three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
47-July-Aug-2010
By: 
Stephen King
user_rating: 
0

A-Blockade Billy.epsAmerica's best-known and most prolific horror author, Stephen King, is also a lifelong Red Sox fan. The novella Blockade Billy includes a short story, "Morality."

The Story: Baseball wonks love to debate the greatest player of all time, but it turns out that one of the best was mysteriously erased from the record books. William Blakely, or "Blockade Billy," was a last-minute replacement catcher for the New Jersey Titans. Despite low expectations, he hit in nearly every game and developed an uncanny ability to block home plate. But everyone knew from the start that there was something odd about Billy. What dark secret forced his record to be expunged and the Titans to replay every game where he served as catcher? Only the Titans' irascible manager, George "Granny" Grantham, is willing to say.
Scribner. 144 pages. $14.99. ISBN: 978-1451608212

USA Today 4 of 5 Stars
"This is a King story, and it has to have a King ending. ... Short and sweet best describes this novella that shines for many reasons: King's love for baseball, his irresistible storytelling style and the way he effortlessly pitches this story to us in the smoothest baseball lingo." Carol Memmott

Washington Post 4 of 5 Stars
"Funny, sharply observant and casually profane, [Granny Grantham's voice is that] of a quintessential baseball insider who happens to be a natural raconteur. ... King's descriptions of these tough, hard-bitten men and the hardscrabble contests they engaged in add both a dash of nostalgia and a touch of gritty reality to this dark, absorbing portrait of a vanished era." Bill Sheehan

Christian Science Monitor 3.5 of 5 Stars
"King's tale unveils the truth behind a fictitious scandal that rocked Major League Baseball during the 1957 season. ... The baseball sequences move as well as the character sketches, helped by King's preference for Bull Durham-style baseball pragmatism rather than the weepy Field of Dreams nostalgia too often plaguing baseball literary efforts." Erik Spanberg

Los Angeles Times 3 of 5 Stars
"King is not interested in a morality tale. Rather, he's spinning a yarn, a shaggy dog story, with no payoff larger than itself. ... Like all King's work, [Blockade Billy] has momentum, but reading it, ultimately, is like watching a big leaguer sit in with a farm team: interesting, perhaps, but without the giddy excitement, the sheer, explosive sense of possibility, that marks the highest levels of the game." David Ulin

San Francisco Chronicle 3 of 5 Stars
"[Blockade Billy] finds Stephen King in ‘old guy reminiscing' mode. ... While that framing strategy has been used to good effect in Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile and other works, here it seems a little too flat and predictable." Michael Berry

Critical Summary

Reviewers tended to dismiss Blockade Billy when they compared it to the sum of King's oeuvre, but they appreciated the book as a better-than-usual attempt to fictionalize the world of baseball. Readers with a more nostalgic take on the game will particularly enjoy King's evocation of the way it was played in 1957. And baseball-stats wonks will likely salivate over the mystery of what event could be so horrible that the Majors would efface the scorecard for all time. But other readers may wish to start with one of King's classics.