Guide to Juvenile Baseball Books: Alfred Slote
Alfred Slote (b. 1926) is a prolific writer of juvenile fiction, with several baseball titles to his credit.
- The Biggest Victory. Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1972. Youth-league ballplayer Randy McElroy would much rather be fishing, but pressure from his father keeps putting the hapless lad in uniform and on the diamond.
Milder in theme than Slote's other baseball juveniles of the 1970s, this one gently pursues the idea that father doesn't always know best.
- Finding Buck McHenry. New York: HarperCollins, 1991. White youth-league player convinces an elderly black ballplayer to coach his team.
An interesting premise, cluttered by a lot of detail that doesn't advance the plot. For the theme of a kid reaching out to a Negro Leaguer, see also Stolz's Coco Grimes and Steele's Forgotten Heroes. Filmed in 2000.
- Hang Tough, Paul Mather. Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1973. Repr. New York: HarperTrophy, 1985. Star youth-league pitcher narrates the story from his hospital bed, where he fights leukemia; despite his inability to pitch, he helps his team to victory.
Notably well-written children's novel, obviously as much about dealing with disease as about baseball.
- Jake. Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1971. Youth-league ballplayer Jake Wrather, a young African-American boy who lives in "Arborville," Michigan with his scarcely older uncle, needs parenting – and his team needs a "man coach."
Well, who do you suppose will step up into that role? Jake's uncle Lenny, who spends the first half of the novel "duded up" to go play in a band in Detroit, learns as the novel goes on that the local school principal is right: both Jake and Lenny have some growing up to do. This novel deserves points for portraying sympathetic, intelligent black characters, especially in Michigan not long after the disastrous Detroit riots. But it does not use race as a theme; black and white characters interact in colorblind ways. Instead, the main dynamic of conflict is one of social class, as Jake and his bad-news working-class teammates scuffle with an insufferable white-middle-class enemy coach.
- Make-Believe Ball Player. New York: HarperCollins, 1989. Youth-league ballplayer, better at imagining ballgames than playing them, becomes a hometown hero off the field.
Nicely observed chapter book with very few twists.
- Matt Gargan's Boy. Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1975. Danny Gargan, son of a major-league catcher, must negotiate a web of interpersonal relationships while pitching his youth-league team to victory.
Specifically, Danny's parents are divorced, and he longs for them to reunite. But his mother is becoming interested in an attractive widower with two daughters. One of the daughters is bidding to become the first girl to play on Danny's team – which means that if Danny doesn't play his cards right, her father and his mother will be attending a lot of games together. Forthright on the issue of divorce and remarriage, especially for 1975.
- My Father, the Coach. Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1972. Youth-league team of misfits struggles to beat a well-heeled squad coached by a bank executive.
Odd novel, but familiar themes of cross-class struggle; much earlier in the 20th century, the young gentlemen would prevail, but by '72 everyone in his right mind roots for the scruffy bunch. May also tacitly include racial themes, as several of the misfits appear to be African-American, including the narrator and his sidekick; but both Slote and his characters seem to be at exquisite pains not to mention race at all.
- Stranger on the Ball Club. Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1970. Youth-league ballplayer Tim Foster, displaced from Illinois to Michigan, is ill at ease on his new team, especially when his misunderstanding with a star player threatens the club's chemistry.
Tim's mother has died recently, and he acts out his grief by being pre-emptively belligerent at times. The plot's inciting misunderstanding occurs when Tim finds star Tad Myers's baseball glove and thinks hard about appropriating as his own before deciding to return it. Tim hasn't exactly stolen the glove, but his teammates distrust him – until, in the course of a long game story that takes up the last third of the novel, Tim proves his heart on the pitcher's mound in the course of a thorough drubbing at the hands of champion opponents.
- Tony and Me. Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1974. Youth-league ballplayer Bill Taylor, displaced from California to Michigan, is ill at ease on his new team until a charismatic older player takes him under his wing.
But then Tony, the charismatic boy, turns out to be both working-class and a thief. The whole novel is interestingly ill at ease. Tony tricks Bill into being his accomplice in stealing – horrors! – a baseball, and then hangs him out to dry. The novel then tries to be liberal by blaming Tony's slimy behavior on his upbringing, but that only reinforces an old-fashioned kind of class stereotyping. In some ways, Tony and Me is a throwback to a long tradition in American juvenile literature that equates virtue with middle-class lifestyles.
- The Trading Game. New York: HarperCollins, 1990. Andy Harris, grandson of a major-league first baseman, must steer between his admiration for his grandfather, his troubled memories of his dead father, his zeal for baseball-card collecting, and his desire to excel on the diamond.
Interesting look at a complicated family, as so many of Slote's juveniles become: this one has no actual game action, but centers on the practice field and the baseball-card shop. The Trading Game asks us to believe that elementary-schoolers could assemble fabulous card collections, which almost works (the top collector is the richest kid in town, for one thing). It misfires by asking us to believe that a one-of-a-kind card from the 1940s has a "book value" of 25 cents. But the details are not the point; the rare card is one of Andy's grandfather, and the value that the characters place on it is far more personal than pecuniary anyway.