Tartabullís Throw
By Henry Garfield
New York: Atheneum Books for Young Readers (Simon & Schuster) 2001
In August of 1967 right fielder Jose Tartabull made a famous throw to Elston Howard to nail a Chicago runner at the plate and preserve a one-run victory by the Red Sox. The Sox went on to win the pennant by one game. Tartabullís throw is enshrined in the memories of Red Sox fans as one of the all-time shining moments.
In Henry Garfieldís book there is an alternate reality Ė in April of í67 Sox rookie Billy Rohr is distracted and hits Yankee Elston Howard with a pitch, breaking Howard's elbow and pretty much ending his career. Rohr gets a no-hitter (which in real life Howard broke up with a single in the ninth). But Howard is not available for the Red Sox to pick up later in the season. Tartabullís throw goes to Mike Ryan instead, Ryan does not block the plate, the run scores, the game is tied, the Sox suffer a crushing defeat in extra innings, and subsequently fade in the pennant race. The Impossible Dream doesnít happen.
Baseball fans love to play "What if?" In a Red Sox internet discussion forum called The Sons of Sam Horn, screen name DieHard3 lists eight blunders Jimy Williams made in just one game Ė Opening Day in Baltimore:
1) Batting Varitek 3rd,
2) Stynes at 2B instead of Offerman, cost them a run
3) Hilly at 3rd instead of Stynes.
4) Having both Garces and Arrojo warm up in the 6th inning for no apparent reason
5) Bunting with Nixon in 9th inning
6) Letting Lewis hit in the 9th inning
7) Using Beck for 2 innings, that can't happen regularly without him breaking down
8) Letting Lewis hit in the 11th inning
Since the game was only lost by one run, the Red Sox might have won by a huge margin. If only we could go back and change a few things! Leave Willoughby in the game to bat for himself. Put Stapleton in at first base in place of Buckner. Start Mel Parnell instead of Galehouse. Fix it so Aparicio doesnít fall down. This is a natural for Red Sox fans.
Henry Garfieldís novel Tartabullís Throw takes "What if" a step further. The main character Cyrus Nygurski is a struggling minor league ballplayer who meets a mysterious girl named Cassandra. She is from Deer Isle, Maine, and has found a "time portal". This is a deep hole in a shallow bay. If you dive into it (and survive), you come out in the past.
Cassandra uses the time portal to change Cyrusís fate. With a few adjustments made to the recent past, Cyrus becomes a star, not a washout. Instead of being sent home from Beloit he gets called up to the White Sox and hits a dramatic home run against Boston. However, Cassandraís tinkering sets off the chain of events which results in Billy Rohrís no-hitter and Tartabullís throw going for naught. Cyrusís fate is only momentarily changed for the better, and several people end up dying. Be careful when you mess with time!
The author Henry Garfield lives in Belfast, Maine, and some of the best parts of the book are his descriptions of life at a camp on Deer Isle, and of Cassandraís Aunt Polly, a mysterious old lady who sits in her rocker by the window in Stonington. Garfield has written two other novels about Cyrus, "Room 13" and "Moondog". This book is evidently a prequel, about how Cyrus became a werewolf.
As a young reader I was much more partial to stories of time travel, than I was to werewolf and vampire stories. Mr. Garfield is into werewolves, although his wolves are mostly sympathetic characters who would rather be left alone when the moon is full. Still, it is a sick and twisted concept, and they do kill people. I would have been happy to just have the time travel, but as Stephen King has proven, millions of people like horror stories. And the comparisons are inevitable: both Mr. King and Mr. Garfield are ardent Red Sox fans from the State of Maine, who write stories of the supernatural.
On the baseball side of things, the author was aided by former Red Sox hurlers Billy Rohr (himself!) and John Curtis. The minor league scenes in Beloit are realistic, as is the exalted mood of Red Sox fans in 1967. Itís a feeling that isnít going to ever happen again. Boston was full of young college students Ė young in an idealistic way that people just arenít anymore. And the Red Sox were a very young ballclub, most of them in their early twenties. Even the manager was under forty, a rookie himself.
There may be a few minor anachronisms in the book. An anachronism is when they make a movie about Roman gladiators and one of them is wearing a wrist watch. No harmful anachronisms here. There is an explanation of time-space theory that is pretty hard to grasp if you are not on LSD. Of course, if the theory made perfect sense, then time travel would be real in a physical sense.
Reviewed by David Nevard (2001)
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