Borrowing a bit from the flash mob phenomenon, here is a collection pf review on Bruce Spitzer’s historical fiction about a “reanimated” Ted Williams. The books were offered gratis in exchange for the readers’ comments. The views expressed here are solely theirs; I have not edited any of the contributions, save for the Bookshelf style.
Warning: there may be spoilers (I’m reading them now for the first time myself).
Enjoy. And many thanks to the folks who responded.
Extra Innings by Bruce Spitzer was on my radar as the cover photo drew me in and I love baseball. But Red Sox greatest player Ted Williams coming back to life through cryogenics? Oh, come on! And, this is where I defy my own mantra “I never read fiction.”
The memoirs I read are filled with the main ingredients – love, sex, lies, action, suspense – why would I search elsewhere for such drama!
But, each chapter in Spitzer’s book (they’re all short which delights me no end!) is chocked filled with tidbits about the charming female doctor who brings Ted to life, their attraction to each other, then the suspense of how Ted will react to a different world than he once knew – I mean Fenway Island? Yep, through global warming (now we’re getting into science) Florida no longer exists and Boston more resembles Venice with its waterways and boats for transportation.
Ted has the chance to return to baseball, but has to hit against Botwinder, a robot pitcher who replaces human pitchers. The batters, now all beefy, bald and big on steroids, find it a challenge to hit against Botwinder. Will Ted join the Red Sox again and win a World Series? Will he take steroids?… which he loathes and doesn’t know much about, being dead for 90 years!
Extra Innings has everything a reader wants – suspense, action, love, sex (Ain’t tellin’ if it’s with the lovely doctor, or someone else!). Oh, almost forgot. Ted, a pilot, also served his country in his former life, but in his reincarnation, military service still provides a big draw. Will he serve his country and fly a plane totally foreign to him, risking his life (that is, his second life!) and forego playing baseball? Oh, the gripping decisions this man must make!
I don’t know if I’ll ever pick up another fiction book. But, I can tell you, if Bruce Spitzer churns out another story, I’m first in line.
Suzanne G. Beyer
The year is 2092 and the great Ted Williams, frozen at death, has been reborn courtesy of the science of cryonics. That is the premise of Extra Innings by Bruce E. Spitzer.
This 400 page book is broken down into ninety-one short chapters making it an easy read. The straight forward narrative is populated with lively dialogue much of which can readily be imagined coming from the mouth of the Splendid Splinter.
The book begins by introducing to us (and Ted) the way things are in 2092. In a “show-and-tell” manner things are explained to Ted and he gives his reaction. Some of the things, such as the consequences of Global Warming, are fascinating and thought provoking. However the role of Williams at this point, although he gives his lines on cue, is mostly a passive one.
Once the world of 2092 has been adequately fleshed out, it is time for Ted to resume his baseball career with the Red Sox. To be honest, I found the baseball scenes to be the weakest part of the narrative. The changes that have taken place to the game seem, at least in my eyes, to be rather silly and farfetched. Yes, Ted has his ups and downs on the field, maybe the Sox will win the Series and maybe they won’t, but the reader is left with a rather “so what” feeling.
It is when Ted is called back into military service in a manner suggestive of the Clint Eastwood movie, Space Cowboys, that the narrative really shines. The intense training, the preparations for combat, and the actual combat itself really draw the reader in. For the first time Ted Williams comes alive and the reader gets to experience the intensity of his feelings. It is truly the highlight of the book.
Then there is Elizabeth Miles, the doctor who brings Ted back to life. She is also a single parent whose relationship with Ted evolves from doctor-patient to something else. Her son, Johnnie, is an adorable youngster who plays Little League and bonds with Ted. They do fun stuff together and Ted provides sage advice such as “work hard and have fun, too.” It’s a bit too perfect. As any parent knows it’s what you do when your child is not so adorable that really matters and I kept hoping that Ted would be presented with such a challenge but it never came.
Extra Innings might be one of those projects that would make a better movie than a book. The scenes involving baseball in the 2092, his military exploits, the evolving romance with Elizabeth, and his relationship with Johnnie are the sort of things that show up well on the silver screen even if some of them are not all that convincing on the printed page. In fact I can say that while I can give Extra Innings only a luke-warm recommendation as a book, I would be among first in line to buy a ticket at the box office.
Extra Innings is a detailed and imaginative novel that connects on various levels with the reanimated Ted Williams as its centerpiece. While baseball is naturally the backdrop for the story, it also focuses on many of the elements in the life of Ted Williams and how they might be altered — or remain the same in the year 2092.
Most baseball fans with even a mild understanding of its history are familiar with the career of Ted Williams — he was brash and difficult with the fans, family, and press; an obsessive hitter with his own scientific approach; and he was unabashed patriot with a heroic sense of duty that interfered with his storied career for several seasons. All of these elements come back to life along with Ted ninety years in the future. One of the several strengths of this novel is the author’s ability to bring these all to life in incredible detail while maintaining a brisk pacing of the story – the chapters are numerous and very short.
Spitzer’s view of the future does not stray too far from news and sports headlines today: global warming has changed the map and climate; there are both political and military troubles in the Middle East (primarily Pakistan and Afghanistan); there is a sense of alienation from the overabundance of technology. Baseball’s future has been altered as well: performance-enhancing drugs (dubbed the cocktail) are accepted and encouraged; robotic pitchers have replaced human pitchers; and the Major Leagues include teams from around the globe. The city of Boston has also been changed significantly, and the author’s vision is once again strength -– it is intriguing to imagine Fenway Park not only as a ballpark, but as an island due to aforementioned global warming.
