A sports autobiography as straightforward as its titular pitch is unpredictable.
Athletes often refer to themselves in the third person, but not usually for an entire book. Longtime Boston Red Sox pitcher Wakefield co-authors the story of his career with sports columnist Massarotti (co-author: Big Papi: My Story of Big Dreams and Big Hits, 2008, etc.), but the personal pronoun is completely absent. Despite that confusing setup, the narrative proceeds exactly as any knowledgeable baseball fan might expect, given that its subject is one of the game’s all-around good guys, a successful player somewhere between a journeyman and a star. Though a talented player in college, it quickly became apparent that Wakefield couldn’t hit well enough to make a Major League team. Fate intervened, however, when a Pittsburgh Pirates’ coach noticed him tossing knuckleballs in practice. Intrigued, he asked Wakefield to take a stab at pitching, which ultimately led to a near-historic first season in the majors, where he helped lead the Pirates to the brink of the World Series. The next couple of seasons proved far less charmed, however, and presaged the beginning of a career defined by peaks (a trade to the Red Sox and two subsequent World Series titles) and valleys (being shuffled back and forth between the starting rotation and the bullpen). Through it all, Wakefield’s team-first approach and unflagging effort made him a beloved player in Beantown, where he stands poised to take over the franchise lead in pitching victories in 2011 (assuming he stays healthy at the age of 45). Despite striving valiantly to capture the unique nature of the knuckleball and the alienation its practitioners face, the narrative fails to disclose much of interest about Wakefield beyond his athletic achievements—proving once again that nice guys might be able to shed cliché and finish first, but they don’t always make for enthralling subjects.
A strike for Sox fans; a passed ball for everyone else.