20 June 2023

I'm Out

 I'm preoccupied these days with watching an ongoing series. It's got tension and drama. Stealing occurs. Twist endings. I've seen the occasional hit. Those involved make errors. Sometimes those mistakes cost them, while other times, they escape scot-free. 

The College World Series is playing in Omaha.

My alma mater is playing this year, so my long-times and I are fixated. 

Consequently, as I lay my fingers on the keyboard, I allow myself to get distracted by checking out the bracket breakdown at SI.com. Then, I'm pausing to look at the upcoming game schedule. Sometimes as a writer, it's essential to embrace reality. I'm thinking about baseball. A SleuthSayers blog is due. Here then, are a few of my favorite baseball-themed mysteries. 

1. Mortal Stakes by Robert B. Parker

I came into the mystery camp late. I wasn't one of those kids who devoured Hardy Boys books. Instead, a friend introduced me to Spenser in college, and I got hooked. Any personal list of baseball books must, therefore, include Mortal Stakes

Marty Rabb is the star pitcher of the Boston Red Sox. Rabb seems to be living a dream life. He has a beautiful wife and a wicked arsenal of pitches. Someone, however, may be blackmailing him to throw games rather than strikes. 

DanDectis: Creative Commons

Parker's story pits Spenser against a racketeer and a well-armed enforcer. Spenser throws a few punches, reads a few books, cooks a few meals, and drinks a few beers. He was the guy I remembered from my early readings. (Sadly, Spenser faces the challenges in Mortal Stakes without Hawk.)

The story opens with a lyrical description of summertime baseball. It is the nostalgic picture most fans carry around in their heads. 

2. The Final Detail by Harlen Coben

Myron Bolitar, a New York City sports agent, finds his business, friends, and life in peril. He returns from the Caribbean to discover that his partner has been accused of murdering one of their clients, a washed-up baseball pitcher attempting a comeback. Bolitar is determined to prove his partner's innocence, a task that would be easier if she would talk to him. 

Coben's pause to reminisce about the magic of baseball parks is about halfway through the story. He held off longer than Parker did. His description has a little less beer and a little more neurosis, reflecting the differences in the main characters. 

3. Murderer's Row by Crabbe Evers

The first two books are mysteries that touch upon baseball. Murderer's Row is a baseball book that uses a murder investigation as an excuse to spin baseball stories. It is the second of five novels written in the early '90s. Duffy House, a retired sportswriter, and occasional sleuth, is pressed by the baseball commissioner into investigating the assassination of the New York Yankee's owner. 

Murderer's Row was published in 1991. The book's style reflects a different time. The back story is shoveled into the first half-dozen pages. I'm not recommending it as a model for teaching novel writing. But this may be your book if you want a tour of names and places from baseball's past. 

* I don't have an international thriller with a baseball theme. I am also a fan of The Catcher Was a Spy. The book is the story of Moe Berg, a major league catcher in the '20s and '30s who later became a spy for the Office of Strategic Service during World War II. Berg was called the brainiest man in major league baseball. His friends said he could speak ten languages but couldn't hit in any of them. His baseball card is on display at CIA headquarters in Langley. (He is also one of the many players mentioned in Murderer's Row.)

**Murderers' Row was the name given to the core hitters of the 1927 Yankees. That batting lineup included Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. The name has been borrowed a number of times for novels and movies. Among these is an Otto Penzler-edited anthology of short stories. All the stories were original when the book was published in 2001. Lawrence Block, Elmore Leonard, and Michael Connelly contributed, as well as Robert B. Parker.  

And with Parker, we've gone around the horn. 

Until next time. 


  1. I'm a baseball fan myself, from when I fell in love with Sandy Koufax. Not mysteries, but Ring Lardner's 1919 "You Know Me Al" narrated by pitcher Jack Keefe, and James Thurber's "You Could Look it Up" (written in the 40s but set in the 1910s):

    1. I thought about forcing in a couple of other stories. Ultimately decided that the blog should have a mystery/thriller requirement. "The Curious Case of Sidd Finch" wasn't a mystery (and only a book after the fact) and didn't make the varsity.

  2. Elizabeth Dearborn20 June, 2023 12:16

    Not really a baseball fan, but I went to the ticker-tape parade with my boyfriend at the time in 1996 when the Yankees won the World Series. It was wall-to-wall people jammed up together for five or six hours, to the point where I could not even raise my arms from my sides. That's how crowded it was! I was afraid somebody would freak out, then others would, & people would get trampled, but fortunately everybody remained calm. Joe DiMaggio was going down the street on a float 20 feet away, but I could only hear his voice & couldn't see him at all.

    1. The disembodied voice of Joe DiMaggio. It's like listening to a Mr. Coffee ad on the radio.

  3. Mark, when I was a kid, I ran across YA sports novels with mystery twists. I'd nearly forgotten them until I read your article.

  4. I meant to add I must read about Moe Berg!

  5. Jon L. Breen wrote a book of mystery stories about Ed Gorgon, umpire. Title is Kill the Umpire! Most of the stories appeared in EQMM. William Kinsella wrote dozens of stories about baseball, mostly magic realism. One of them he turned into the novel Shoeless Joe, which became the movie Field of Dreams. None are mysteries as far as I know (although he wrote a couple of brilliant crime stories about First Nations people). And Rex Stout wrote a novella called "This Won't Kill You" in which Nero Wolfe, very reluctantly went to a World Series game.

  6. Chuck Brodsky wrote an entire album of songs about baseball. Here's one about Mo Berg. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uto2dtaeu44

  7. I contributed one short story to the baseball/crime literature: "Message From Lowanda," from the August 1988 issue of the late, lamented Espionage.

  8. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  9. How embarassing! I forget my own story about the murder of the pitcher who struck out Casey. "Murder in Mudville,” Mystery Magazine, October 2022.


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