Slouching Toward Fargo: A Two-Year Saga of Sinners and St. Paul Saints at the Bottom of the Bush Leagues with Bill Murray, Darryl Strawberry, Dakota Sadie and Me

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In Slouching Toward Fargo, author Neal Karlen describes his two-year journey with the St. Paul Saints—the most audacious bushleague ballclub ever to plumb the bottom of the pro sports barrel. Coowned by comedian Bill Murray and run by Mike Veeck—son of the infamous sports promoter Bill Veeck—this motley collection of mutts, hopefuls, and has-beens has become a national phenomenon for playing with as much gusto off the field as on ... while proudly adhering to the timeless sports credo that it takes heart, skill, ...

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Overview

In Slouching Toward Fargo, author Neal Karlen describes his two-year journey with the St. Paul Saints—the most audacious bushleague ballclub ever to plumb the bottom of the pro sports barrel. Coowned by comedian Bill Murray and run by Mike Veeck—son of the infamous sports promoter Bill Veeck—this motley collection of mutts, hopefuls, and has-beens has become a national phenomenon for playing with as much gusto off the field as on ... while proudly adhering to the timeless sports credo that it takes heart, skill, and cheap theatrics to plant devoted butts in stadium seats. This is where Darryl Strawberry was rehabilitated (the first time) and began his long comeback climb to the Majors. Jack Morris—once baseball's winningest pitcher and biggest s.o.b.—joined the team only to vanish without a trace. Baseball's first female player, Ila Borders, made history on the mound of the Saints' ever-sold-out Midway Stadium. And St. Louis Cardinals phenom, J.D. Drew, played here for $300 a month while holding out for Major League millions. Here is the true story of one championship season and one complete collapse; a tale told with high spirits and genuine affection of frantic fans and baseball Annies, a back-rubbing nun, a blind sportscaster, and a 300-pound pig ballboy; a glorious celebration of the boys who still play the game for the best of reasons: SO THEY CAN GET CHICKS.In this era of spoiled millionaire athletes and Big Business baseball, the spirit of the Game is alive and well—-if a bit deranged—-in America's heartland.

In SLOUCHING TOWARD FARGO, author Neal Karlen describes his two-year journey with the St. PaulSaints—-the most audacious bush-league ballclub ever to plumb the bottom of the pro sports barrel. Co-owned by comedian Bill Murray and run by Mike Veeck—-son of the infamous sports promoter Bill Veeck—-this motley collection of mutts, hopefuls, and has-beens has become a national phenomenon for playing with as much gusto off the field as on...while proudly adhering to the timeless sports credo that it takes heart, skill, and cheap theatrics to plant devoted butts in stadium seats. This is where Darryl Strawberry was rehabilitated (the first time) and began his long come-back climb to the Majors. Jack Morris—-once baseball's winningest pitcher and biggest s.o.b.—-joined the team only to vanish without a trace. Baseball's first female player, Ila Borders, made history on the mound of the Saints' ever-sold-out Midway Stadium. And St. Louis Cardinals phenom, J.D. Drew, played here for $300 a month while holding out for Major League millions. Here is the true story of one championship season and one complete collapse; a tale told with high spirits and genuine affection of frantic fans and baseball Annies, a back-rubbing nun, a blind sportscaster, and 300-pound pig ballboy; a glorious celebration of the boys who still play the game for the best of reasons: SO THEY CAN GET CHICKS.

Author Biography: Neal Karlen is a veteran freelance writer whose work now most often appears in New York Times. He was also a staff scribe at Newsweek (which was cool) and a contributing Editor at Rolling Stone (which, surprisingly, was not.) The author of Babes in Toyland: The Making and Selling of a Rock and Roll Band, he is no stranger to traveling with his subjects for years on end in order to write about them. Mr. Karlen lives in his hometown of Minneapolis, Minnesota, but his spirit resides in St. Paul.

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Editorial Reviews

Sports Illustrated
A fun-is-good book...[with] enough oddballs to make Alice's Adventures in Wonderland seem like a straightforward account of a schoolgirl's visit to a theme park.
Philip Lopate
Hilarious, insightful, touching, informative...vivid characters and ironic redemptions. Karlen is simply one of the best, most sophisticated, and literate practitioners of journalism we have...I loved every page of this book.
Rocky Mountain News
Two things make it great: characters and story line. The tale is rendered in hilarious fashion, mixing plenty of baseball with plenty of laughs.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780380792153
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 3/28/2000
  • Pages: 384
  • Product dimensions: 5.25 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.86 (d)

Meet the Author

Neal Karlen was speaking Yiddish at home well before he was a staff writer at Newsweek and Rolling Stone. A regular contributor to the New York Times, he has studied Yiddish at Brown University, New York's Inlingua Institute, and the University of Minnesota's Graduate School of Journalism, where he teaches nonfiction writing.

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Read an Excerpt

Introduction:
The Redemption of Cigarette Boy

But he redeemed his vices with virtue. There was ever more in him to be praised than to be pardoned.

--Ben Jonson, Timber, or, Discoveries Made upon Men and Matter

July 3, 1996

Bill Murray, a cultural icon in flight from his own fame, paces in the St. Paul Saints' dugout as Darryl Strawberry picks up his bat a few feet down the bend. "Gimme a jack, meat!" Murray yells to Strawberry, ordering his most infamously disgraced player to hit a home run.

