Review

Wild Pitch

by Mike Lupica



Mike Lupica, one of the nation's preeminent sports columnists,
takes a turn at his second novel with WILD PITCH, the story of
40-something Charlie Stoddard, a pitcher who in his youth was a
sure bet to make the Hall of Fame. But as sport fans know, a
proclamation such as this just begs for divine intervention to the
negative. Sure enough, Stoddard suffers an injury and floats along
for the next decade or so, not wanting to give up a life that
allows him to remain a carefree youngster for a few more years.
Along the way he finds comfort in an exceptional amount of wine,
women, and song. His ex-wife always complained that it was "always
about Charlie." Lately, though, Stoddard has become a member of the
"didn't you used to be somebody" club, making appearances at sports
memorabilia shows and living off past glories.

One morning after, when he wakes up next to one of his assignations
and finds himself barely able to stand up straight, he is sent to
Chang, a mysterious and cynical fitness guru who, through the
voodoo he works so well, manages to undo the damage resulting from
the scar tissue left by earlier surgeries. In fact, Chang's intense
regimen works so well that Stoddard decides he might just be able
to make a return to the big leagues.

The road back is slow and cautious, but it inevitably leads to the
Boston Red Sox, managed by Ted Hartnett, Stoddard's ex-catcher and
best friend. Of course, by midseason their large lead is quickly
dwindling, and the Sox are in a battle for the pennant with their
arch rivals, the New York Yankees. So guess who steps in to become
the hero?

WILD PITCH falls back on numerous sports cliches and ethnic
stereotypes: the athletes are, for the most part, portrayed as
alcoholic sex addicts. Stoddard's new catcher, Pooty Shaw, is an
African American who juggles women ("primaries and secondaries," as
he refers to them) like so many billiard balls. In fact, most
minorities speak in dialects and are depicted in ways that some
might find offensive. (Lupica's first novel BUMP AND RUN, a
football story, followed a similar tone.)

A few wrinkles, however, keep WILD PITCH moving along. One is
Stoddard's relationship with his new sensei Chang. While
they exchange banter and frustration, there is undeniable respect,
as the aging pitcher struggles to change his ways, achieving
middling results. Another is the burgeoning romance with his
ex-wife, the beautiful and talented (of course) Grace MacKenzie.
And then there's Tom MacKenzie, a Red Sox pitching prodigy who just
happens to be Stoddard's estranged son. There is a lot of animosity
there, but it's one of several problems that Charlie must deal with
in order to make a complete comeback, not just as an athlete, but
as a person.

It's almost unfair that publishers allow sports columnists to
submit manuscripts like this, given the edge they understandably
have when it comes to behind-the-scenes reportage. WILD PITCH may
be nothing startling and different in the world of sports fiction,
but that doesn't make it bad. Fans of this genre will appreciate
the detail that Lupica brings to the plate.

Reviewed by Ron Kaplan (RonKaplanNJ@comcast.net) on January 24, 2011

Wild Pitch
by Mike Lupica

  • Publication Date: September 16, 2002
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Putnam Adult
  • ISBN-10: 0399149279
  • ISBN-13: 9780399149276