Squeeze Play

Inspired by the author’s career as a sportswriter for the Washington Post, Squeeze Play tells the story of female reporter A. B. Berkowitz, who is assigned to cover the men of the Washington Senators — the worst team in major league baseball.

Life in the locker room shows her not just the players’…um…assets but also their all-too-human frailties. Love for the game and love for the newspaper business are the stars in this hilarious and heartbreaking novel that “will have you singing a rousing chorus of ‘Take Me Out to the Locker Room’” (People).

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The best novel ever written about baseball…the funniest, raunchiest, and most compassionate baseball novel I’ve ever read…sure to offend some people who cried during Field of Dreams—and that’s good enough for me.

– Entertainment Weekly

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…Jane Leavy’s terrific Squeeze Play will have you reeling with laughter.

– Larry King

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Leavy’s hilarious debut about a female sportswriter’s tribulations covering an expansion baseball team’s first year is a strong early candidate for MVP of the 1990 sports novel season.

– Publishers Weekly

…does baseball mythology proud…the overall effect is that of a surreal parody, with a baseball team and newsroom that Mel Brooks might have assembled, where nobody and no activity is life-size, and where sex is a metaphor for baseball: you gotta play hurt.

– New York Times Book Review

There hasn’t been a good baseball novel since Mark Harris’s series of books about southpaw Henry Wiggins. Until this one…Squeeze Play will have you singing a rousing chorus of ‘Take Me Out to the Locker Room.’

– People

Squeeze Play does for baseball what Semi-Tough did for football.

– Washington Post Book World

A funny, tender, true-to-life story of baseball, journalism, and war between the sexes. Recommended for your baseball lovers

– Library Journal

Chapter One

Opening Day

April 3

You see a lot of penises in my line of work: short ones, stubby ones, hard ones, soft ones. Circumcised and uncircumcised; laid-back and athletic. Professionally speaking, they have a lot in common, which is to say they are all attached to guys, most of whom are naked while I am not, thus forming the odd dynamic of our relationship. They are athletes who believe in the inalienable right to scratch their balls anytime they want. I am a sportswriter. My job is to tell you the score.

Generally I try not to look at their penises, which is why I always carry at least two felt-tip pens and a steno pad. This way I can take notes without staring at the glans of some poor son of a bitch who has just been demoted to Triple A. But the fact is: penises have a way of intruding upon your field of vision, especially if you are five foot one, which I am. One time I was hiding behind my steno pad talking to Tyrone Jackson, the basketball player, when my notebook began to quiver. After that, the line on Tyrone was he really gets off on being interviewed.

So I pretty much thought I had seen it all, until today.

My name is A.B. Berkowitz and I have been a sportswriter at the Washington Tribune for nine months now. The initials stand for Ariadne Bloom, which is why everyone except Mom calls me A.B. and why the Washington Senators were a bit surprised the first time I showed up in their locker room. Usually when people find out what I do for a living, they want to know one thing: who has the biggest schlong in America? You'd be surprised how many different ways there are to ask this question. Dolly Mitchell, the wife of the publisher, showed up at the Christmas party at Duke's, ate forty shrimp balls, blushed, and said in that Betty Boop voice of hers, "So tell me, A.B., honey, just between us girls, who is the most impressive ath-uh-lete you've ever met?"

His virtuosity was a synthesis of physiognomy and physical imagination. He didn't just dominate hitters or games. He dominated the ball. He could make it do things: rise, break, sing. Gene Mauch, the old Phillies skipper, was once asked if Koufax was the best lefty he ever saw. Mauch replied: "The best righty, too." As Billy Williams, the Hall of Famer, put it: "There was a different tone when people talked about Sandy Koufax."

Sal practically hurdled the raw bar to get me before I could say anything. They didn't make him sports editor for nothing.

Two weeks later, he called me into his office and said, "You got the Senators beat. Don't say a fucking word to Mrs. Mitchell."

Today I got the answer to her question.

The answer, Mrs. Mitchell, is the Stick.

It was three hours before game time and everyone was working the room: reporters, agents, assorted hangers-on, everyone who ever made the A list in Washington or thought they should have. The clubhouse was strictly SRO. Opening Day is always a zoo. But everybody in town wanted to be able to say they were there the day baseball returned to Washington. I talked to five senators (elected); three congressmen; Duke Zeibert, the restaurant guy; Lynda Carter, who used to be Wonder Woman; and Dick Bosman, who started the last game at RFK eighteen years ago and learned belatedly the aerodynamic impact of tears on a major league fastball.

Bosman gave up five runs and eight hits in five innings that night, including three home runs, all of which he chalked up to tears. Still, the Senators were winning, 7-5, with two outs in the top of the ninth when the last crowd to see major league baseball in Washington raged onto the field and refused to let the game end. Jim Honochick, the umpire, declared a forfeit at 10:11 P.M., and with that Washington surrendered its right to be called a major league city.

Then last year the Reverend Jimy Boy Collins cut a deal to throw his considerable religioso support in the direction of a particular right-wing presidential candidate, the quid being a promise of an expansion franchise should said candidate get elected. The candidate is now President of These United States, as Jimy Boy likes to say, and the Reverend Collins is owner of the Washington Senators. He calls his born-again Nats a divine reincarnation.

Everybody figured when and if Washington got another team, it would be a National League franchise, what with the Birds in Baltimore. But the American League expanded first and the President kept his promise, using his influence to get Jimy Boy the franchise after the initial ownership went under.

Jimmy Boy is also founder of the Christian Fellowship Entertainment Network, the slogan of which is "Jesus rocks 24 hours a day!" and Super Stars Ministry, a Christian outreach program aimed at the spiritual needs of athletes. Jimy Boy says that of all God's children, ballplayers are the most tempted, the most fallen, and the most needy of "getting right with the Lord." On this much we agree. He also believes that ballplayers will be the vehicle by which the Gospel of Jesus Christ is proclaimed worldwide, sports being the one thing, other than Jesus, we all have in common. This is why he bought the Washington Senators. "My mission is to suit'em up, save'em, and start'em in the Lord's All-Star lineup."

I'll never forget the first time I met him. This was last winter, just after I got the beat. He kept me waiting in his of fice at RFK for a half hour. Leaving a reporter alone in your office is a stupid thing to do. I made sure to check out the place. There was a Bible open to Hebrews, with Chapter 12, Verse 1 underlined, a platinum record from Jimy Boy's former career as Christian rocker, and a baseball autographed by all the newly signed born-again members of the 1989 Washington Senators. There was also this smell. Like Muzak in an elevator, it was everywhere. And it was awful ...

© 1990 Jane Leavy.

Read an Excerpt

My name is A.B. Berkowitz and I have been a sportswriter at the Washington Tribune for nine months now. The initials stand for Ariadne Bloom, which is why everyone except Mom calls me A.B. and why the Washington Senators were a bit surprised the first time I showed up in their locker room. Usually when people find out what I do for a living, they want to know one thing: who has the biggest schlong in America? You’d be surprised how many different ways there are to ask this question. Dolly Mitchell, the wife of the publisher, showed up at the Christmas party at Duke’s, ate forty shrimp balls, blushed, and said in that Betty Boop voice of hers, “So tell me, A.B., honey, just between us girls, who is the most impressive ath-uh-lete you’ve ever met?”