all the baseball promise he showed as a young man.  But it is also the story of countless other young men that Edward Everett coached and managed over a lifetime in the game – all of them, just like him, the best athletes to come out of their high schools and little towns in a decade and considered to be sure things when they left home.  Way too soon, they all learn that everyone in A-Ball left home with the same reputation and high expectations, that suddenly they are competing against equals and the game has become a whole lot tougher than it has ever been for them before.

The Might Have Been is a book about choices made and not made.  It is about lost dreams, the story of one man’s regrets and disappointment as he looks back at his life, wondering how he ended up where he did, but coming to the realization that it was a whole series of little spur-of-the-moment decisions that combined to make him who he is today.  As in the tradition of the best baseball novels, this one is about the game of life as much as it is about the game of baseball.  Baseball fans will certainly be intrigued by this frank look at life in the minor leagues, but even non-fans will appreciate The Might Have Been as the excellently written dramatic piece it is.

Rated at: 5.0