September 25, 2016
I've seen "The Season of Pepsi Meyers" on Judaica store bookshelves for over a year now and, though I'm a baseball fan of both the Yankees and Blue Jays, had reservations about purchasing it. I've come across cheesy, poorly plotted novels and was turned off by the price tag of Jewish books in Canada. I recently splurged and read the book, ending up pleasantly surprised. Here are some thoughts.
Firstly, the game specifics: I was impressed with the level of detail Abie put in regarding drafts, contracts, baseball rules, and game details. What I was disappointed the most was on basic historical flaws and misses. The most notable is that in the book it states that Hank Greenberg was the Tigers great of the 1950's even though he was a star in the 30s and 40s. He was only elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1956. Another was a quote attributed to Yogi Berra but really was Dizzy Dean that said "“It ain't bragging if you can do it" (thanks [...]
Next, regarding the unbelievable pursuits and characteristics of Pepsi, I learned that each item has had a precedent. Here are some:
1. Pepsi hitting 45 home runs? Mark McGwire hit 49 homers so it's also possible. Also, Yankees prospect Gary Sanchez has had a torrid start with 19 home runs as of this posting, so it's doable.
2. Pepsi coming in at 18 years of age? Already done before with prospects like Al Kaline, Harmon Killebrew and Sandy Koufax, though in today's era it's rarer.
3. As for not playing on Fridays and Saturdays later in the season? Believe it or not there's precedent here as well. Dan Thomas, "the sundown kid" had already pulled off this shtick in 1977 as a seventh-day adventist (shout-out to Akiva Balter on this one), which led to his demotion despite his torrid start and placement as a cleanup hitter. Once he got into an inevitable slump, management used that as an excuse to demote him. Dan Thomas also suffered from mental issues leading to his tragic suicide in 1980.
4. Regarding auto-ump in each baseball, something similar already exists in something called "Hawk-Eye", already present in "cricket, tennis, Gaelic football, badminton, hurling, association football and volleyball, to visually track the trajectory of the ball and display a record of its statistically most likely path as a moving image." (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hawk-Eye) Therefore having this in the future with baseballs is not so far-fetched.
My biggest problem with the book was the ending, in that it came across as too "forced." Here are my three main problems:
1. For one thing, Pepsi stating that he will leave the contract remainder to lawyers to settle it according to Jewish law sounds admittedly presumptuous. To the non-Jew, it lehavdil (not to compare) sounds akin to a Muslim imposing Sharia law in a Christian-run country. A more pareve way to put it would be to have settled it within U.S. legal guidelines that would have been compatible with Jewish law as well.
2. Another thing that bothered me was that the book caused Pepsi to make up his mind on becoming completely observant overnight, notwithstanding any other considerations, selfish and inconsiderate to the contract he was under. To me, him making such a drastic change without any compromise instantly made him appear as unstable as the Dan Thomas case above, and would also demonstrated his relative immaturity as the 18 year old kid he is. This especially was the case in him deciding to quit baseball directly after winning ROY and MVP honors. The Rabbi he was consulting with could have given him some "bedieved" (after-the-act) advice for the remainder of the season and allowed him to make a more rational decision as the season ended after a few weeks. In fact, his own parents, who stated that their journey was a personal one and that he wasn't forced to follow their lead, could have advised the same, in accordance with the dictum "Chanoch LeNaar Al Pi Darko" (guide the child according to his path).
3. The appearance of Chabadniks supporting Pepsi Meyers when he was facing opposition from everywhere else was a nice touch. However, I would have liked to have seen the Conservative and Reformed movements having a field day with this one. Conservative/Reform could have "paskened" to Pepsi that electricity really isn't a problem since it's not actually "fire" but rather the product of a filament, and that playing baseball on the Pharisaic version of Shabbos while abiding by archaic laws would have been incompatible (especially with auto-ump in the baseball being run by electricity). While we're at it, Pepsi and his family making Aliyah eventually would invoke the ire of the Neturei Karta and maybe even Satmar Chasidim, claiming him to not represent "true" Torah Jewry, but I guess that would have complicated the story by just a little bit.
For me, I personally would give this a 3/5. However, I know that this book will delight younger fans (whom this book is intended for) and for them it would be a 5/5. Therefore I'm giving this a 4/5. It's worth the read.