2 out of 4 stars
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When Everyone Loved the Game is a work of fiction about baseball by Jim Shawn. The author describes the book as ‘A simple story, about a complicated game in a simpler time.’ The actual time of the story is never specified. The author wants his tale to exist in the decades when baseball was the top sport in the United States, rather than tying it down to any particular year.
This is a short novel of just over one hundred pages. Major-League baseball team Chicago Cubs are at the tail-end of their season with a real prospect of winning the National League East Division championship for the first time in their history. The story opens during a match against the Cardinals. If the Cubs win this, they are champions, otherwise, they must face the Cincinnati Reds in a winner-takes-all match in two days’ time. The game against the Cardinals is not going well for veteran pitcher Henry ‘Fast Ball’ Harvey. He is eventually removed from play by his coach and good friend Russ Freeman. The Cubs lose the match and head back to Chicago to prepare for their play-off match against the Reds.
Disappointed by the defeat and by the news he receives from Freeman after the game, Harvey decides to hire a car and drive home rather than take the plane with the rest of the team. He is joined in the car by teammates ‘Hooks’ Harrison and ‘Tonic’ Tisdale. The journey home takes a strange turn when they switch on the radio in the car and hear a breaking news story. It is a turn of events that may have serious consequences, not least for the championship aspirations of the Chicago Cubs.
This book’s strongest quality is its ability to evoke a time when baseball was a common bond shared by many. There are several scenes in which families, friends, and neighbors gather in homes or in bars to watch the game. It is a bond that unites both spectators and players. At one point, the three professional baseball players on their way home make a stop to watch a Little-League game. They may have combined incomes in the millions of dollars, the author seems to be saying, but they still get a kick from sitting down to eat hot dogs and watch kids in a small town playing baseball. This is something that goes beyond a shared interest in a particular sport. The author seems to be lamenting the loss of shared values too. He points out that this is a time when the national anthem before the game is treated as an important event because, he notes, in many communities ‘the lines separating love for country and love for the national pastime were blurred.’ The two elements come together in the Little-League Pledge, with its talk of trust in God, love of country, and respect for the law. Hearing it read out, Fast Ball Harvey wonders ‘when someone would file a lawsuit asking the U.S. Supreme Court to ban the pledge from the game.’
Aside from that aspect, there is little else going on in this novel. The story itself is a very simple one and revolves around a baseball game. The characters in the book are identified not so much by their personality as by their role in the world of baseball: the pitcher, the manager, the play-by-play radio announcer, the owner, the wife, and so on. There is no character development because the characters are not that important; baseball is the hero of this book. At some points, for page after page, the narrative is told through the commentator’s play-by-play account of the game. I suspect that even diehard baseball fans will find this tedious.
I am giving this novel 2 out of 4 stars. I am deducting stars because I think that the book’s appeal is very limited. On a positive note, the story can be read by anyone, as there are no swear words at all, not even of the mild variety. There are also no sexual references. The book has been professionally edited and I found only a couple of minor mistakes.
When Everyone Loved the Game
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