Boston, 1912. Fenway has just opened, Ty Cobb is a nationwide sensation, and rookie Mickey Rawlings has finally made it to the majors. But just when he sets foot inside the confines of the green monster, his all-star dreams come crashing down—Rawlings is fingered for the monstrous murder of his teammate Red Corriden.
Sure, someone decided to use Red for batting practice. But just because Rawlings has fouled off a lot of balls in his time doesn’t mean the cops have to be as blind as a rookie ump when it comes to his innocence. With no one watching his back, Rawlings has no choice but to switch his baseball cap for a sleuthing hat to clear his name. Otherwise, it’s going to be a short season in the majors and a long one behind bars . . .
“Equal parts baseball and mystery are the perfect proportion.” —Robert Parker
“Soos’ delightful debut, mixing suspense, period detail and such legendary baseball greats as Cobb, Walter Johnson, Smokey Joe Wood and Tris Speaker, is a four-bagger.” —Publishers Weekly
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You've probably never heard of me, but I'm in the Hall of Fame. The Baseball Hall of Fame. The Hall of Fame. Well ... actually I'm in the museum. I was never officially inducted into the shrine like my old teammates Babe Ruth and Cy Young, but I did play big-league baseball and my picture's in Cooperstown to prove it.
I was making my first visit to the quiet lakeside village in upstate New York. It was the last Sunday in July, the day of the annual Hall of Fame ceremonies. As part of the festivities, the Red Sox and the Chicago Cubs were scheduled to play an exhibition game. That's why I was here. As the oldest former member of both clubs, I had been invited to throw out the opening pitch.
About a year and a half ago, some trivia buff went through the record books and found that the oldest ex-major-leaguer was an unheralded utility player named Mickey Rawlings. That's me. Unheralded.
Soon after this momentous discovery, I started getting requests to appear at everything from old-timers games to Little League banquets. I was flattered by the unfamiliar attention, although I didn't quite understand it. As far as I can tell, being the oldest living ex-whatever is not a record of outstanding achievement. There isn't even a question about whether my "record" will be broken — some other codger will inherit my title the minute I kick off.
Anyway, along with the real dignitaries, I sat on a bunting-draped platform in front of the stately Baseball Library. Several thousand folding chairs were neatly arrayed on the sprawling lawn in front of me. They were filled by an eager crowd of baseball pilgrims who came to see the latest additions to the National Pastime's pantheon. The atmosphere felt like baseball: the air clean and crisp, but not chilly; the grass vibrant outfield green; the sky a light shade of Dodger blue, set with a glowing golden sun.
The ceremonies began with the baseball commissioner giving a long speech about tradition. As he spoke of the heroes of the past and the popular stars of the present, the sky seemed to grow darker and the sun dimmer. I slipped into a fretful mood, suddenly aware that I was out of place here. Baseball tradition ... Baseball tradition had skipped over me.
No one remembers seeing me play, no one even recognizes my name — it always has to be followed by the "oldest living player" identification. That description itself seems redundant — does anyone care who the oldest dead player is?
With Hall-of-Famers all around me, I felt conspicuous in the trivial nature of my distinction. I imagined that the crowd noticed it, too, and they seemed to stare at me, silently accusing me of being an imposter. I squirmed in my seat, and twisted slightly to the side, trying in vain to duck out of view. The crowd was right: I didn't belong up here with the game's greatest.
When the commissioner introduced this year's inductees, I realized that I didn't even belong among the fans. I knew almost nothing about the three men whose plaques were being added to the Hall of Fame. They had been stars — excuse me, superstars — in the 1970s, during which decade I watched about five games on television and attended none.
While their thank-you speeches and hackneyed anecdotes droned on, I wondered how baseball and I could have grown apart. For most of my life, horsehide and ash were as much a part of me as skin and bone. Now I found myself estranged from baseball, barely recognizing the game I used to know so intimately. The modern game just isn't the one I remember. New teams are playing indoor baseball in domed stadiums, old teams have moved to new cities. The grass is plastic, the light's electric. Hell, the ball isn't even horsehide anymore, and most of the bats are aluminum....
A barrage of sustained applause shook me out of my grousing and marked the conclusion of the enshrinement rites.
With an hour to go before the exhibition game, I slipped off on my own. I first wandered into the Hall of Fame wing of the main building, skeptically wondering what sort of "fleet-of-foot" runners, "heavy-hitting" batsmen, and "iron-armed" pitchers I would find there.
The high-ceilinged gallery consisted of a rectangular hall with alcoves built along two walls. The room contained no furnishings or exhibits other than the bronze plaques that were displayed on the alcove walls, one tablet for each man voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. The gallery was crowded but quiet: visitors tread softly on the tile floor and spoke in the hushed whispers usually reserved for churches and libraries.
I found myself facing a plaque of Ty Cobb, the first baseball player to be enshrined here. The bronze bas-relief showed a grinning man in a Detroit cap. Many times I had seen Cobb sneer, but I don't think he ever grinned in all his life. The artist who drew him was generous to Cobb in portraying him with such pleasant features — almost as generous as the author who omitted any mention of Ty Cobb's personality in writing the plaque's text.
