New Stories from the Earlier Innings of America's National Pastime
Player-manager Rory Fitzgerald’s 1891 Richmond Elite Professional Baseball Club enjoys an abundance of talent but isn’t the most disciplined team in the league. When U.S. president Benjamin Harrison makes a surprise appearance at a game between Fitzgerald’s club and the pesky Baltimore Schooners, the Elite let bad habits take hold and soon find themselves on the wrong end of a developing rout. Hoping to avert embarrassment in front of the president and his guests, the young manager inserts himself into the lineup.
Fitzgerald indeed gets a hit, a fly ball that easily outdistances anything he has ever batted before. But the dream hit quickly becomes a nightmare. Fickle as ever, fate carries the ball over the right-field wall only to drop it—of all places—squarely on the rump of the snoozing horse hitched to the president’s waiting carriage. And the carriage isn’t empty. Having retired from the grandstand early, the president’s daughter and her companion are sitting in the open coach, while their driver stands on the sidewalk nearby. The startled horse bolts, and everything goes downhill from there.
Before Fitzgerald knows it, his unlikely hit lands him in the middle of a high-stakes contest for public opinion. Stoked by the press, unexpectedly fueled by politics, and heatedly debated by “polite” society, nothing less than the future of professional baseball hangs in the balance.
So, when Fitzgerald’s solution to the conundrum gets him booted from the sport he loves, will anyone in high places go to bat for him?
The year is 1912--the height of what will come to be known as the Deadball Era. Trick pitches and scuffed-up, spit-stained baseballs are not uncommon. The game is played base to base, and aggressive base running is the order of the day. Lots of sliding . . . all too often, cleats high.
In a meaningless late-season game between two bottom-of-the-pack National League teams, talented rookie pitcher Hal Gerecke throws a fastball he will regret as long as he lives. Rube Wannamaker, the popular plate-crowding batter Hal is facing, apparently never catches sight of the incoming pitch and winds up on the ground, unresponsive and bleeding profusely. When Hal refuses to finish the game, his budding Big League career comes to an abrupt end.
News of the debilitating outcome of Hal's pitch breaks quickly, and Rube's more vindictive teammates and fans immediately make Hal their target. In spite of their violent threats, he doesn't flee. Soon, however, concern for the well-being of Rube's young wife prompts him to leave town and return to the menial job he held before making it as a pro.
For a short while, Hal is gone from baseball but by no means forgotten. When a new professional baseball league is established a year later--a league determined to correct some of the more egregious ills of organized baseball--the new league's management eagerly seeks to sign Hal.
With mixed feelings, he agrees to play. Only, as soon as he returns to the diamond, he discovers the lengths to which his unrelenting enemies will go to ruin him or to see him dead.