Cover image for Wild pitch
Wild pitch
Lupica, Mike.
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Publication Information:
New York : G.P. Putnam's Sons, [2002]

Physical Description:
352 pages ; 24 cm
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This is what happens when a washed-up one-time pitching phenom and all-around jerk gets a second chance-and discovers that none of it is exactly what he expected it to be. Showtime Charlie Stoddard now occupies himself at card shows, one-night stands, and nearby watering holes. His ex-wife still talks to him, but keeps her distance (about 3,000 miles); his son won't even do that-all in all, a life filled with peaches and cream. And then a decidedly unorthodox therapist starts working on his arm, and Charlie begins to dream again . . . especially now that the Boston Red Sox have lost two starting pitchers and seen their lead over the Yankees sliced in half. Can Charlie make it back to the bigs? Will he ever convince his ex-wife to take him seriously again? Will his son (the . . . well, never mind who he is-we've got to save something) even acknowledge his existence? Can the Red Sox-dare we say it?-shake off the collective curses of the Bambino, the Buckner, and Bucky-expletive-Dent? Stay, as they say, tuned, as Lupica unfolds his smartest, most outrageous, most surprising novel yet, a story filled with the glories and absurdities of the national pastime, and further proof that "Lupica's fiction is the funniest thing going" (Orlando Sentinel).

Author Notes

Michael Lupica (born on May 11, 1952 in Oneida, New York) is an American newspaper columnist. At the age of 23, Lupica began his newspaper career covering the New York Knicks for the New York Post. In 1977, he became the youngest columnist ever at a New York newspaper when he started working for the New York Daily News. He has also written for numerous magazines during his career including Golf Digest, Playboy, Sports Illustrated, ESPN: The Magazine, Men's Journal and Parade. In 2003, he received the Jim Murray Award from the National Football Foundation. He has been a television anchor for ESPN's The Sports Reporters and hosted his own program The Mike Lupica Show on ESPN2.

Lupica has written both fiction and non-fiction books. His novels include Dead Air; Limited Partner; Jump; Full Court Press; Red Zone; Too Far; Wild Pitch; and Bump and Run. He also writes the Mike Lupica's Comeback Kids series. He co-wrote autobiographies with Reggie Jackson and Bill Parcells and collaborated with William Goldman on Wait Till Next Year. His other non-fiction works include The Summer of '98; Mad as Hell: How Sports Got Away from the Fans and How We Get It Back; and Shooting from the Lip.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

The kid at the baseball card show always asks, "Didn't you used to be somebody?" Charlie Stoddard always answers yes, he used to pitch for the Mets, even had a couple of 20-win seasons. That's when the shoulder went. Now, he's 40 years old, drinks too much, sleeps with women who are turned on by a whiff of fame, and longs to get back in the baseball life. After an evening of sexual gymnastics, his back spasms, and his partner sends him to an unorthodox therapist who unknots his back and also breaks loose the scar tissue in his pitching shoulder. Charlie decides to try a little semipro ball and finds some of the magic he had when he used to be somebody. His old catcher, Ted Hartnett, is managing the Red Sox in the midst of a pennant battle with the hated Yankees. When two of the Sox starting pitchers are injured, he gives Stoddard a chance. The result is a fantasy that will remind readers of the Ray Milland film classic, It Happens Every Spring. Lupica, a columnist for the New York Daily News and author of 13 books, captures both the insanity that passes for sport these days and the appeal that baseball still has for the eternal child who lives within every fan. It's also about forgiveness, redemption, and growing up, even at 40. It's also very funny. The best sports fiction so far this year, hands down. --Wes Lukowsky

Publisher's Weekly Review

This novel about baseball and all its trappings from Lupica, a nationally syndicated sports columnist as well as author of both fiction and nonfiction books (Bump and Run; Summer of '98), offers a hilarious account of the comeback of Showtime Charlie Stoddard, a pitching phenom for the New York Mets forced into early retirement by a ruined arm. Five years after his final sorry major league appearance, Charlie encounters a mysterious therapist named Chang, whose treatments make his tortured arm feel so good he dreams of pitching again. Charlie, who is 40 going on 16, has an ex-wife, Grace, whom he still loves; a son, also a pitching phenom, who is so estranged he refuses to acknowledge his father's existence; and a shallow life made up of card playing, booze and one-night stands. How Charlie ends up pitching for the Red Sox as they try to hold off the Yankees in a tight pennant race and just possibly shake off the collective curses of the Bambino, Bill Buckner and Bucky Dent, is fast and funny and occasionally brings a tear to the eye as Charlie begins to grow up just a little and sets out to heal old wounds and make a new life for himself. The plot is obvious, the father and son story line is old hat and the happy ending is telegraphed like a hanging curve, but the laughs, the fast pace and insider baseball lore make up for weaknesses. (Sept.) Forecast: Sports fans know Lupica, and those who feel the need to supplement their summer baseball viewing with a fictional fix will find his latest to their liking. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved



