Calico Joe by John Grisham

September 23, 2012

Plot summary (from the publisher): Whatever happened to Calico Joe?

It began quietly enough with a pulled hamstring. The first baseman for the Cubs AAA affiliate in Wichita went down as he rounded third and headed for home. The next day, Jim Hickman, the first baseman for the Cubs, injured his back. The team suddenly needed someone to play first, so they reached down to their AA club in Midland, Texas, and called up a twenty-one-year-old named Joe Castle. He was the hottest player in AA and creating a buzz.

In the summer of 1973 Joe Castle was the boy wonder of baseball, the greatest rookie anyone had ever seen. The kid from Calico Rock, Arkansas dazzled Cub fans as he hit home run after home run, politely tipping his hat to the crowd as he shattered all rookie records.

Calico Joe quickly became the idol of every baseball fan in America, including Paul Tracey, the young son of a hard-partying and hard-throwing Mets pitcher. On the day that Warren Tracey finally faced Calico Joe, Paul was in the stands, rooting for his idol but also for his Dad. Then Warren threw a fastball that would change their lives forever…

Warning: Spoilers below!

Liked:

  • The descriptions of the start of Joe’s Major League career were fantastic. Even though I knew some rookie going 15-for-15 like that was highly unbelievable, I still found myself rooting for Joe and cheering internally for each home run and stolen base.
  • The baseball descriptions in general were well done and really gave me a feel for what was happening on the field. This is the third sports book Grisham has written, and he does a pretty decent job with the action, considering the fact that courtroom drama is his bread and butter.
  • I thought it was cool that Joe kept the apology letter that Paul wrote to him after the beaning. I could see that happening, particularly since the letter came from the son of the man who ended his career.
  • The book (a novella, really) was very short and easy to read.

Disliked:

  • It didn’t make sense to me that Joe was playing AA ball when he was called up for the Cubs. Even though Grisham took the time to point out that Joe was the “hottest player” at that level, he didn’t explain why Joe was even there at all. If Joe could come into the majors and hit .600 for a long span, he should have been batting .900 or something insane in AA. He should have been in AAA, if he was in the minors at all.
  • I didn’t like anything about Warren Tracey. I know I wasn’t supposed to, as he was clearly depicted as the bad guy from the start. But because I hated him so much, it didn’t feel right for him to be able to clear his conscience by apologizing to Joe and having it accepted. That didn’t sit well with me at all.
  • The scene with Warren and Joe sitting on lawn chairs in front of home plate talking about the incident was pretty cheesy. The reporter bringing out a Mets cap and Cubs cap for the men to wear before snapping photos to commemorate the event just made the whole thing even sappier.
  • I wish Grisham had delved into a little more of the “might have beens” to show how great a career Joe could have had. He should have run out more statistics and comparisons, plus more projections so readers could have a more concrete understanding about what was being lost.
  • I didn’t care for the whole storyline of Paul being abused by Warren as a kid. It felt like that was just thrown in there to make Warren as despicable as possible — especially since the issue wasn’t really addressed by Paul as an adult (he just glossed over it with, “We’ve talked about that before…”)

Rating:

Even though there were many things I disliked about Calico Joe by John Grisham, I didn’t actually hate the book. It was about baseball (which I like) and was oddly engrossing despite the problems listed above. I give this one 3 stars out of 5.

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