Slouching Toward Fargo
By Neal Karlen
In his two-season look at life with the St. Paul Saints of the
independent Northern League, author Karlen encountered enough
oddballs to make Alice's Adventures in Wonderland seem like a
straightforward account of a schoolgirl's visit to a theme park.
Among the more prominent of Karlen's dramatis personae are Bill
Murray, the comic actor and Saints co-owner; Mike Veeck, the
team president, son of the great Bill Veeck and himself a
promoter of mad invention; Ila Borders, the first woman to play
in a men's professional league; and J.D. Drew, the college
phenom who rejected major league millions to play for the Saints
in hopes of later gaining even more millions in the majors
(which he did).
On a somewhat lesser but no less captivating level we find a
legless outfielder ("You'd be surprised how much ground a man
with no legs can cover," says the outfielder, Dave Stevens), a
Benedictine nun moonlighting as a ballpark masseuse, the game's
first blind color announcer and a thousand-pound pig that, often
dressed in a ballerina's tutu, delivered balls to the home plate
Karlen is himself a character in this opera bouffe, though not,
at least initially, as appealing as his fellow cast members. We
see him here as an impoverished and self-pitying freelance
writer who, out of desperation, accepts an assignment from
Rolling Stone magazine to do a hatchet job on Murray and, in
anticipation of yet another fall from grace, on Darryl
Strawberry. That once-feared slugger and notorious
substance-abuser was, in 1996, attempting one last comeback,
this time in the fathomless depths of the lower bush leagues. He
made it that year--only, as we know now, to come a cropper once
more, though Karlen couldn't have known it then.
Karlen came to his assignment with the preconceived notion that
Murray was a misanthrope and Strawberry a jerk. He discovered,
much to his professional dismay, that he liked both men
immensely. In fact he liked almost everything about the lowly
Saints, whose motto was FUN IS GOOD.
With that in mind, Karlen abandoned the magazine assignment and
wrote instead this fun-is-good book. Good for him.
COLOR PHOTO: SPIKE