Baseball, Blood, and Murder REVIEWING Blockade Billy

Alright, I think it has been a little while since I've gone on a rant. Maybe a few months. That's definitely long enough. Rant on. 

Blockade Billy

Author: Stephen King
Genre: Horror
Year: 2010
Blockade Billy


Even the most die-hard baseball fans don't know the true story of William "Blockade Billy" Blakely. He may have been the greatest player the game has ever seen, but today no one remembers his name. He was the first -- and only -- player to have his existence completely removed from the record books. Even his team is long forgotten, barely a footnote in the game's history. 

Every effort was made to erase any evidence that William Blakely played professional baseball, and with good reason. Blockade Billy had a secret darker than any pill or injection that might cause a scandal in sports today. His secret was much much worse... and only Stephen King, the most gifted storyteller of our age, can reveal the truth to the world, once and for all. 


Oh boy...where do I even begin? 

How about a little backstory about why I read this? I'm a baseball fan. Anyone who knows me, probably knows that by now. I may be a big reader, but I also really enjoy spectating. Hockey, baseball, football (high school/college/pro), and college basketball, I love them all. I used to play Little League once upon a time (first year 2nd base, 2nd year outfield--put me in coach, I'm ready to play!--more often right field than centerfield though). I even played a bit of tennis in high school. I grew up going to baseball games in my hometown of El Paso, and have still been known to go to a few games here and there for the newer team. This summer, with no sports around, I've been watching  quite a few game replays, sports movies, and reading a few sports books to get my fill. It started with Moneyball, which I mentioned in April's Reading Round-Up. I enjoyed it so much, that when I saw this little novel on my local library's digital collection, I felt like I just HAD to read it. 

I wish I hadn't, but at the same time, I'm also glad to have a change of pace from my usual, generally positive reviews. I'm ready to tear this book a new one, because it is BAD. 

To be clear, I have never read a single book by Stephen King. Yes, I know, he's a "great writer", one of the "best of our time", and as the synopsis so humbly points out "the most gifted storyteller of our age". It's no wonder I went into this so excited, and no wonder why I was so letdown. However, my bar for Stephen King generally wasn't too high, because I have SEEN one of his works, although I'm sure it'll either be too swept under the rug for anyone to be familiar with it, and I'm a shameful person for not seeing a better one. I'm talking about Maximum Overdrive. A movie starring Emilio Estevez in which a diesel truck, with a goblin face (modeled directly after the Green Goblin from the Spider-Man comics), and other machines, "turn homicidal" after a comet passes. I'm not making this up, folks. It's really a movie. Killer trucks, with one of the best soundtracks attached to it (AC/DC's Who Made Who album). Is the movie good? Absolutely not. Is it hilarious? Yes, albeit probably semi-unintentionally. It is absurd and that's why I enjoy it at all. I like B-rate movies, because I love to laugh at how ridiculous everything is, but so far this is one that kind of takes the cake. Usually B-rate films have "washed up" actors who have passed their acting prime. Since this movie came out in 1986, I think they genuinely were looking to make a good film, because Emilio Estevez was definitely not washed up at that point. He had made some great movies already and still had some greats yet to come in later years. Furthermore, King not only wrote the movie, he also directed it, and because of it, decided to never direct again. He also is supposed to have disowned the entire thing---at least according to Wikipedia and I'm sure we know how reliable they are as a source. 

Let's stop here and jump to reviewing the book because you didn't come here to read me pick at a bad came here to read me pick at a bad BOOK. 

I can honestly only come to 2 conclusions based on my experience with Stephen King thus far:
  1. I have the worst luck when it comes to picking his works to try
  2. He really isn't as great a writer, from my perspective, as everyone claims he is
Unless I read one of the more popular novels, I guess I won't know! At this point though, I'm about ready to throw in the towel. Here's why:

The only good thing about this book is the passages on actual play. All the stuff about baseball and the game itself, is generally good. It isn't fantastic or stellar, but its definitely passable. 

