John Grisham is such an amazing writer/story teller, we anticipate equally his legal thrillers (his area of professional expertise) and his sports oriented novels (where he’s just like us, a fan). Calico Joe is his first crack at baseball, and I was worried. Baseball is one of those games where the statistics are delicate. Flimsy stats will turn a true baseball fan off of a baseball novel faster than a post chicken tikka masala fart. However, artistically woven stories with believable sports plot lines will keep us engrossed to the point of calling out sick to work because we have 47 pages left to read and haven’t slept in 3 days. Anyway, let’s get started:
The good: As always, Grisham develops his characters beautifully. You sympathize with Paul, the protagonist, because you feel you can relate. As he frequently does, Grisham also seamlessly transitioned from present to past, adult to child Paul Tracey. That’s not as easy as it sounds. He also knows his baseball, or spent countless hours researching which isn’t one of his favorite activities as he freely admits. He not only brought real baseball players from the era in which the book took place, he accurately portrayed their personalities. Sure, he took some liberties (which he also admits in his author’s notes) but one can’t help but think that he was looking for specific guys to fit specific roles for his book. Why else can you think of that he would specifically reference Rick Reuschel? Little details like the 4 man rotation from back in that day were on also spot on. It’s easy to get careless in the interest of finishing whatever you’re writing, and the small things often get lost. Grisham is a master at not doing that. Putting Calico Joe on the Cubs was a nice touch.
The bad: Joe Castle, aka Calico Joe, is just simply not possible as he is portrayed. Kids hit .390 in double A ball, but they don’t then get promoted and hit .500 over the course of their first 40 games. Nobody has ever come close to being on pace for a 80 home run, 100 stolen base season. And power hitters just don’t bunt with runners on. I get it, the point is to paint Calico Joe as one of the greatest rookie phenoms to ever hit major league baseball. But it could have been done without the otherworldly exaggerations. It could have been done without three home runs in his first three at bats, 15 hits in his first 15 at bats. 21 homers in his first 120 at bats or so. His double A average would have had to be around .800 to make numbers like that feasible. And again, yes, I get it. But that part went too far.
Additionally, it was too short. I was able to finish it in three hours. I felt gypped. Even though Grisham is prolific, never keeping his fans waiting for too long for his next work, I eagerly anticipate each one of his works, and the millisecond I heard about Calico Joe I was salivating for it. With the wonderful premise behind the story, it could easily have gone another 200 pages. Not at the end, of course, but in the middle. More anecdotes. More stories. More baseball clubhouse hijinx.
Lastly, a bit too much beleaguering the point that Warren is an a-hole, and that Paul and his mom were happier when he wasn’t around. We got that part early on, no need to keep bringing it up, unless it’s for entirely new reasons… which it wasn’t.
The grade: B+. Did I love it? No. Did I really like it? Yes. Am I being too nitpicky? Probably. But sorry, Johnny, pop out enough works of genius, it’s what your readership will come to expect. It’s why we set the bar here at The Stain fairly low. Wouldn’t want our reader(s) becoming too accustomed to anything we can’t consistently provide.