Baseball 1973, the National League won the All Star game. Teams tweaked their rosters for their run to the World Series. In John Grisham’s Calico Joe, the Cubs gave Joe Castle of Calico, Arkansas the nod.
Calico Joe came with a pedigree. His grandfather played for the Cleveland Indians, his father played for the Pirates. His brothers played for the Senators and the Phillies. The Cubs felt good about bringing him up. Joe rewrote the record books, and Cub fans visualized the World Series. Baseball pandemonium ruled the North Side of Chicago.
Eleven-year-old Paul Tracey became enamored with Joe. He listened to as many games as possible. He cut out articles from the paper and glued them in his scrapbook. Only one problem, Paul’s dad, Warren pitched for the Mets.
Warren was hard and Warren was mean. He wasn’t a good father. Warren ends Calico Joe’s career with a bean ball, a 98-mile per hour pitch to the head. Bam! Knocks the guy out, right in the eye.
In Calico Joe, Grisham writes a story depicting a slice of Americana. He gives us baseball at a point in time when baseball meant more than just money. Entwined in the story of baseball, we get family emotions, child abuse, adultery, cancer and death. We also get reconciliation and forgiveness.
Warren Tracey suffers with pancreatic cancer, one of the most painful and deadly forms. No one feels sorry for him. Grisham does a good job of vilifying the man, but maybe by the end you’ll feel differently. Maybe.
Paul tries to over come their differences, the neglect, the abuse, and the KOB (knock out by baseball). Paul wants to make things right, for Joe and baseball, not his dad. In the process, may be he does help his dad. You’re the reader, you decide.
Baseball books in general contain lots of statistics and trivia. This one has some trivia, but doesn’t overdo it. In the author’s note, Grisham admits that some of the facts have been changed to make the story flow better. Baseball aficionados will catch him on these. However, the basics are correct. It is Willie Mays last season. The Mets do make the World Series, and the Cubs are trying to catch them.
Much like baseball, this book pulls the emotional strings. At times you’re not sure if you love or hate the characters. Except for Joe, he’s perfect. It contains and revolves around baseball, but you don’t have to know baseball to enjoy Calico Joe.