I moved along, picking out the bronze images of my contemporaries. There was Walter Johnson, the gentle man from Kansas with the simian arms — his smoking fastball brought him more wins than any pitcher in American League history, with over a hundred of them shutouts. And there was Napoleon Lajoie, one of the game's most graceful players and the best second baseman ever.
I continued through the Hall, reading the plaque inscriptions. Some of the more recent ones were far from impressive. Arky Vaughan's: Homered Twice in 1941 All-Star Game. Wow. And Ernie Lombardi, who according to the tablet author suffered from Slowness Afoot. So much for my "fleet-of-foot" expectations.
I next went into the three-story brick structure that housed the Baseball Museum. I felt this was where I belonged, an artifact from another era.
I was pushed along by the crowd into the Modern Baseball room. Baseball kitsch is more like it. The floor was covered with Astroturf; the green crinkly plastic looked like the stuff used to line Easter-egg baskets and made a crunching noise with each footstep that fell on it. The walls were lined with garish uniforms cased in chrome and glass: the Seattle Pilots uniform with gold braid and epaulets, the Chicago White Sox short-pants outfit, the Houston Astros uniform with horizontal stripes of Day-Glo yellow and orange. This wasn't where I belonged.
As soon as I could, I sidled my way out of the crowded room. The nearest exit led to a staircase that I slowly climbed to the third floor. The crowd was much sparser here, and the exhibits much older. Sturdy oak display cases sat in neat rows on quiet, mottled beige carpeting. Fading photographs and browning prints hung on the walls in dark wood frames.
The first display I encountered was a long wall covered with a century of baseball cards. I'd forgotten how far back those cardboard icons went. Sepia studio portraits from the 1880s showed players frozen in carefully set "action" shots, reaching up to catch baseballs hanging from visible strings.
Cards from the turn of the century were in bold primary colors. Some of them seemed strangely familiar to me, and I felt certain that as a boy I had seen them when they were clean and uncreased, fresh from a package of candy or tobacco.
A decade later, the images were pastel-colored drawings of hatless ball players. Some were so crudely sketched and colored that they looked like comic strip characters. I started to play a game of seeing if I could identify a player by his picture before looking for his name at the bottom of the card. I picked out the faces of Tris Speaker, Smoky Joe Wood, and Jake Stahl; when I checked the bottoms of the cards I noticed their formal names were used — Tristram, Joseph, Jacob.
I was batting about .500 in the identification game when I came to a narrow- faced, wide-eyed player with sandy hair. He looked far too young to be in the big leagues. Drawing a blank on him, I glanced down for the name. Michael Rawlings. I looked back at the picture, and startled some bystanders by exclaiming, "Hey! That's me!" The name wasn't quite right — my given name is Mickey, not Michael — but it was me all right. Did I really ever look that young? Below the name was Boston (Am. L.). I was tempted to call everyone in the room over to see my card. I'm in the Hall of Fame!
I continued to scan the other cards, eager to pick out old teammates and friends. Every couple of minutes I'd glance back to check that my own card hadn't vanished.
Most of the prints in this series showed the players' portraits against a solid red background. One had a dark blue setting: Harold Chase, New York (Am. L.) whose rust-red hair required the different backdrop. Another's color scheme made me wince in its similarity to the Houston Astros uniform I had seen downstairs: a head of blazing orange hair was set against a bright yellow background. The face under the hair was even more boyish than the one that appeared on my card. The name read John Corriden. John Corriden ... Red Corriden? Of course it was Red — with that hair color who else could it be?
I thought I had forgotten Red Corriden. But he must have lived on in some corner of my brain, because memories that I hoped were buried in 1912 now came roaring to mind.CHAPTER 2
The Yankee Flyer finally screeched into South Terminal Station at 5:22, three hours and twenty-two minutes after the scheduled start of the Saturday game against Detroit. The train should have brought me to Boston in time for batting practice, but a derailment near Bridgeport voided the timetable.
Because I was so late, a cab seemed more a necessity than an extravagance. I hustled out of the station with a suitcase in one hand and a canvas satchel in the other. I ran up to the first taxi at the cab stand. "Can you take me to Fenway Park?"
The driver stood with one foot on the passenger side running board. His response seemed to come from the black Dublin pipe rooted in his mouth. "Do ye suppose I'm in this business if I can't find Fenway Park, now?" I gave the cabbie a sheepish half smile and threw my bags on the back seat of the dust-spattered Maxwell. While I followed them in, the driver went to the front of the car and turned the starter crank until the engine coughed to life.
As the taxi clattered down Commonwealth Avenue approaching Governors Square, the heavy traffic coming the other way suggested the game had already ended. The cab driver's next question confirmed it. "Now why would ye be heading to the ballpark with the game already over?"
"Well ... the Red Sox just bought my contract — from Harrisburg. I have to report to them today ... to play baseball ... I'm a ball player."
"Are ye now? And what position might ye play?"
