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The Heavenly World Series (2002)
Somehow it seems entirely appropriate that the baseball fiction of Frank O'Rourke--the realism of which benefited from the insight he gained when he practiced with the Philadelphia Phillies during Spring Training in 1949--should be populated by thinly veiled characters from baseball history. It's kind of a case of life imitating art imitating life...or vice versa. At any rate, these 18 short stories are wonderful in themselves, filled with small town prospects looking for that one big break and veterans on the back sides of their careers, looking for just one more moment of magic. But there's an added pleasure when we realize that the aged pitcher Grover Bell, in The Last Pitch, is based on the immortal Grover Cleveland Alexander, or that Dane Bjorland, in Flashing Spikes, is modeled after the notorious shortstop of the Black Sox, Swede Risberg. And in the centerpiece of the collection, The Heavenly World Series, Mr. O'Rourke brings many of the great departed players back to life (sort of) for a match up in the great beyond to determine, once and for all, whether the Nationals or the Americans have the better League. With John McGraw managing the National League and Miller Huggins commanding the American and Bill Klem umpiring--the only ump to make it to Heaven--even the Lord wonders if this is a good idea.
Now, I'm a pretty big baseball fan and a lover of baseball writing, and I've got to admit I hadn't heard of Mr. O'Rourke until this book. I was so surprised at that, upon discovering the quality of the writing here that I checked my three volumes of the Fireside Books of Baseball and there's not a single one of his stories anthologized there. One of the more intriguing things I found was that there was a TV-movie version of Flashing Spikes directed by John Ford and starring James Stewart and Jack Warden, with cameos by Vin Scully and Harry Caray, Jr. What wouldn't you give to see that one?--but it looks to be out of print. Most of Mr. O'Rourke's novels appear to have been Westerns, but of course the Western has mostly had its day. So the legacy of Mr. O'Rourke would appear to have been at a low ebb, but, thankfully, his widow and the folks at Carroll & Graf have put together this superb collection and hopefully it will serve to resurrect his reputation. His baseball stories deserve to be remembered, read, and enjoyed.
See also:Sports (Baseball)
-INVENTORY OF THE FRANK O'ROURKE PAPERS
-Frank O'Rourke (Guide to Baseball Fiction)
-REVIEW : of The Heavenly World Series (Bill Littlefield, Only a Game)
-REVIEW : of The Heavenly World Series (Ron Kaplan, Bookreporter.com)
-REVIEW : of The Heavenly World Series (Tim Morris, Baseball Spot)
-REVIEW : of Violence at Sundown by Frank O'Rourke (Conan Tigard, Book Browser)