Scouting report on sportswriter Lupica’s baseball novel: pretty good stuff, needs to work on control.
Once upon a time “Showtime” Charlie Stoddard had a golden arm, among the best ever to make it to “the Bigs.” But he abused it—sorely—and the rest of himself as well: booze and babes, Charley a committed hedonist from the time he could spell party. Actually, he abused just about everything in his life, including his relationship with his furiously resentful son and long-resigned wife. As the story opens, he’s 40, five years away from his last (dismal) appearance on a professional mound, spending his time signing autographs for money and chasing women from habit. Enter fate, in the form of a Chinese-American wonder-working physical therapist who offers him what so few of us ever get: a second chance. Charlie’s been messed up by knife-happy quacks, Mr. Chang tells him, but he’s salvageable if he’s willing to work. Charlie and Chang become a team, and almost at once redemption sets in: 90 m.p.h fastballs and an arm free of debilitating pain. In the meantime, the Boston Red Sox, battling a variety of famous jinxes (see any history of baseball) and the hated New York Yankees as well are in desperate need of pitching help, so desperate they’re willing to gamble on Charlie. Moving into the climactic stage of the pennant race, the Sox have a staff composed largely of cripples and one potential Hall-of-Famer. He’s Tom Mackenzie, born Tom Stoddard, who changed his name as a measure of intense filial disregard. So now when Showtime Charlie stares in for his signal, he swiftly learns it’s a whole new ballgame.
Charlie’s likable, and the baseball set pieces are beyond reproach, but Lupica’s signature one-liners (Bump and Run, 2000, etc.) are relentless, consistently cutting the heart out of key emotional scenes.