Peter Schilling Jr. came up with a fascinating what-if scenario for his novel The End of Baseball: what if famed baseball owner and promoter Bill Veeck purchased the Philadelphia Athletics and filled its roster with the stars of the Negro leagues in 1941?
It’s a tantalizing prospect. Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson, Cool Papa Bell and other greats shattering segregation and theoretically playing the best baseball ever.
Unfortunately, Schilling over-reaches and the final product is disappointing. The sprawling narrative just has too much going on, with too many characters for the reader to keep track of.
Focusing on Paige, Gibson, Veeck and perhaps three or four other characters should’ve been enough – the drama of integrating baseball during World War Two is a novel in itself – but Schiller had lengthy sections on supporting players like pitcher Dave Barnhill and Artie Wilson.
At first it’s fun when characters like all-round all-star Martin Dihigo, gossip columnist Walter Winchell, FBI head J. Edgar Hoover and the Sporting News founder Alfred Spink are inserted into the plot, but eventually they clutter up the story and distract from the main plot of the Athletics' struggle to win the American League pennant.
There’s no doubt that Schilling is an excellent storyteller. As a professional journalist he’s covered baseball for the Minnesota City Pages and he’s worked as a film critic for Rake Magazine and the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.
He has a deft touch chapter by chapter. None of the scenes fall flat, and the descriptions of the baseball games themselves are richly drawn, building tension for the reader with each swing of a bat or cold stare.
Schilling also certainly know his history. Literally every player on the team was a star in his day, and bringing all their personal histories together on to one team is a treat.
Unfortunately, the busy narrative is just unavoidable. Beyond the central plot of the A’s season, there are no less than six subplots. Coupled with asides and vignettes designed to add to those seven storylines, and it’s easy to get lost.
At 337 pages, there’s just not enough room for all these characters. By trimming the fat, Schilling would’ve had a stronger novel.
Peter Schilling Jr.’s The End of Baseball was, by moments, a fun read. It’s got a solid premise to build off of and from chapter to chapter is enjoyable. Unfortunately, the central storyline gets lost in a tangle of plot threads. Maybe worth reading if you’ve exhausted all other sports-related options.
You can read more about this book at Schilling’s website, including a free sample and reviews by other critics.