Ron Kaplan's Reviews > The Legend of Mickey Tussler

The Legend of Mickey Tussler by Frank Nappi
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Jun 22, 2010

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I don t ordinarily read baseball fiction aimed at the young adult demographic. Most are simply rehashes of the same story: young athlete, usually a star, faces adversity in the form of another player on his own team or a health crises or another at-home situation; learns valuable lessons, yada-yada-yada; and comes away victorious on the field and off.[return][return]The Legend of Mickey Tussler is a different kettle of fish.[return][return]Set in the minor leagues in the late 1940s, it tells the story of a pitching phenom who must deal with a different set of circumstances, heretofore unexamined in books such as this: young Tussler suffers from what we now identify as autism. (Although the malady is never given a name save for within the book s blurb, the reader quickly deduces some sort of developmental disability.)[return][return]Tussler is serendipitously discovered by baseball lifer Arthur Murphy, manager of the minor league Milwaukee Brewers, a real life affiliate of the then-Boston Braves. Like many who suffer from autism, the teenager has a remarkable talent: throwing a baseball with great velocity and pinpoint accuracy. Murphy, whose team is struggling, manages to secure the lad s services by appealing to the greed of his abusive, no-account father (who treats his wife just as poorly).[return][return]Murphy takes the boy back to Milwaukee, where he is greeted by his new teammates about as well as you would expect. We ve all read books or seen movies such as Of Mice and Men, in which an unenlightened society treats those who suffer from these conditions with indifference and condescension at best and downright contempt at worst. Imagine what that would be like in the traditionally politically incorrect environment of the locker room. Fortunately there are a couple of good guys to look out for him, including a  Crash Davis-type and the little shortstop with the big heart.[return][return]The book follows the fortunes of the team and their new mate, who has a fair amount of trouble adjusting to his new situation, away from the routine (if not comforts) of life back home. Author Nappi manages to keep the tale interesting mixing up standard plot themes with a few twists, perhaps spending a bit too much narrative developing a romantic relationship between Tussler s mother and Murphy as well as making the father too much of a caricature red neck.There are a couple of other cliches, but they are unavoidable within the context of baseball and must be accepted with a smile.[return][return]There are aspects of Mickey Tussler that should get readers to ask questions; if that s the case. Nappi will have provided a better service than having merely penned another baseball novel.

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