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November
15th 2001
Rotohelp Book Reviews
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Slouching Towards Fargo
Written by Neil Karlen. ©1999. Spike. New York, New York.

by Tim Polko

Everyone has favorite books, the page-turners that you wouldn't put down when first reading, can't stop yourself from recommending to everyone you know, and often revisit when in need of a reassuring presence. From The Bible to Green Eggs & Ham, most people find a particular book to which they keep returning, repeatedly reading that text to rekindle pleasant memories of interesting stories and characters and even gaining additional understanding of passages that previously seemed unimportant or lacking. These new insights often occur after distance separates you from the book, but even when approaching a work for the first time, your relationship to the setting and era of the novel will heavily influence your perspective on it. Old dictionaries and encyclopedias perhaps offer the best examples of texts now displaced in time, many historical volumes can seem equally removed, and the new batch of baseball books that arrives each spring suffers from many of the same problems after a few years pass.

Slouching Towards Fargo, a Rolling Stone writer's journey through the 1996-97 seasons of the Northern League's St. Paul Saints, presents an interesting example of this removed perspective. While all the characters had an interesting season or two, specifically Darryl Strawberry, Mike Veeck, & J.D. Drew, the intervening years gives a depth to the characters that would have been less apparent when the book was first released. Strawberry's since gone through several more of his nine lives, Mike Veeck moved on to Tampa Bay's marketing department before semi-retiring to spend time with a daughter losing her eyesight, and Drew established himself as an All-Star and potential future MVP this season with the Cardinals.

Fantasy players will likely prefer to focus on some of the briefer sections of the book. Veterans should remember overbidding for Jack Morris' pitching consistency, and the reappearance of Hector Villanueva in North American baseball will bring a smile to anyone who ever caught him playing on WGN. Even Steve Howe Did He Keep Coming Back From So Many Suspensions shows up before…well, you can logically guess how his story goes.

Perhaps most interesting was Scott Stewart, best known to some of us for recently popping up in Montreal's pen and stealing a couple late-season saves away from Scott Strickland. Stewart was a brash punk too young to legally drink, trying to salvage his career after releases by both the Rangers and the Twins within the first three months of the 1995 season. His stay with the Saints was relatively uneventful from a baseball perspective, but provided plenty of quote fodder for the book.

"I was pitching [in the Texas organization] and I threw a fastball. The pitching coach then signaled me to throw a curveball that he'd shown me before the game in the bullpen. But I didn't want to. So I threw another fastball. Then the pitching coach signaled one more time for a curve. I don't know why, but I threw the ball at him in the dugout and yelled, 'Take this f***ing curveball and shove it up your ass.' I was released that day."
Stewart also provides some even less politically correct material that the author happily includes among the dozens of more enjoyable and more interesting anecdotes, although he keeps returning to his conversations with Sister Roz Gefre, a nun who gives free massages to fans next to the left field foul line.

Neil Karlen presents us with a flavorful book, although his primary focus remains on himself and his role in the book instead of the baseball-related aspects of the story. His egotism sometimes glosses over the more salient aspects of his narrative, leaving us with an autobiography in the language of Bull Durham. Fargo remains stuck in time while the Saints have changed over the years, leaving us with a book worth reading but nevertheless remaining a minor league telling of a minor league tale.

Please e-mail your comments to tim@rotohelp.com.
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