The kid was eleven or twelve, somewhere in there, big round glasses taking up about half his face, bangs all the way down to the glasses. Charlie thought the little bastard looked like Harry Potter from hell. Little Sparky. Probably the coolest kid in his class at SUV Country Day. As soon as he opened his mouth, Charlie wanted to shoot him out of a cannon. "You really used to be somebody, right, dude?" the kid said. Dude. Charlie looked at his watch. Ten minutes to five. That meant ten minutes left in the card show at the Meadowlands Hilton. He was already thinking about which one of his teammates from the '88 Mets wanted to walk out of the tacky ballroom with him and right into the bar on the other side of the lobby and have about nine thousand cocktails before the dinner they were supposed to attend in an upstairs ballroom later, part of the sweetheart deal-or so it seemed at the time, anyway-they'd all signed with the promoter. Meyer Somebody. After finally meeting the guy the night before, a bridge troll in a pinstriped suit, Charlie thought his last name ought to be Lansky. That'd been at the reunion party that some highrollers had been allowed to attend, to mingle with Charlie and some of the other colorful bad boys from the team who weren't either missing or still in rehab. How they'd managed to win a hundred games around the parties that year still shocked the shit out of Charlie, all this time later. So they'd had another party to discuss all that, which is why Charlie was so hung over now he felt like something that should have been stuffed and mounted in the Museum of Natural Dead Things. In the old days, the line on Charlie Stoddard had been that he never missed two things, a start or a party. That's when he'd been Showtime Charlie Stoddard, because he was supposed to have been the only thing in sports faster than Magic Johnson's Showtime Lakers. When he'd won twenty the first time, on his way to what everybody was sure were going to be three hundred wins before he was through, a sportswriter from the Daily News had said to him one day, "You're on your way to Cooperstown, kid." "Great," Charlie said to the guy. "They got girls there?" He was always such a clever bastard. He didn't feel clever now. Just tired. Tired of signing his name, tired of smiling, tired of bullshitting with these people who'd paid whatever they'd paid and waited patiently in the lines so that Charlie and everybody else at the tables would keep signing and smiling and bullshitting. Only now here was the little ball-buster with his autograph book and his blue Sharpie and his program and his blue shirt with the L.L. Bean logo on the pocket and his pressed khaki slacks, squinting at CHARLIE STODDARD on the nameplate facing him. Charlie thought: I'd rather be behind in the count to Sammy Fucking Sosa. "My dad says he remembers you and the rest of these guys," the kid said. "I wasn't born." "Wish I hadn't been," Charlie said under his breath, turning his head as he did, toward where Kurt Taveras, the old Mets third baseman, had been sitting before he'd gone out for a cigarette about half an hour ago and never come back. "What?" the kid said. "Nothing." "So, like, how big were you? In the old days." Charlie said, "What?" "Well, the program says you were 20-3 in 1988. So you must have been pretty good. And you were only twenty-five years old according to the program. But you were gone by the time I started following baseball. So I was sort of wondering what happened to you. You know, after." Charlie had been sitting here all day between Taveras and Lenny Dykstra, signing what they put in front of him to sign, listening while the grownups in the line told them where they were sitting the night Dwight Gooden gave up that home run to Mike Scioscia of the Dodgers in Game 4 of the championship series, the night the Mets should have put the bastards away, and how sorry they were about what happened to Charlie later in the game, and what happened to the '88 Mets after that, not making it to the World Series after winning a hundred games, then the Mets not even making it back into the playoffs until the end of what Charlie had started to think of as the goddamn 20th century. Jesus, they always wanted to tell you where they were when shit happened in sports. Now Charlie wanted to be anywhere on the planet except here, at the end of the Meyer Lansky All-Star Card Show, with Little Sparky staring him down, acting like he wanted to bring him to school tomorrow for show-and-tell. The kid said, "Were you better than Doc?" Gooden. "That year I was." "That's what I mean. How come I've heard of him, but not you?" "Most of those other guys kept going. Doc came back and pitched a no-hitter for the Yankees later. I got hurt in the last game I pitched in '88, Game Four of the