Sixteen previously published tales, including five that have never appeared in book form, from veteran O’Rourke (1916–89), who, during the 1940s and ’50s, wrote more than a hundred short stories, including westerns.
The question is how many times can the drama of a washed-up baseball player’s last great game be recycled? Quite a few, it seems. These are tall tales that put baseball in among breadlines, work shortages, and the backbreaking labor of the Depression and war years. In “Home Game,” a son contemplates his father’s baseball career, his insane love for our apparently existential pastime. A battle of immortal titans is arranged on a celestial field of dreams in the title story, while in “Look for the Kid with the Guts,” an aging scout attends a bush-league game to eyeball an inflation-spoiled prospect—only to find his attention drawn to an earnest other. “The Last Pitch” concerns a washed-up pitcher who digs deep to put the capper on his protracted career, and in “Flashing Spikes,” a young shortstop learns about honor from his counterpart in a small-town game. It’s not long before the imaginative pool starts to seem limited: all triple-A outfields are pocked with gopher holes, and everyone’s hands are gnarled like old-time catchers’. There are only so many ways to steer the drama through nine innings with the game and one’s career on the line, and sometimes the play-by-play reads as dryly as the inning-by-inning recap below newspaper box-scores. Still, there’s a tenderness toward the subject that’s seductive, and if it becomes tedious we perhaps shouldn’t blame an author who, after all, didn’t select these particular stories himself.
To baseball what Thomas Kinkade is to cottages.