The game of baseball and a passion for traditional values bring two men into an unlikely confrontation.
Rising from his working-class roots in Union, New Jersey, to a first-ballot election to the Baseball Hall of Fame, former Boston Red Sox star Joe Grudeck, the “last of the hard-knuckled catchers,” should be ecstatic. Instead, he’s a lonely, bitter man, questioning the high price of his hard-earned fame while fearing his on-field feats soon will be forgotten by the fans of a game whose ethos he no longer recognizes. Horace Mueller, an archivist-turned-blacksmith at a farm museum in Cooperstown, New York, is as obscure as Grudeck is famous, but he’s no less disgruntled about the “culture of cheapness and idiocy that decayed this great country.” He’s especially dismayed that his 14-year-old son is a talented baseball player, and his complaint that the boy may choose "sports over intellect and meaningful work" only heightens the tension in his foundering marriage. The lives of these men intersect, with disastrous consequences, on the day of Grudeck’s induction, an event that epitomizes the cultural forces and trends that are central to their dissatisfaction and their respective critiques of a world each glimpses through a cracked lens. Di Ionno (The Last Newspaperman, 2012, etc.) succeeds in creating two believable principal characters who are, for all their surface differences, strikingly similar in crucial, and ultimately tragic, ways. Whether it’s Joe’s forceful response to the complaints of a disgruntled teammate or Horace’s simmering rage at the loss of his family that boils over in the heat of a July afternoon in Cooperstown, Di Ionno starkly portrays a dangerous and frightening passion for violence that too often has become synonymous with the expression of the American male psyche. And in a digression to recount the story of the 1869 hoax known as the Cardiff Giant, he offers an entertaining, and tantalizingly plausible, origin story for the country’s obsession with celebrity and diversion.
The national pastime is the backdrop for an incisive exploration of manhood in modern America.