This is an insider baseball book, and this is the perfect month for baseball fans to read The Entitled. Since the World Series, fans have survived on the methadone of football. Now that the Super Bowl is over, there is nothing.
Listeners to National Public Radio know Frank Deford best as a sports commentator on Morning Edition. He is in fact THE sports commentator in the United States, having written for Sports Illustrated since 1963. Deford has won all the prizes and been voted Sportswriter of the Year six times by his peers.
What listeners may not know is that Deford, a Princeton graduate, is also the author of fifteen books, both nonfiction and novels. His biography of his daughter Alex, who died at eight of cystic fibrosis, was made into a movie as was his novel Everybody's All-American, which tells the story of Gavin Grey, a star halfback for UNC in the fifties who, like Tom Buchanan in The Great Gatsby, "was one of those men who reach such an acute limited excellence at twenty-one that everything afterward savors of anticlimax."
Deford's latest novel, The Entitled, set about 2006, is a tale of contemporary baseball.
The central figure is Jay Alcazar, handsome, 28 years old, a superb athlete, indeed a phenomenon. An outfielder with the Cleveland Indians, Alcazar, an upper-class, Cuban-American Episcopalian, is a slugger superstar.
But this is not a novel about the plague of steroids in America's best game. Alcazar is clean on that score. However, like a huge number of professional athletes in this country, he is a bumbling ignoramus when it comes to women. Alcazar and his teammates, and his colleagues in football, basketball, and hockey, have had females at their disposal since high school. Groupies haunt the hotels where the teams stay, cluster outside the stadiums, waiting. Since women have always thrown themselves at these rich, world-class athletes, the men know next to nothing about conversation, courtship, relationships, the subtler points of human interaction. Misunderstandings occur. The men assume. They feel, as the title tells us, entitled. And so it comes as no big surprise when Alcazar is accused of rape.
A good deal of this novel concerns whether he is legally and/or ethically guilty of this terrible crime. He is certainly guilty of stupidity.
Alcazar's manager, Howie Traveler, is the other major figure in The Entitled. Sixty-ish, Howie is a savvy old-timer who has been in the game all his life, minor leagues and majors. Through Howie, Deford lets the reader inside the locker room. Who knew, for example, that black and white players, who speak English and have a somewhat shared culture and experience, feel closer to one another since the number of Hispanics has increased dramatically? Who knew that a wise manager would not room a player from the Dominican Republic with a player from Puerto Rico? To make a manager's life interesting, there are also Mexicans, Central Americans, other Caribbeans, and some South Americans. In The Entitled, there are no Japanese stars. Deford already had his hands full.
Traveler must also worry about his star player. Being accused of rape has affected Alcazar's concentration. His hitting and fielding suffer. But he has even more on his mind, as Howie Traveler learns. Alcazar learns that his biological mother is actually still alive in Cuba and he determines to rescue her. But she won't leave. Yes, she knows the Castro regime will end soon anyway. That's the point, she says. "I want to be here when he dies."
This is an insider baseball book, and this is the perfect month for baseball fans to read The Entitled. Since the World Series, fans have survived on the methadone of football. Now that the Super Bowl is over, there is nothing. Pitchers and catchers are reporting to Florida. Soon spring training will be under way. While we are holding on until April first, we can read about baseball and see the fine movies. And this book, like other splendid baseball books?The Natural, by Bernard Malamud, and Bang the Drum Slowly, by Mark Harris?will make a fine movie.