Point: Matt Christopher, The Worst

the kid
Recently, I invited some of my favorite baseball writers onto my award-eligible podcast to discuss some of their favorite baseball books. Fellow NotGraphs writer/Internet rabble-rouser Mike Bates chimed in with The Kid Who Could Only Hit Homers by Matt Christopher (note: my memory fails me. Bates chose a different Christopher novel, only mentioning this book in passing). It’s a children’s book — in that it’s written for children, not by them. Patrick Dubuque, another NotGraphs writer/digital sad person offered an idea: perhaps the both of us should read said book and give our take on it on these electronic pages. As I’m always desperate for article ideas, I agreed. My thoughts are below.

The Kid Who Could Only Hit Homers revolves around the titular character Sylvester Coddmyer III, a boy who stinks at baseball. We know he stinks at baseball, because the author spends upwards of two and half whole pages explaining this. He’s all bummed about it, and decides to quit the team. The next day, he’s visited by a creepy old man, George Baruth, some sort of specter of Babe Ruth, who starts training with the kid. The next day — THE NEXT DAY — this kid is belting hits all over the field, and is patrolling the outfield with the grace of Willie Mays. A few warmup games are played, and then it’s time for the season.

At this point, the book took a very good turn for me. By this, I mean that I stopped reading it. I just put it down. It’s a 130-page book about baseball, of which I’m 65 pages into, and I’m refusing to finish it. I’m looking at it now, and I have a stronger desire to remove my fingernails than to read another word. If this book weren’t property of the Hennepin County Library, I would mail this back to the publisher having rubbed my gentleman parts all over every page.

This isn’t about it being a kid’s book. There are good kid’s books out there. My friend makes a living as a children’s author and her books are engaging and deep and thoughtful. Matt Christopher wrote over 130 sports fiction novels for kids. ONE HUNDRED AND THIRTY. I’m not a novel writer, but I would expect that even the most prolific and imaginative authors would run out of good narrative after, I don’t know, 80 fucking books?

Look at this fucking guy.

I get the theme of the everyday kid who turns into something special. That’s a pretty common theme, and can still be played well. But why can’t the kid just get better? Why does a weird ghost have to help him? Why does Sylvester need to be visited by a strange old man who’s a white van away from initiating an Amber Alert? And, maybe it’s just me, but when you pick a famous player for your deus ex machina, perhaps choosing one that was a known boozer, gambler and philanderer isn’t the best idea. The whole premise is just dumb and silly and forced.

Of note, possibly.

It just hit me that I paid $1.75 for a bus fare to go to the library and pick up this book.

I’m sure Dubuque will be upset with my failed attempt, and will probably write something much more insightful and funny about this book, which I’m OK with. This isn’t worth it. I feel like I need to read a Bill James abstract or something to cleanse my palette.

In conclusion: failed experiment. Screw Mike Bates, screw Dubuque, and screw you if you make your kids read this.

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David G. Temple is the Managing Editor of TechGraphs and a contributor to FanGraphs, NotGraphs and The Hardball Times. He hosts the award-eligible podcast Stealing Home. Dayn Perry once called him a "Bible Made of Lasers." Follow him on Twitter @davidgtemple.

8 Responses to “Point: Matt Christopher, The Worst”

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  1. Dan Rozenson says:

    Hey. Matt Christopher was all my teachers could get me to read in second grade. I’d likely be illiterate without him.

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  2. Mike Bates says:

    In fairness to me, I was talking about The Fox Steals Home (which is almost certainly equally objectionable). I only brought up The Kid Who Only Hit Homers in connection to it, and I was clear that these books were not defined by their quality. I’m fairly delighted you tried to read it, and ridiculously amused that you’re a failure.

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  3. Guy says:

    David – You are my favorite NG author….never change.

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  4. Damaso's Burnt Shirt says:

    That little boy grew up and eventually became a Cincinnati Red, Washington National, a Chicago White Sox and hated by JP Ricchardi. You know him as Adam Dunn… now you know the rest of the story.

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  5. Mike Newman says:

    Loved this David. As usual,, my wife sitting next to me does not understand the muffled, creepy laugh.

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  6. Psyduck says:

    Good Stuff. Next you should do the Will Weaver books.

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  7. the sauce says:

    A lot of your questions are answered in Christopher’s “Return of the Home Run Kid”. Conversely, a lot of your criticism manifests itself in Christopher’s “Guess Who Forgot How to Hit Home Runs Again?” and “You Need Another Book? Oh, I’ve Got It. This Time He Can’t Hit Triples”.

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  8. steex says:

    Barry Dworkin later reworked this fine piece of sports literature into a song about a kid and his musical dreams called “Rock ‘n’ Roll Dreams’ll Come Through.” The kid couldn’t pass the test, but he knew that he would some day – and sure enough, after a lot of hard work and a month in the wilderness, it took him only one more week to have the top song on the charts.

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