Wild Pitch

Wild Pitch

4.6 10
by Mike Lupica

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This is what happens when a washed-up one-time pitching phenom and all-around jerk gets a second chance-and discovers that none of it is exactly what he expected it to be.

Showtime Charlie Stoddard now occupies himself at card shows, one-night stands, and nearby watering holes. His ex-wife still talks to him, but keeps her distance (about 3,000 miles); his son

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This is what happens when a washed-up one-time pitching phenom and all-around jerk gets a second chance-and discovers that none of it is exactly what he expected it to be.

Showtime Charlie Stoddard now occupies himself at card shows, one-night stands, and nearby watering holes. His ex-wife still talks to him, but keeps her distance (about 3,000 miles); his son won't even do that-all in all, a life filled with peaches and cream. And then a decidedly unorthodox therapist starts working on his arm, and Charlie begins to dream again . . . especially now that the Boston Red Sox have lost two starting pitchers and seen their lead over the Yankees sliced in half. Can Charlie make it back to the bigs? Will he ever convince his ex-wife to take him seriously again? Will his son (the . . . well, never mind who he is-we've got to save something) even acknowledge his existence? Can the Red Sox-dare we say it?-shake off the collective curses of the Bambino, the Buckner, and Bucky-expletive-Dent?

Stay, as they say, tuned, as Lupica unfolds his smartest, most outrageous, most surprising novel yet, a story filled with the glories and absurdities of the national pastime, and further proof that "Lupica's fiction is the funniest thing going" (Orlando Sentinel).

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Editorial Reviews

The best sports fiction so far this year, hands down.
Publishers Weekly
This novel about baseball and all its trappings from Lupica, a nationally syndicated sports columnist as well as author of both fiction and nonfiction books (Bump and Run; Summer of '98), offers a hilarious account of the comeback of Showtime Charlie Stoddard, a pitching phenom for the New York Mets forced into early retirement by a ruined arm. Five years after his final sorry major league appearance, Charlie encounters a mysterious therapist named Chang, whose treatments make his tortured arm feel so good he dreams of pitching again. Charlie, who is 40 going on 16, has an ex-wife, Grace, whom he still loves; a son, also a pitching phenom, who is so estranged he refuses to acknowledge his father's existence; and a shallow life made up of card playing, booze and one-night stands. How Charlie ends up pitching for the Red Sox as they try to hold off the Yankees in a tight pennant race and just possibly shake off the collective curses of the Bambino, Bill Buckner and Bucky Dent, is fast and funny and occasionally brings a tear to the eye as Charlie begins to grow up just a little and sets out to heal old wounds and make a new life for himself. The plot is obvious, the father and son story line is old hat and the happy ending is telegraphed like a hanging curve, but the laughs, the fast pace and insider baseball lore make up for weaknesses. (Sept.) Forecast: Sports fans know Lupica, and those who feel the need to supplement their summer baseball viewing with a fictional fix will find his latest to their liking. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Columnist and sports reporter Mike Lupica hits one out of the park with Wild Pitch, a comeback story that is both touching and hilarious. Showtime Charlie Stoddard used to throw a stinging fastball, but injured his arm. He always blamed the injury on his best friend, but finally deals with the truth that his drinking caused the fall that left him a nobody. Unable to pitch, he buries himself in booze and babes, losing his marriage and his relationship with his son. Then he meets a miracle worker with an attitude, a chiropractor named Chang who fixes him up enough for one last chance at the big time. He finally gets to pitch again with the Boston Red Sox, recovers the former wife who never gave up on him, and patches up things with his son, who has also become a Boston pitcher. Irreverent adult humor, behavior, and language color the story of a man who finally comes out of denial. The baseball background is authentic and the dialogue takes you out to the ballgame with its sass, wit, in-jokes, and wry observations (mostly obscene) about parenting, sports medicine, drinking, chasing skirts, and beating the Yankees. Okay, so you know all along that everything's going to turn out fine, but the journey is the point, and it's a grand ride. KLIATT Codes: A-Recommended for advanced students and adults. 2002, Penguin, Berkley, 332p., Ages 17 to adult.
— Janet Julian

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Product Details

Penguin Group (USA)
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.28(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.21(d)

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The kid was eleven or twelve, somewhere in there, big round glasses taking up about half his face, bangs all the way down to the glasses. Charlie thought the little bastard looked like Harry Potter from hell.

Little Sparky.

Probably the coolest kid in his class at SUV Country Day.

As soon as he opened his mouth, Charlie wanted to shoot him out of a cannon.

"You really used to be somebody, right, dude?" the kid said.


Charlie looked at his watch. Ten minutes to five. That meant ten minutes left in the card show at the Meadowlands Hilton. He was already thinking about which one of his teammates from the '88 Mets wanted to walk out of the tacky ballroom with him and right into the bar on the other side of the lobby and have about nine thousand cocktails before the dinner they were supposed to attend in an upstairs ballroom later, part of the sweetheart deal-or so it seemed at the time, anyway-they'd all signed with the promoter. Meyer Somebody.

After finally meeting the guy the night before, a bridge troll in a pinstriped suit, Charlie thought his last name ought to be Lansky.

That'd been at the reunion party that some highrollers had been allowed to attend, to mingle with Charlie and some of the other colorful bad boys from the team who weren't either missing or still in rehab. How they'd managed to win a hundred games around the parties that year still shocked the shit out of Charlie, all this time later. So they'd had another party to discuss all that, which is why Charlie was so hung over now he felt like something that should have been stuffed and mounted in the Museum of Natural Dead Things.

