15 November 2022

Batter Up!

My disinterest in baseball probably stems from my single season as an outfielder for the worst team in my local Little League when I was a fifth grader. The coach rarely showed up, and my mother, the only parent who regularly attended practice, would stand at home plate and belt fly balls and grounders to us.

That may be why I’m surprised to realize, around the time of this year’s World Series, that two of the best stories I’ve recently read were baseball themed: Joseph S. Walker’s mystery short story “Give or Take a Quarter Inch,” first published in Tough and reprinted in The Best Mystery Stories of the Year (Mysterious Press, 2022), and Aeryn Rudel’s horror novella Effectively Wild (Grinning Skull Press, 2022).

Walker writes about a kidnapping where the ransom demand isn’t money. Instead, Ryan Vargas, a retired, Cy Young-winning pitcher whose wife has been kidnapped, comes face-to-face with a batter he had struck out three times during the batter’s only major league game nineteen years earlier. To save his wife, can Vargas give the kidnapper one last at-bat?

Rudel writes about Martin “Wags” Wagner, a washed-up catcher relegated to the minor leagues who is presented with an opportunity to return to the big leagues. All he must do is mentor a promising young pitcher—a pitcher with no experience that the organization keeps separated from the rest of the team and who gets stronger each time he takes the mound. When Wagner discovers the pitcher’s secret, he must decide how much he is willing to sacrifice to relive his own dreams.

Both Walker and Rudel captured and held my attention through their characters. In Walker’s story, Vargas’s nemesis—Mickey Loch—was as finely drawn as the protagonist, and Rudel presented an excellent portrayal of Wagner as an everyman desperate to hold onto his dream career.

While baseball is important to both stories, I found I was not hindered by my lack of knowledge of the sport. Each author provided enough information for me to understand what was happening without burdening the stories with arcane details that only true fans would appreciate.

My memory is hazy on this point, but I don’t recall my Little League team ever winning a game. On the other hand, Walker and Rudel both—to use an already over-used cliché—knock it out of the park.

My story “Little Spring” was reprinted in Haus (Culture Cult Press), marking my first official publication in India. (Several years ago I had a story published in India without my permission or prior knowledge.)


  1. Congratulations on Haus. I was raised in a Dodgers family, and grew up watching Sandy Koufax - my one and only sports hero. My favorite baseball stories are Bernard Malamud's "The Natural" - a great novel - and Ring Lardner's collection of short stories, "You Know Me Al", fictional road letters from Jack Keefe, pitcher for the Chicago White Sox. Very funny, especially if you like "Flashman" anti-heroes....

  2. I'm honored you enjoyed the story, Michael. It was certainly fun to write!

  3. Jon L. Breen wrote a book of mystery stories about an umpire named Ed Gorgon. The book was titled, of course, Kill the Umpire. And my stroy in the October issue of Mystery Magazine is "Murder in Mudville," about the death of the pitcher who struck out Casey.

  4. So glad you enjoyed Effectively Wild, Michael. Now, I need to go track down the other baseball-themed stories mentioned here, starting with Joe Walker's "Give or Take a Quarter Inch."


Welcome. Please feel free to comment.

Our corporate secretary is notoriously lax when it comes to comments trapped in the spam folder. It may take Velma a few days to notice, usually after digging in a bottom drawer for a packet of seamed hose, a .38, her flask, or a cigarette.

She’s also sarcastically flip-lipped, but where else can a P.I. find a gal who can wield a candlestick phone, a typewriter, and a gat all at the same time? So bear with us, we value your comment. Once she finishes her Fatima Long Gold.

You can format HTML codes of <b>bold</b>, <i>italics</i>, and links: <a href="https://about.me/SleuthSayers">SleuthSayers</a>