A simple enough question, but it threw me for a loss. "Well ... I play just about everywhere ... except pitcher. I've caught a few times ... but I'm not really a catcher. I guess I'll play either outfield or infield someplace."
The cabbie didn't ask any more questions, and I was content to keep my mouth closed. The wheels of the passing carriages and automobiles were churning up dried horse manure into a fine powdery mist that rushed at me through the open cab. The biting spray made talking a distasteful labor and added another layer of filth to the gritty film of soot that had been wafted onto me by the Flyer locomotive. Late, dirty, and smelly — what a way to start a new job.
"Well, here ye are me boy. Good luck to ye."
I paid the driver, hopped out of the taxi, and took my first look at Fenway Park.
Last year I had gotten into fifteen games, the full scope of my major-league career so far, with Boston's National League team, the Braves. Home field was the South End Grounds on Walpole Street. It was a cramped, rickety wooden stadium badly in need of renovation or an extensive fire.
Now I gazed in awe at an enormous new ballpark. Fenway Park had opened just a week before as one of the most modern arenas in baseball. With my eyes fixed on the towering structure, I drifted along the sidewalk, my hurry to get there forgotten.
There was a simple majesty to the ballpark's construction. The crisply new red bricks of the high walls; the graceful beckoning arches over the entrances, each with a gray stone inlay at its crest; and crowning it all, a massive white slab atop the left field wall with FENWAY PARK chiseled on it in clean sharp lines. It looked to be a baseball cathedral.
I finally hoisted my bags and strode purposefully to the main entrance. Even the stragglers had left the park by now. The only person visible was a slender, silver-haired attendant who wore his navy blue uniform with a dignified authority.
Respectfully, I called out, "Excuse me! Could you let me in please?"
The attendant walked to the gate at a deliberate pace and politely declined my request. "I'm sorry. I can't let anybody in here."
"But I have to get in. I have to see the manager. I'm his new —" Again I wished I could have said "shortstop" or "left fielder," but I could only finish the sentence by spitting out, "— ball player."
The attendant glanced down at my bags and appeared to notice the three weathered bat handles sticking out of my satchel. Looking back up, he scrutinized my face and announced, "You're Mickey Rawlings." The tone of his voice suggested that I couldn't possibly be Mickey Rawlings without his say so.
"Yes! Did they tell you I was coming?"
"No, nobody said they were expecting you. I saw you with the Braves last year. In fact, I saw you steal home — last game of the season, I think it was. That took a lot of nerve." With a smile, he added, "I like a ball player who'll take chances."
The attendant unlocked the gate and nodded me in. He pointed down a wide corridor and said, "You'll want to see Jake Stahl. He usually stays late after a game. His office is just off the clubhouse." The attendant explained the way to Stahl's office, but in my excitement I didn't quite follow him. Instead of asking for a repeat, though, I said my thanks and headed in the general direction his finger had pointed.
I continued on the curving corridor until the attendant was out of view. I didn't keep count of the hallways I passed, but I had gone by five or six and I figured it was time to try one. I turned into one of the passages that stretched from the field out to the main perimeter I had just traveled.
Stepping into that passage, I instantly forgot that I was in an immense stadium in the middle of a bustling city. I found myself instead entering a very different atmosphere, as I suddenly faced an inviting picture of simple, natural splendor.
A small glowing rectangle of color at the far end of the corridor captivated my eyes. The inside of the vertical rectangle was filled with a green so vivid that I could smell fresh-mown grass by sight alone. Almost as luminous was a reddish-brown crescent that cut across its lower left corner. The pure perfect colors of a baseball field!
The passageway was in quiet shadow. Its cool whitewashed walls sucked me gently into the tunnel, drawing me to the growing vision of Baseball Heaven at the end.
Soon this field would be part of me — at least parts of this field would soon be on me. I'd be wearing elements of it as badges of honor on my flannels: a streak of bluegrass ground into my chest from a diving attempt to snag a fly ball, cakes of red clay encasing my knees from sliding into second on a stolen base. I already felt myself proudly in uniform, and naturally fell into the distinctive baseball walk, part waddle from the way cleats pull at the feet and part swagger from — just from being a ball player.
I felt that Fenway Park was promising me something: that 1912 was going to be my year.
About halfway into the tunnel, I passed an intersecting corridor and was startled by a noise — a dull thunk — echoing from the passage. The jolting sound brought me back to reality and my need to find Jake Stahl.
"Hello?" I called out, figuring that the noise had to be made by someone, and maybe the someone could direct me to Stahl. Listening for an answer, I quietly started walking into the side corridor. Hearing no response, I called out again, louder, "Hello!" Still no answer.
A hundred feet into the passage, in a recessed doorway, a man was slouched on the floor. The light was so dim that I almost tripped on his outstretched legs. I could make out his general form but not his features.
I shouted, "Are you all right?" and rapidly groped the wall near the doorway with my fingertips. I hit the button of a light switch and a bare bulb suddenly flared, lighting our part of the passage.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Murder at Fenway Park"
Copyright © 1994 Troy Soos.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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