In the old days, the line on Charlie Stoddard had been that he never missed two things, a start or a party. That's when he'd been Showtime Charlie Stoddard, because he was supposed to have been the only thing in sports faster than Magic Johnson's Showtime Lakers. When he'd won twenty the first time, on his way to what everybody was sure were going to be three hundred wins before he was through, a sportswriter from the Daily News had said to him one day, "You're on your way to Cooperstown, kid."

"Great," Charlie said to the guy. "They got girls there?"

He was always such a clever bastard.

He didn't feel clever now. Just tired. Tired of signing his name, tired of smiling, tired of bullshitting with these people who'd paid whatever they'd paid and waited patiently in the lines so that Charlie and everybody else at the tables would keep signing and smiling and bullshitting. Only now here was the little ball-buster with his autograph book and his blue Sharpie and his program and his blue shirt with the L.L. Bean logo on the pocket and his pressed khaki slacks, squinting at CHARLIE STODDARD on the nameplate facing him.

Charlie thought: I'd rather be behind in the count to Sammy Fucking Sosa.

"My dad says he remembers you and the rest of these guys," the kid said. "I wasn't born."

"Wish I hadn't been," Charlie said under his breath, turning his head as he did, toward where Kurt Taveras, the old Mets third baseman, had been sitting before he'd gone out for a cigarette about half an hour ago and never come back.

"What?" the kid said.


"So, like, how big were you? In the old days."

Charlie said, "What?"

"Well, the program says you were 20-3 in 1988. So you must have been pretty good. And you were only twenty-five years old according to the program. But you were gone by the time I started following baseball. So I was sort of wondering what happened to you. You know, after."

Charlie had been sitting here all day between Taveras and Lenny Dykstra, signing what they put in front of him to sign, listening while the grownups in the line told them where they were sitting the night Dwight Gooden gave up that home run to Mike Scioscia of the Dodgers in Game 4 of the championship series, the night the Mets should have put the bastards away, and how sorry they were about what happened to Charlie later in the game, and what happened to the '88 Mets after that, not making it to the World Series after winning a hundred games, then the Mets not even making it back into the playoffs until the end of what Charlie had started to think of as the goddamn 20th century.

Jesus, they always wanted to tell you where they were when shit happened in sports.

Now Charlie wanted to be anywhere on the planet except here, at the end of the Meyer Lansky All-Star Card Show, with Little Sparky staring him down, acting like he wanted to bring him to school tomorrow for show-and-tell.

The kid said, "Were you better than Doc?"


"That year I was."

"That's what I mean. How come I've heard of him, but not you?"

"Most of those other guys kept going. Doc came back and pitched a no-hitter for the Yankees later. I got hurt in the last game I pitched in '88, Game Four of the League Championship Series, and I was never the same after that, because once you lose the arm, it's gone, goodbye, like Ralph Kiner used to say. And if I tell you any more than that, I'm going to have to charge you my speaking fee."



Charlie looked at his watch again. Five minutes to five.

"Were you better than Orel Hershiser? He won the Cy Young that year."

"You're shitting me? Was that in the papers?"

"You're not supposed to swear, dude, it's in the program."

Dude again.

"Sorry," Charlie said. "I lost my head."

"Were you?"

"Was I what?"

"Better than Hershiser."

"Nobody was in '88. You must have a Baseball Encyclopedia, right? Why don't you turn off PlayStation or Nintendo or whatever else Dad's got you hooked up with in the rec room and read it once in a while? Hershiser had one of the great years in the history of pitching. Broke the record for consecutive shutout innings, carried the Dodgers all year and then got better in the playoffs. If Gibson hadn't hit that home run on one leg in Game One, people'd remember Hershiser winning the World Series by himself. Yeah, he won the Cy Young. I finished second."

"You don't have to shout."

"Sorry, I thought I was a sportscaster for a second."

The kid tried to look tough now, like he was facing some other Little Sparky down on the playground back home in Yuppie-ville. "They said you were in a bad mood."

"Busted," Charlie said. "I am in a bad mood. You want to know the truth? I'm in a bad mood even when I'm in a good mood. Who blew my cover for you? That candy-ass Carter?"

The kid looked nervously down the row at the other Mets. "Actually, they all did."

Charlie grinned now. It was the grin he used to give to the girls behind the dugout when he'd come off after striking out the side. Maybe if he acted nice, he could get rid of the kid and get his hands on the cold beer he wanted even more right now than Rebecca from the front desk, who'd come by three times during the afternoon to see if he needed anything and to remind him, had she mentioned this before, that she got off at five, same time as the show ended, how funny was that?

"I might have something I want you to sign," Rebecca from the front desk had said the last time she'd stopped by the table.

"Listen," Charlie said now. "I'm just playing with you, kid. You want me to sign your book?"


The kid made a face, as if somebody were nagging on him to eat something green on the plate in front of him, and opened his autograph book and reluctantly slid it in front of Charlie. Charlie signed and pushed it back.

The kid looked at Charlie's scrawl, then back at him, eyes wide behind the big glasses.

"'Charlie (Big Dick) Stoddard'?" he said.

"I just wanted to make sure your momma remembered me," Charlie said.

He got up then and went to the bar.

—from Wild Pitch by Mike Lupica, Copyright © September 2002, The Putnam Publishing Group, a member of Penguin Putnam, Inc., used by permission.

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