The premise is that a guy who coached for the team Blockade Billy was on is much, much older and he is telling the story of Blockade Billy directly to Stephen King. He directly says things and ends them with "Mr. King." While this may be a pretty good choice in general, the way he speaks gets pretty clunky at times. This happens particularly when he cusses, because it feels like the weirdest combinations and placements. Looking at the sentences, it didn't feel like a natural point to swear at. I get that military folks and sports people are generally known to swear a lot. That's fine. I am familiar with swear words in at least 3 different languages, so it doesn't inherently bother me to read it, particularly in this context. If you're going to use cussing though, in speech, at least create natural speech patterns. I get that King is significantly older than I am (he's in his 70s now) and that he lives in Maine, where the speech is different from in Texas. Maybe those are the reasons why this is sticking out to me, but having also known people from different places and seen lots of movies, I'm not quite sure. It was jarring and awkward and it just drove me nuts. 

Now if only that were the only problem I had while reading this. This is a very short novel, being just over 100 pages. I read it over 2 days, because I read before bedtime, and then in the morning when I woke up. It went by quick enough, but it just never got better. I liked the baseball game stuff, but there was no suspense. It is amazing how much build-up the synopsis gives such a weak story. Blockade Billy's existence is "completely removed", because he had a "secret darker than" any other sports scandal you could possibly name apparently, being "much much worse". Well, that sounds good. Did he kill somebody? 

....can I spoil it? I really want to spoil know what? Yeah, I'm going to spoil it. If you don't want to know Billy's dark, dark, too awful to talk about secret, please skip from the following red line to the next red line and you will be safe...though I don't know why you'd want to read this book after reading this anyway (except maybe out of a desire to see for yourself how bad it is or if you want to torture yourself).


So, the dark secret. The secret worse than pills and injections? See, when I read that synopsis I thought "Did he kill someone? Did he kill several someones? Could it be worse than that? Was it the WAY he did it?" 

Well, after 80% of the book is done, and you've read that synopsis, and the narrator has said over and over that it was so terrible and that nobody was expecting what was coming and how bad things were going to get.....we find out......that yeah, he killed someone. A couple someones. He had been hired by a family to do some work, because he wasn't too bright overall, but was a good practice buddy for the family's son. The son was going to get a shot to play for a minor league team, but he wanted to play more and was he killed the son and the parents, and took the son's place and just showed up and played baseball. The police come to get him, he kills an umpire real quick for making some bad calls during the last game he is in, and then he gets arrested.  

So...yeah...the dark secret we couldn't know for MOST of the book, that we kept being told was coming and was awful and dreadful...was murder. Now, I get it. Murder is bad. VERY bad. Its one of the worst things a person could do, I KNOW. But let's be honest fiction, it isn't really that uncommon. We have entire genres committed to the topic or that have components of it in them all the time (see HORROR, CRIME, MYSTERY). Who would have guessed that the guy who wrote about machines killing people, a teenage girl who kills some people with powers she has, and all kinds of other dreadful things...would write a story about a baseball playing murderer? EVERYBODY. If it has his name on it, its either gonna be something paranormal and bizarre, or it is going to involve people dying. That's just how it goes. So why hide it? 

The ending in which this is all revealed and occurs, is rushed through, and not at all satisfying. It was predictable and just...not well written in the least. 

Better yet, when the team owner and coach find out what it is that Billy did and why the cops are there, their reactions are crazy. Instead of being like "Get him the hell out of here" or questioning their safety and that of the team, or concerning themselves with how awful it is...they just act pretty nonchalant. The cops tell the coach to tell him the head honcho needs to see him alone, and let the team go in a bit later, to keep them safe. Instead of saying "yeah, that'd be best for our guys, we don't want anymore deaths", they say "that's for the best so that his teammates don't have to see him that way and he won't have to deal with his teammates seeing him like that". So...because he plays baseball well, and played some games with them, they just want to brush aside the severity of MURDER so nobody has to see each other any differently in that moment? Really? I'm sorry, I can't get beyond that. Teams are close, but really, murder kind of CHANGES THINGS, don't you think? 