League Championship Series, and I was never the same after that, because once you lose the arm, it's gone, goodbye, like Ralph Kiner used to say. And if I tell you any more than that, I'm going to have to charge you my speaking fee." "Huh?" "Nothing." Charlie looked at his watch again. Five minutes to five. "Were you better than Orel Hershiser? He won the Cy Young that year." "You're shitting me? Was that in the papers?" "You're not supposed to swear, dude, it's in the program." Dude again. "Sorry," Charlie said. "I lost my head." "Were you?" "Was I what?" "Better than Hershiser." "Nobody was in '88. You must have a Baseball Encyclopedia , right? Why don't you turn off PlayStation or Nintendo or whatever else Dad's got you hooked up with in the rec room and read it once in a while? Hershiser had one of the great years in the history of pitching. Broke the record for consecutive shutout innings, carried the Dodgers all year and then got better in the playoffs. If Gibson hadn't hit that home run on one leg in Game One, people'd remember Hershiser winning the World Series by himself. Yeah, he won the Cy Young. I finished second." "You don't have to shout." "Sorry, I thought I was a sportscaster for a second." The kid tried to look tough now, like he was facing some other Little Sparky down on the playground back home in Yuppie-ville. "They said you were in a bad mood." "Busted," Charlie said. "I am in a bad mood. You want to know the truth? I'm in a bad mood even when I'm in a good mood. Who blew my cover for you? That candy-ass Carter?" The kid looked nervously down the row at the other Mets. "Actually, they all did." Charlie grinned now. It was the grin he used to give to the girls behind the dugout when he'd come off after striking out the side. Maybe if he acted nice, he could get rid of the kid and get his hands on the cold beer he wanted even more right now than Rebecca from the front desk, who'd come by three times during the afternoon to see if he needed anything and to remind him, had she mentioned this before, that she got off at five, same time as the show ended, how funny was that? "I might have something I want you to sign," Rebecca from the front desk had said the last time she'd stopped by the table. "Listen," Charlie said now. "I'm just playing with you, kid. You want me to sign your book?" "Sure." The kid made a face, as if somebody were nagging on him to eat something green on the plate in front of him, and opened his autograph book and reluctantly slid it in front of Charlie. Charlie signed and pushed it back. The kid looked at Charlie's scrawl, then back at him, eyes wide behind the big glasses. "`Charlie (Big Dick) Stoddard'?" he said. "I just wanted to make sure your momma remembered me," Charlie said. He got up then and went to the bar. At one in the morning he was sitting in a bar called The Last Good Year in Manhattan, 50th and Second, watching the Red Sox play the Angels from Anaheim, thanks to the joys of satellite television. He was with the owner of the place, Joe Healey, a crazed Yankee fan his whole life. Healey was doing some math on one of his Yankee napkins, figuring out a way his team could still catch the Red Sox, who were ten games ahead in the American League East with maybe sixty games left in the regular season. "If you were this organized with your love life," Charlie said, "maybe there wouldn't be quite as much of that messy overlap." "I never could get that three-into-two-doesn't-go shit," he said. Healey's old man, Big Jim, used to be a congressman from the Bronx, part of his district being the neighborhood where Yankee Stadium was located. Healey himself had made every Yankee home opener from the time he was five years old and the old man first sat him down there next to the Yankee dugout. He had even gone AWOL from Fort Dix once to keep the streak alive at sixteen, a story he told every time he got drunk enough, generally right before he wanted to sing show tunes and right after he had become forgetful about whether he was supposed to be meeting his horny real-estate agent here, or one of the coyote girls from The Lion King . He looked like the young Jackie Gleason, curly black hair just now going to gray, big square ham face, nose that could sometimes get so red you thought it was battery-powered. He drank Canadian Club and ginger ale, which he still called his prom drink. Bar owner was his official occupation, but his real career, Charlie knew from the old days, was fun. It was why the two of them had gotten along from the beginning, even if Healey considered Mets lower on the food chain than divorce lawyers. "We made up fourteen games on those shitheels in '78, from about this same place in the schedule," Healey said. Charlie noticed that Healey could somehow simultaneously make his squiggles