Robert B. Parker

"Double Play"

(Reviewed by Hagen Baye JAN 16, 2005)

Double Play by Robert B. Parker

Joseph Burke returned from World War II a physically and emotionally scarred hero. His battle scars are further deepened by the desertion of his wife, abandoning him to face a long and painful rehabilitation alone.

After he recovers from his physical wounds, he cares about nothing other than whatever job he is paid to do. He works his way through a succession of tough-guy jobs: boxer, debt collector and bodyguard for the daughter of a politically connected man. This latter job requires him to protect a young wild and spoiled socialite from her boyfriend, an equally wild and spoiled son of a gangster.

Doing too good a job protecting the socialite gets Burke fired, and he eventually is hired by Branch Rickey to guard none other than Brooklyn Dodger great Jackie Robinson during the 1947 season. Burke’s job is to protect Robinson from those who want to do him harm, as well as protect Robinson from his own fierce pride, during the first, immensely historic year of the so-called “social experiment” that ushers in the civil rights movement which follows. (Don’t forget that Robinson’s crashing baseball’s so-called color line preceded Brown v. Board of Education, Rosa Parks and the ministry of the Rev. Martin Luther King.) As Branch Rickey explained to Jackie (and, indirectly Burke):

“You’re under a microscope. You can’t drink. You can’t be sexually indiscreet. You can’t have an opinion about things. You play hard and clean and stay quiet.”

This sets the stage for Robert B. Parker’s newest book, Double Play, which is part memoir, part history, but mostly a fictional account of what transpired during the fateful 1947 baseball season. A departure from his Spenser, Jesse Stone and Sunny Randall series of crime fiction, this is an inventive piece of writing about the imagined relationship between a majestic historic figure and a simple man who learns that there are things to live for.

A dynamic rapport develops between Burke and Robinson during their time together, which rapport Parker expresses through the dialogue between them, represented by these snippets:

“This the way it always is?” Burke said.

“Is what the way it always is?” Robinson said.

“Trouble getting a cab, trouble finding a place to eat, trouble getting a hotel room?”

“That’s the way it always is,” Robinson said.

“Makes everything hard,” Burke said.

“You learnin’,” Robinson said….

 [Burke accompanies Robinson to a birthday party for an African American child:]

“Actually what we do is eat, and drink, and talk about the kids, and how they doing in school and who oughta be president and how taxes are looking, and did you hear Jack Benny last night? Sometimes, we ain’t married, we flirt a little, and try to get laid, if we can.”

Jackie smiled a little.

“Some folks,” he said, “even if they are married.”

“Sound pretty USA to me,” Burke said….”So why is it that everybody is bullshit about you playing with the white guys?” Burke said.

“Damned if I know,” Jackie said.

 __

“What the hell is it exactly you’re doing?”

“Integrating the great American pastime.”

“Yeah. I know all the stuff I read. But what is it that you are doing, yourself?’

“I’m playing at a level I’m good enough to play at. I’m making a little money. I’m getting famous. I’m proving to the bastards that I can play. I’m making Rachel proud.”

Burke thought about this for a moment.

“And,” Burke said, “you’re integrating baseball.”

“I am.”…

“You buy it all, don’t you,” he said. “Love, equality, the great American game.”

“Gotta buy something,” Jackie said. “Whadda you buy?”

“Lucky Strikes,” Burke said. “Vat 69.”

[Representatives of the Negro League try to get Jackie to play for one of its teams by offering to pay him the same money paid to Joe DiMaggio:]

“Be putting a lotta Negroes out of business,” Jackie said. “The Negro leagues go under, and a lot of Negro players, the ones with less skill, gonna be out of a job.”

“True for white players too,” Burke said.

“White?” Jackie said.

“Every Negro comes into the major leagues,” Burke said, “is one less white man.”…

“Hadn’t thought of that,” [Jackie] said after a while.

“Nothing’s simple,” Burke said. “You’re doing a good thing.”…

“Burke, you been thinking about this. I didn’t think you thought about anything.”

“I got nothing else to do,” Burke said.

“So what else do you think?”

“Don’t you read Time magazine? You’re conducting a [*@*@*@*] social experiment…. And when its over,” Burke said, “five years down the line, ten, whenever, the best players are the ones gonna make the show. Spics, spades, Yids, A-rabs, Eskimos, Japs, fat guys from Baltimore, whoever can make it, makes it.”

Robinson's and Burke's relationship is mutually beneficial. Burke saves Jackie from several imminent attempts against his life and skillfully handles a situation with a white woman intent on throwing herself at Robinson. Also, by his inquiries Burke helped Robinson to think through his mission. On the other hand, by his chiding, Robinson forced Burke to acknowledge that he was a thinking, feeling, caring person. And something deep within Burke is stirred by Jackie's willing acceptance of the tremendous risks and sacrifices associated with his efforts to remove the barrier to major league baseball for all talented persons of color. Burke is especially moved by Rachel Robinson's wholehearted support of her husband. This results in Burke’s transformation from a feelingless robot-like mercenary to a wholer person willing to acknowledge his feelings and accept vulnerability as a risk to be taken in exchange for the possibility of happiness.

In the end, both Robinson and Burke acknowledge their respective reliance on the other to accomplish what they achieved during their time together. And what they achieved had to do more than integrating the sport of baseball; it concerned the triumph of the human spirit and both the majestic and mundane efforts that are part and parcel thereof.

  • Amazon readers rating: from 43 reviews


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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)

Spenser novels:

Young Spenser Novels

Featuring Philip Marlowe (after Chandler):

Jesse Stone novels:

Sunny Randall novels:

Westerns:

Young Adult:

Other:

 

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Book Marks:

 

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About the Author:

Robert B. ParkerRobert Brown Parker was born in 1932 in Springfield, Massachusetts and was raised in Massachusetts. He attended Colby College in Maine, and then served with the Army in Korea. He completed his Ph.D in English at Boston University in 1971, writing his dissertation on Hammett, Chandler and MacDonald. Parker was a full Professor when he retired in 1979.

Parker began writing his Spenser novels while teaching at Boston's Northeastern University. He writes about a novel a year. His character, Spenser, spawned the television series, Spenser For Hire (1985-88). In 1989, The Raymond Chandler estate asked him to complete the unfinished Philip Marlowe novel, Poodle Springs, which HBO made into a movie in 1998. More recently, his novel Small Vices was made into a television film for the A&E network.

He married his wife Joan in 1956; they raised two sons, David and Daniel. Together the Parkers found Pearl Productions, a Boston-based independent film company named after their short-haired pointer, Pearl, who has appeared in Parker's novels. He and Joan live in the Boston area.

Robert B. Parker died January 18, 2010 at his home in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He was seventy-seven.

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