Old Dusty Baseball Book Vault: Jane Leavy's 'Squeeze Play' Plays with the Lines of Fiction and Reality in MLB
By Allison Place
Jane Leavy is a master of moments. Whether it be the moment an improbable perfect game becomes a reality or the moment a monumental story appears, quite literally, before her main character’s eyes, Leavy perfectly conveys anxiety, happiness, fear, whatever the emotion may be.
Picture this: it’s the All-Star game and your team only has one representative. He’s at the plate with the chance to give your league the victory – sure, it’s only the All-Star game, but your team is in the midst of a losing season, and you haven’t seen many of these high-stakes plate appearances. Can you feel the anxiousness, the nervous excitement? Leavy puts that exact feeling into words, transporting her reader to the stadium as, pitch-by-pitch, the game’s fate awaits. My copy is littered with page flags, each marking a different set of lines that made me feel like I was in that press box, in the clubhouse, or even in the game.
Moments aside, Squeeze Play suffers from the same fate I fear my Tigers’ upcoming season will: it drags on entirely too long. Spanning an entire summer, there are bound to be some moments that aren’t really publish-worthy, but seeing as this is written as a diary belonging to sports reporter A.B. Berkowitz, it makes sense for Leavy to include every last one – even if I think that the story as a whole suffers for it. Who am I to make that decision anyways? This isn’t a complete deterrent, though, as you can always count on Squeeze Play to return to hot stove status. It makes sense, then, that a lot of the supporting cast gets lost in the shuffle; after all, we are dealing with an entire 25-man roster and a fully-staffed newsroom.
Prominent players, like the one who has a nickname to match his oft-displayed genitalia or the one who our narrator finds herself fostering an attraction to, are some of the only ones that really feel dimensional. Others read as flat, adding to the confusion I had while reading, like the one who I can think nothing of but the fact that he microwaved a cat (yeah, that happens). Not to mention that while I can name some of A.B.’s colleagues, I couldn’t come close to telling you what they do at the paper. Still, I can see why Allen Barra (in a review for Entertainment Weekly) hailed Squeeze Play as the best baseball novel to ever be written upon its publishing in 1990.
Drawing from her own experience as a sportswriter, Leavy shapes her lead character as witty, smart and undeniably good at what she does. While absurd, these situations are ones that I trust to be rooted in reality, and there are the flashes of racism, sexism and overall machoism that we know to be true in baseball. Leavy doesn’t write a perfect clubhouse and I admire that. At once funny, poignant, exhausting, and incredibly thorough, the newly revived Washington Senators’ season is in capable hands with Leavy’s Berkowitz, delivering scoop after unmatched scoop.
Allison Place is a book-loving baseball fan who likes to combine the two on her twitter, @booksandbalks. She has a blog by the same name that is mostly defunct but may feature the occasional post when inspiration hits, which you can find at booksandbalks.blogspot.com.