“The Greatest Game Ever” by Kevin King
Baseball, Fiction, Cardinals, Negro Leagues
March 6, 2012
4 of 5 stars (very good)
Major league baseball players, especially some of the more well-known players of that era, used to go on barnstorming tours after the season ended to promote the sport and more importantly, to earn extra money before they had to take another job during the off-season. This short book by Kevin King (which was the basis of his full length novel “All the Stars Came Out That Night”) tells of a fictional barnstorming game between many members of the 1934 St. Louis Cardinals, otherwise known as the “Gashouse Gang”, (with a few ringers) facing off against the best players in the Negro Leagues.
The fictional story is told by Walter Winchell, who had to swear to keep the game secret to his grave. The idea was hatched by a bet between the two pitchers of that game, Dizzy Dean of the Cardinals and Sachel Paige of the Negro Leagues. The rosters for both teams include some of the greatest names in the game – Pepper Martin, Ernie Lombardi, Babe Ruth, Shoeless Joe Jackson and a rookie named Joe DiMaggio for the Cardinals/white team. In addition to Paige, the Negro League roster included Oscar Charleston, Cool Papa Bell, Josh Gibson, and Buck O’Neil.
The game was played in Fenway Park, using portable lights as lights had not been installed at Fenway in 1934. The Cardinals/white team was bankrolled by Henry Ford and Judge Keenesaw Mountain Landis was also a spectator, although he plays a different role by mid-game. Aside from a couple other of Ford’s men, the game is played to an empty stadium.
The game action is terrific to read as it is realistically portrays each player’s strengths and character. The dialogue is fun to read as well, especially in the beginning when Dean and Paige are talking trash to one another to make the bet. The ending, while not one in which the reader will definitively know which team wins, is satisfying and frankly, the only way that a story like this should end.
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