Thanks to Publishers Weekly and Amazon.Com, here is a brief synopsis of the novel first:
Using real names and events, Winegardner playfully recounts how in 1946 one quixotic man nearly established a third, fully integrated major baseball league in Mexico. In 1994, the year without a World Series, aging baseball reporter Frank Bullinger Jr. sets out to write about “The Season of Gold” of 1946. Although Bullinger shapes the story, he frequently steps aside for chapters told by others: Theolic “Fireball” Smith, an acerbic black pitcher; Roberto Ortiz, a Cuban power hitter; and the Bronx’s own Danny Gardella, a first-baseman who claims to have “caught” manic depression from a neighborhood kid named Rocco. Together, this Babel of voices tells how wealthy Mexican industrialist Jorge Pasquel offered ridiculous sums of money to American ballplayers willing to jump to the Mexican league.
I found this idea fascinating, because I had never heard about this. It truly based on real events. Danny Gardella was ahead of his time, trying to crack the dreaded “reverse clause” that all teams had on players. (Meaning that they held your rights no matter if you signed a contract with them or not, and you couldn’t play for anyone else unless they traded you to another team.) Obviously 25 years later free agency changed the game.
For me, this was more of a history lesson then reading fiction. But from what I have gone back and read about some of the events, and even the players, Winegardner did his research. However, about two-thirds through it started to bore me. Sure, it was interesting to read about the range of characters that played ball there, using the correct information. But there is only so much you can do with a baseball novel and this idea.
Now, that’s not to say it was a bad novel. For those that enjoy baseball fiction surely won’t be wasting their time reading it. But after reading “The Great American Novel” by Phillip Roth, it just pales a bit. Was it supposed to be serious, or humorous, following the events of this renegade league. At least with Roth’s book you knew it was going to be pure satire. This book had a bit of a hard time finding it’s identity. Though still, an interesting read for the baseball fan in me.