01 August 2010

Book Review: "Squeeze Play" by Jane Leavy

"You see a lot of penises in my line of work: short ones, stubby ones, hard ones, soft ones. Circumcised and uncircumcised; laid-back and athletic. Professionally speaking, they have a lot in common, which is to say they are all attached to guys, most of whom are naked while I am not, thus forming the odd dynamic of our relationship. They are athletes who believe in the inalienable right to scratch their balls anytime they want. I am a sportswriter. My job is to tell you the score."

That's one hell of an introductory paragraph. Jane Leavy's Squeeze Play, first published in 1990, is a raunchy, shocking, and altogether entertaining novel about baseball's heroes in the flesh, both literally and figuratively.

The feisty A.B. Berkowitz is our protagonist, a 5'1'' woman sportswriter assigned to cover the larger-than-life 1989 Washington Senators expansion team, a group of misfits destined for a season of historical notoriety and ineptitude. Leavy, a former sportswriter herself, presents the story in diary form, with Berkowitz offering glimpses into her life as she spends the season dealing with the adversity that comes with being a woman in the locker room, as well as coming to the realization that the baseball she loved from afar isn't quite the same thing up close.

Squeeze Play
works so well because of a truly colorful cast of characters who are like walking, talking amusement park caricatures. There's a foul-mouthed manager, the zany holier-than-thou televangelist team owner, two jive black outfielders, and the self-absorbed masher known simply as "Stick," a moniker that doesn't just refer to his baseball bat.

Berkowitz also befriends the legendary Rump Doubleday, the beleaguered Senators catcher whose star has significantly dimmed at the end of a Hall of Fame career. Her time with Rump really works to support the core idea of the novel, that despite the fact that they are put upon a hero's pedestal, ballplayers are still humans and inherently imperfect.

Squeeze Play reminds me of Jim Bouton's Ball Four with all the stories of locker room hijinks (many inspired by true events), but it offers a sense of compassion and empathy for the ballplayer character that perhaps could only come from the girl who, though she was trying to be one of the guys, could not suppress her womanly understanding and grace.

Leavy's wit is perfectly dry and her characters manage to be over-the-top in a believable way. Though I was able to spot some of the twists and turns in the plot from a mile away, I was completely intoxicated by the way Leavy makes a long and grueling 162-game season exciting and fresh throughout. Squeeze Play is one of the best sports novels I have ever read and I recommend it to anyone who loves behind-the-scenes baseball or raunchy-but-sentimental stories

Squeeze Play is a great baseball novel that will undoubtedly bring a smile to your face as you try and anticipate what kind of pitch Leavy throws next.

Find Squeeze Play on Amazon.

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