Ted’s personality dominates the story, but the supporting characters are all very effective. Dr.Elizabeth Miles and her son, represent the stable “family” that Ted really never had, there is also a love interest, corrupt team officials, military cronies, old school baseball personnel, and teammates — (oversize and bald, including an arrogant Swedish centerfielder who Ted loves to taunt).
While being mainly a novel about baseball, it is also in part, a military drama/thriller. As in his “real” or first life, Ted’s baseball career is put on hold as he is called into duty as a Marine pilot to train and face a new threat, this time in the Middle East. This part of the book was fascinating -– once again Spitzer went to great lengths to describe the elements of military/flight training, as well as the various types of aircraft and weapons. Ted’s mission that follows is also very exciting.
Science fiction and baseball create interesting situations -– If I Never Get Back by Darryl Brock along with The Iowa Baseball Confederacy and Shoeless Joe by W.P. Kinsella are classics that continue to enhance the imagine baseball fans, Extra Innings by Bruce Spitzer should be included on the same shelf.
From what we know about Ted Williams, he was a world-class hitter and fisherman and a Marine pilot in two wars. We also know he was an SOB, a poor husband and father, and his head was preserved through cryonics when he died in 2002.
Bruce E. Spitzer’s novel Extra Innings opens 90 years after Williams’ death, as a pretty, widowed Dr. Elizabeth Miles connects his head to a tennis pro’s body and returns him to life.
Williams returns as cantankerous as ever. He soon gets used to his new surroundings and realizes he has a new chance at life and he carries with him the experiences of a lifetime. Spitzer takes Williams on a trek inspired by science and war fiction, the obligatory romance, and John R. Tunis youth sports stories. Maybe the ingredients aren’t the recipe for great fiction, but when broken into experiences — awakening, back to the field, off to war, and then making sense of it all — it works.
Spitzer depicts a plausible future that isn’t disappointing or repulsive. There no longer is a need for oil, yet global warming has turned costal cities and states into islands. A 115-degree spring day is common and terrorism isn’t a major threat as it is today. Still the United States has its enemies, and zealots.
In 2092, Major League Baseball includes teams from London, Tokyo, and Stockholm, and players take “the juice,” a cocktail of steroids that makes them bald but allows them to catch up with the 125-mile heat thrown by botwinders, robots who replaced pitchers years ago. (Note: This is a baseball book blog, so the introduction of botwinders must be addressed because it’s an issue that’s hard to swallow. Understanding how strong the players union is today, it is unfathomable to believe that sometime over the next 90 years the union would allow 40 percent of its membership to be replaced by robots.)
The Ted Williams in Extra Innings is often depicted as John Wayne with a headache. Williams faces several moral dilemmas as he returns to the big leagues, war, the media, and relationships. Too often his reactions are cliché, but there are enough surprises to keep the story interesting. In his second life, Williams sees opportunities he missed the first time around.
Williams’ greatest quandary is whether to tell the world if there is a heaven. What effect would what he has to say have? Would lives be changed?
Overall, Extra Innings is an enjoyable read about second chances. It’s also about a character we know well interacting in a world of the future that isn’t so different from today.
In theory Extra Innings – Bruce Spitzer’s “what-if” story about Ted Williams being reanimated 100 years after his death — is an interesting premise: how will the Hall of Famer react to his new situation?How much has changed since his “departure” a century before?
Unfortunately, there’s little mystery. The lengthy subtitle (?) – “He was the greatest hitter of all time. Cryonics brought him back to life in 2092. Would he use this second chance to win his first World Series or to become a better man? – tells the reader pretty much everything there is to know. With an adorable moppet clinging to a ballplayer clad in Williams’ famous number (obviously his head was attached to a new body), is there any doubt which choice Williams will make?
There’s always a question of who the book is written for? If Spitzer is trying to reel in the hard-core Williams or baseball fan, he offers overmuch information, for which he deserves all props for his research skills. If it’s the non- baseball fan (and would such a reader even know the bizarre Williams situation?), then all the exposition makes sense, although it does add a lot of story.
At Passover, Jews sing “Dayenu,” — it would have been enough — a song that praises God for all he had given the ancient Hebrews: If God had given just “A,” it would have been enough; if he had given “B,” that would have been enough, etc. But God kept doing more and more. Extrapolating here, if the author had just written about Williams’ return to the field, that would have been enough. If he had focused on the dilemma over whether to take steroids — because everyone else was doing it — that would have been enough. But Spitzer feels compelled to throw Williams back into military service, with all of those decisions and perils, which accounts for a major portion of the story. And when Williams inevitably completes that portion of the program and returns to the Red Sox, who miraculously make it into the World Series, giving him the chance to accomplish what eluded him the first time around,… well, you get the idea.
The ending, which gets a bit metaphysical/religious, depending on your point of view, is designed to bring tears to your eyes and, as such, struck me as a bit manipulative.
Extra Innings is certainly not the worst baseball novel I have ever encountered by any means (see, The Big Red R: An Internal Auditing Action Adventure for some thoughts along those lines). Spitzer is earnest, although some of the dialog is a bit…odd. Some examples: “‘Eat dirt, you f*****’ scum,’ shouted Ted in the direction of the parachute.” (my ellipses); “‘So, American fly-man, who you think will save you, John Wayne?”; “‘War is an unfaithful mistress.’”They do sound like lines out of a John Wayne movie, don’t they?