Thursday, April 12, 2012

Calico Joe by John Grisham

The game of baseball has its traditions. Yankee Pinstripes. The Green Monster. The Babe. All conjure images of a game that is as much part of our collective culture as the American Dream. Perhaps that is why baseball is so much a part of our heritage of hope. So many children grow up and see themselves one day playing the game like the pros. Baseball has its vernacular like so many American institutions do. The fastball. The full count. The moon shot. The three bagger. Nicknames run rampant as well. The film The Sandlot captured the heroic nature of the nickname when the boys thought of the Babe Ruth: The Sultan of Swat, The Great Bambino, The Colossus of Clout.

One such player, Joe Castle, added to the nostalgia of baseball by having arguably the greatest rookie start in the history of the game and showed unparalleled promise. Joe Castle emerged as a Chicago Cub in the summer of 1973 and immediately captured the attention of everyone. In just 38 games he hit an astonishing .488, including 21 home runs. He captured most rookie records and had the entire baseball country following him like a road map. Then, with one pitch high and inside, he was knocked out of the game forever.

John Grisham retells this story as a work of fiction from the point of view of the son of the pitcher for the New York Mets who hit Calico Joe. Joe's nickname came from his hometown of Calico Rock, Arkansas, a place that took him back in after his injury and protected him from the media that was so intent on chronicling his fall from potential baseball immortality. The novel explores the troubled relationship of a young boy, Paul Tracey, and his father, Warren Tracey, who the child initially idolized and eventually despised because he knew the truth that he was a womanizer and drunk who hit Calico Joe with the intent of knocking him out of the game perhaps out of jealousy. As his father's health begins to fail, Paul tries to get his father to accept one of the many mistakes he made in his life and apologize to Calico Joe before he loses the opportunity. This is a short novel, quickly read in one day if one so wishes. This is the first Grisham novel I read and plan to get to know his work better.


  1. I loved the book. Yes, I recognized that Grisham adjusted the characters and statistics to fit his plot but he crafted a real inside pitch and four-bagger with this taut, somewhat sappy, novel. Even if you don't know a fastball from a sinker, you can appreciate Grisham's talent

  2. Thanks for the review John. I've been meaning to pick up Calico Joe and read it.