            You are now leaving Spoiler Land

Here is the red line. Welcome back. 

So to sum up what happened in spoiler land without giving away the big surprise: 

The big reveal of the secret comes at the very end of the book, is incredibly rushed, and nobody seems to react like human beings to the news. 

At the beginning of the book, I was really excited to have something kind of suspenseful to enjoy. I wanted to know what was going to happen. I thought it MUST be more than what I thought from the get go. After several pages and paragraphs of -this secret is SOOO bad-, -we had no idea how bad things were going to get-, -this is a really bad secret he has-, I just didn't even care about the "suspense". There was none. It felt like those cartoons where you see a carrot tied to a stick, hung in front of a donkey. You keep it far enough away and the donkey will chase after it, making the buggy move wherever you need it to go. Maybe at the end you give it to them, but eventually you do it again. The attempt by the donkey to get the carrot is basically futile, since it likely won't get it until you're ready to concede the carrot. 

Well, this was exactly like that, except instead of wanting the carrot and trying to actively chase after it energetically, I decided it wasn't worth being excited over. I kicked back, knowing that at some point, King would have to pull out some scissors and cut the carrot down himself. I sure as heck wasn't going to work for it. I kicked back and read leisurely, not caring what the secret was at some point. I had too much time to think about it, and therefore ended up with way worse scenarios than what actually happened. I thought of things far worse and by the end, it was just a predictable, rushed letdown. I feel like I got ripped off, even though the book was free to me through the library and local taxes. I'm of the mind that the poor library was robbed by buying this book, when they could've bought another book for the local kids or supported some less well-known authors. 

In summary:
  • This book is awful
  • The "suspense" quickly loses traction
  • The secret isn't that surprising of a secret 
  • The writing is mediocre and often clunky
  • What was Stephen King thinking when he wrote this? 
I genuinely think that King LIKES baseball. I think he is a fan, because all the stuff that was just about playing the game, was decent. It was easy to read, it was generally enjoyable. It wasn't anything to write home about, but it definitely has the right vibe and flow. If this were purely a baseball story, this book would actually be better. Because the simple baseball sections were adequate, I am bumping this book to a Lone Star rating of ✯✯. 

This is hands down the worst book I have read this summer. It has been a while since I have read a book THIS bad. If it weren't for the fact that it was baseball, and King has adequate knowledge about the game to write about it, it would not merit that second star at all. The best thing about this book, is how much I get to rant about it and explain how absurd and bad it is. When I first finished the book I thought "maybe this is an older book and that's why it is so clunky." Then I read that it was published in 2010, and that made me question everything about Stephen King's possible writing style based on what little I know about it. Was this really written by the guy who wrote acclaimed titles like The Green Mile and has had several movies made and remade, as blockbuster hits? I'm not sure. I almost feel like he hired just anybody to write something relatively dark with a baseball twist and then slapped his own name on it. I read on Wikipedia (again, the most academic website on the internet---no, don't use this as a proper reference please), that King wrote this piece in two weeks. I believe it. No matter how big your name is, no matter how popular you are, no matter how much you've should always take longer than two weeks to fully produce a novel. Take some extra time to edit, take some time to flesh out your suspense. Otherwise, if this is what you're going to produce, put a pen name on it and send it to an obscure publication. All you do by claiming it is con people out of their hard earned money because they believe in you and your craft so much. 

I love baseball, but not even America's pastime could salvage this. Strike 2, more, and you're most definitely OUT. 

Rant over. 

Thanks for tuning in to this installment from The Real World According to Sam, where we bring the books straight to your screen and even put in our own two cents on them.