on the napkin, watch the game, monitor the bar crowd out front, and keep checking the back door on the chance that Miss America was about to come walking in. "No kidding," Charlie said. "I hadn't heard that." "I'm telling you," Healey said, "they can't keep playing like this." Meaning the Red Sox. He lit a Winston Ultra Light, his one concession to what he described as the alarmist bullshit about the tobacco industry that had finally worn his ass out after twenty years. But the Red Sox were winning again on this night, 4-1 in the sixth, behind one of their kid pitchers, a lefthander named Tyler Haas, whose record, Charlie knew, was 12-2, with an earned run average so small it belonged on the bottom of an eye chart. And Haas wasn't even the best of the Red Sox kid pitchers this season, Charlie thought. Not even close. Haas had this herky-jerky motion, a little like Sid Fernandez's when he and Charlie had been kids with the Mets, the body coming through first, and then, after what made you think somebody had hit a pause button, here came the left arm and the ball toward home plate, exploding on the hitters, a fastball that was only in the low nineties looking as if it were coming at them a hundred and ten. And with all that, Charlie knew somebody better fix the kid's delivery, and fast, no matter how many wins he had, no matter how much of a dream season he was having, or someday his arm was going to blow up like an old Firestone exploding on the highway. Once a pitcher, always a pitcher, even from the bar. Haas put one on the inside corner now against the Angels' fat catcher, Almonte. "It's their year," Charlie said, sipping his Scotch and reaching for Healey's cigarettes. "My ass," Healey said. "They're the fucking Red Sox. It's never their year." The back room, a shrine to the Yankees and to 1956, which Healey had declared was in fact the last good year, was mostly empty. Kurt Taveras, who'd matched Charlie drink for drink at Meyer Lansky's dinner, had dropped Charlie on his way to Elaine's, which was farther uptown and a place where he liked to drink with police commissioners, Hollywood producers, newspaper columnists hoping somebody else would pick up the check, anchormen hoping for the same thing, and all the do-me girls who showed up wearing no clothes at this time of night and said they were there for the fried calamari and highbrow conversation. Usually, Charlie knew, they were just there trying to scope out who had the most dope. Taveras said that next he wanted to stop over on Third, at a place called Montana, where some models he knew were throwing a combined fortieth birthday party for a couple of their friends from Ford. In the backseat of the town car, Charlie said to Taveras, "You don't know any forty-year-old women." Taveras, who still looked like a leading man and got laid as if he was still playing third for the Mets, laughed and said, "'Course not. I meant two twenty-year-olds." Charlie said he might catch him later after he checked the bar at Healey's for any rogue personal trainers. It was a few minutes later, Charlie alone at the table now, when it happened to Tyler Haas. Healey had said he'd be right back, he had to go console a soap-opera actress at the bar, her producers had followed through on their threat to kill her character in a car crash if she didn't lose ten pounds. "Poor kid looks like she could use a Jenny Craig," Healey said. "I know I'm going to regret this," Charlie said, "but what's a Jenny Craig?" "A light Old Fashioned," Healey said. "Extra fruit." The Angels had runners on first and second, Charlie couldn't tell from the little graphic in the corner of the screen how many were out. The batter was their designated hitter, Dennard Toussant, Jr. Charlie had seen the kid on television before and knew he had about as much knowledge of the strike zone as of Russian tit, but if you threw him a fastball anywhere near his wheelhouse, he'd hit it so hard you ducked on your couch. Tyler had him 0-2, two straight breaking balls. Dennard Jr. just waved at both of them. Now Tyler Haas, young and probably half-stupid the way they all were when they were young and had the arm, the way Charlie had been when he'd had the arm, tried to get cute with what Charlie could tell from his arm angle had to be his hard-on pitch, a four-seamer. Screw trying to waste a pitch, he was coming right after Dennard Toussant, Jr. Charlie knew he was trying to throw it up and in, especially after the way Dennard Jr. had been reaching. He got it up, all right, but left it right over the middle of the goddamn plate. Dennard Jr. hit the pitchers' nightmare shot. The one right back up the middle. Continue... Excerpted from WILD PITCH by MIKE LUPICA Copyright © 2002 by Mike Lupica Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.