The book: “The Might Have Been”
The author: Joseph M. Schuster
The vital stats: Ballantine Books (Random House), 352 pages, $25.
The pitch: My first thought here is of Larry Yount (linked here).
The older brother of Hall of Famer Robin Yount, also a Taft High of Woodland Hills grad, has a listing on Baseball-Reference.com that’ll break your heart.
But the only game Larry played in for the Houston Astros in September of 1971 was one that he never played in. And then he never played again.
The Astros trailed the Braves, 4-1, in the top of the ninth at the Astrodome. A Wednesday night. Only 6,513 in attendance. Both teams playing out the string.
Larry Yount, age 21, was called in to pitch. As he warmed up in the bullpen, his elbow stiffened up. The pain got worse as he threw his eight pitches. He called out the trainer. They took him out.
And that was that. He went to spring training the next year, was the last player cut, went to the minors and never came back. His elbow was shot.
“It was a non-event, a glitch that had no factor in what followed,” Yount explained later, without excuse. “I just never quite got the job done.”
Yount is the only pitcher in major league history to appear in one game, since he was officially announced, yet never throw a single pitch, never face a batter, and never play again.
Regrets? Sure, Larry Yount could have had a few. He went on to make millions in real estate, so his life can hardly be ruled a failure. And he’s got a Wikipedia listing (linked here). So there.
(c) Houston Astros, via astrosdaily.com
Larry Yount, far right, with Tom Griffin and Ken Forsch in a 1971 photo
But that “what if” question has to be in the back of his mind, especially having to watch his little brother do what he did. Right?
Edward Everett Yates, age 27, is a bit different, but not so much.
His twist of fate in this novelistic work is the result of a Major League Baseball career cut short by a horrific, Bobby Valentine-like injury he suffered on a muddy Jarry Park outfield when the Cardinals, who had just called him up, were playing the Expos in 1976. He had hit for the cycle already — a triple, single, double and a wind-blown homer — but the game wasn’t official yet. And as it turned out, it wouldn’t be. His only previous at-bat was laying down a sacrifice bunt, while batting for the injured Lou Brock, in a game three weeks earlier.
In our mind, Yates and Yount (that’s Larry, not Robin) are related somehow. Yet it’s just a fictional Cardinal player that Schuster, a former St. Louis sportswriter, creates with all his emotional and physical struggles for his first novel, a project that is said to have taken him nine years to complete.
Schuster’s work with the Society of American Baseball Research led him to do profiles on players as part of their biography project — and some of them were like Yates. They had short stints, derailed by influences beyond their control. Schuster draws from that to form the psyche of one guy, an amalgamation of real players he’s interviewed before, to frame this storyline of split-second changes, making sacrifices and trying to hang on as a minor-league manager. In the end, does he figure it all out?
Yates’ experience can be a far more valuable contribution to the sport, and to their lives, than he would have thought.
An excerpt: From page 29, after Yates tries to pull in a home run in right field but gets his cleats caught in the Jarry Park chain-linked fence, effectively ending his big-league career in a rain-called game, leaving him alone in a Montreal hospital where no one visiting him:
“After he went down in right field and lay on the ground waiting for the gurney to wheel him into the clubhouse, the hail had stung his face and torso. On the gurney, bouncing across the field, the bumps sent shooting pains up and down his leg. By the time he was under cover, in the tunnel from the dugout to the clubhouse, the umpires and players rushing in filled the tunnel with the dense scent of wet polyester and perspiration. They waited two hours, he learned from the newspaper, before the umpires finally called the game one out shy of being official.
“He tried not to think about it, lying in his hospital bed, tried to concentrate on the good that would come later, his chances for next season, but the optimism faced. He was like Moses, the story he remembered from religion class, about sinning so that God did not allow him to enter the Promised Land, only led him up a hill so that he could gaze down upon it before he died. Was that going to be his experience in the major leagues, the only thing he had ever wanted? To spend years bouncing around blacktop roads in an old bus, playing in bandbox parks sometimes in front of a few hundred people …
“He wondered again if any of his team would come to see him. He knew none of them well. Hell, most called him by what he had on the back of his shirt — his name if he was wearing a game jersey, his number if he was wearing a practice one. ‘Hey, sixty-six,’ someone would call if it was his turn to hit in the cage …..
“If he hadn’t broken up with Julie, he thought, she might be someone who would exclaim in delight when she saw him, someone who could comfort him for his injury and not have it be a boy-thing but a man-thing, a man tended to by his woman. Telling himself she wouldn’t want to hear from him and would have no sympathy for him, he nonetheless dialed her number.”
How it goes down in the scorebook: It’s going on the shelf next to Chad Harbach’s “The Art of Fielding,” a novel that came out last summer and hits on some of the same baseball themes. They go hand in glove nicely.
More: A much more thorough review of the book by James Bailey, author of “The Greatest Show on Dirt, which we reviewed yesterday (linked here).