"Okay, Meat!" Strawberry yells back, laughing as he heads to the on-deck circle in St. Paul's bandbox Midway Stadium. "You sign my paycheck, you the man."

Murray, the team's co-owner who has been variously listed as their official "czar" and "team psychologist," claps his hands as Strawberry is announced to the home crowd. The movie star then turns to his own two young boys, who are sitting next to him on the bench, and directs them to pay close attention to Darryl's magic swing.

It's early July, and another Saints sellout of 6,329 responds to the sight of Strawberry with one more standing ovation for the phoenix who -- for $1,250 a month -- has spiritually risen here in the ash can of the bush leagues. Over the summer in St. Paul, the most notorious felon and drug abuser in major league history has become the patron saint of lost causes and last chances.

It was a perfect fit between player and fans. For St. Paul, a depressed industrial town on the Mississippi, had been in a psychic and economic spiral roughly since the day in 1958 when the Dodgers abandoned Brooklyn for Los Angeles and their owner, thesatanic Walter O'Malley, discarded the original St. Paul Saints, one of their top farm dubs at the time.

Those Saints had also been a kind of social barometer. When the Dodgers signed the great catcher Roy Campanella from the Negro Leagues in 1948, they first sent him to St. Paul. Campy smashed a double with his first swing as a Saint and was so overjoyed that he stuck out his arm to shake the umpire's hand. The ump, instead, turned his back and walked away.

But the old Saints were as much about weirdness and taking chances as today's Saints. In 1937, the Saints' Bill Norman fainted in left field while chasing a fly ball (he swallowed his chewing tobacco). In 1954, the Saints' Jack Cassini tried to steal home four times in one game (he was thrown out on each attempt). But by 1960, those Saints were dead and the city, it seemed, was in decline.

"This town needs this team," Bill Murray says thirty-six years later, "and this team needs St. Paul."

Though Pauline Kael called him the master of "transcendent slapstick," Murray, like Strawberry, is largely reviled in the New York and Hollywood celebrity communities for turning away from the Ghostbusters -- like roles that had made him the number-one box office star of the mid-1980s. But now, hanging with his team, Murray looks far happier than bicoastal gossip columnists, who have long painted him as a bitter and crabby ingrate, have indicated.

"The Saints can't do anything about all of Darryl's problems," Murray says as Strawberry sets up at the plate. "All we can do is give him a place to play again when no one else will have him. He's here for one last chance to make baseball fun again for himself, the way it was before he was Darryl Strawberry."

Murray grows suddenly silent. This baseball park is also one of the few spots where Bill Murray can be the way he was before he was Bill Murray.

"I come here to get away from the pressure," Murray says. "When I'm in the dugout, or selling beer in the bleachers, or coaching first base, there's nothing but the pressure of the game. That's real and honest pressure."

Strawberry takes two called strikes. And then, from behind home plate, comes the Foghorn Leghorn baritone of a drunken, obese redneck wearing the colors of the Saints' archenemies, the FargoMoorhead RedHawks. "Hey, Darryl!" the yahoo screeches, the entire ballpark within earshot. "Where can a white guy get some coke on a Saturday night in St. Paul?"

Strawberry slowly, sadly, shakes his head twice before lifting the next pitch 463 feet to the opposite field, over Sister Rosalind "Sister Roz" Gefre, the seventy-four-year-old Benedictine nun who gives massages in the grandstand, over Jack "the Bastard" Morris warming up in the Saints' bullpen, over the Mother's Strawberry Schnapps billboard behind the warning track, over a train choogling past and blowing its horn on the railroad tracks that run just four feet beyond tiny Midway Stadium's outfield wall.

Saints flood out of the dugout to high-five the jubilant Strawberry, who looks for Murray in the scrum. "There's your jack, meat," he says. I want a raise."

Murray got his jack during his first weekend that season with his Saints. I'd been monitoring his meandering progress to St. Paul all summer, not an easy task for that rare celebrity like Murray with no publicist or home base. I was quizzing him on assignment from Rolling Stone -- with a far different attitude toward my subject than I have now.

Jann Wenner, the publisher and founding editor of Rolling Stone, my boss and tormentor for four years in the wild eighties, still had to approve every assignment and expense account along the way.

And later that July, Wenner made it dear to my beleaguered editor what he wanted done if I wanted back into Rolling Stone after a long stint as a prodigal: Bill Murray, a co-owner of the St. Paul Saints, and Darryl Strawberry, he of the notable rap sheet, had to be carved.

Wenner -- word had it in the Rolling Stone hallways during the years I wrote for them -- had never forgiven Murray for his starring role as Dr. Hunter S. Thompson in Where the Buffalo Roam, a 1980 cult classic wherein a thinly-veiled Jann Wenner, played with a padded butt by Bruno Kirby, was hilariously and accurately savaged and ridiculed by Murray as a cheap corporate bastard who wouldn't pay his writers their expense money. Earlier in the summer, Murray had further enraged Rolling Stone by refusing to set up an all-day studio shoot with a fancy New York photographer for the article I was writing.

Slouching Toward Fargo. Copyright © by Neal Karlen. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 5, 2002

    What a fun baseball book

    Just a wonderful book whether or not you like baseball. Reminded me of a modern version of 'The Boys of Summer'. The author wrote for Rolling Stone and loves Bill Murray. Lots of interesting chracters in and out of baseball. Quick read.

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