Friday, September 02, 2011

Veteran Tunis Fans Will Find 'Rookie' Makes the Cut

Tunis, John. Rookie of the Year. San Diego: Harcourt Brace, 1987 (1944).

Fans of John Tunis' baseball novels should find Rookie of the Year quite as expected: this story revisits the Brooklyn Dodgers of past fame, picking up a little later in their fictional trajectory, and focusing not on Roy Tompkins, but on now-manager Spike Russell, secretary Bill Hanson, and the rookie players Bones Hathaway and Clyde Baldwin. Rookie of the Year is a story about baseball only as much as it is a story about trust and growth, and Tunis' skillful descriptions of characters and their motivations lie at the heart of this book's value.

At the beginning of the book, the Dodgers are a few games behind the league leaders and determined to win. Manager Spike Russell puts them under strict orders to abstain from alcohol and late nights and to hustle on the field, and adherence to these rules quickly becomes a point of contention for Bill Hanson and many of the team's younger players. Hanson is swiftly revealed as the villain of Tunis' plot (although his motivation is never actually explored, let alone explained) and the key pawns in his attack are pitcher Hathaway and his roommate Baldwin. As the pennant grows closer and tensions run high, Spike must separate the deceitful from the misled, and guide his team with both firmness and grace. An enjoyable read, though not the most compelling of all Tunis' novels.

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