It was ten years ago this week that Joseph M. Schuster's novel The Might Have Been was released. Six months after Chad Harbach's The Art of Fielding pushed baseball into the popular fiction conversation, The Might Have Been made little more than a ripple. Perhaps you missed it altogether. If so, this under-the-radar debut is one worth circling back for.
Here's my review, which ran in Baseball America back in March 2012:
In one of the most quoted lines in Jim Bouton's classic Ball Four, he muses "You see, you spend a good piece of your life gripping a baseball, and in the end it turns out that it was the other way around all the time." This is what makes it so difficult for men to walk away from the game, why men, whose own playing days are well behind them, are willing to ride buses across the heartland, hopping from small town to small town, missing their families, eating fast food at irregular hours, sleeping on lumpy mattresses in a different motel every third day.
The game is a drug many old ballplayers are too weak to resist, its allure perhaps strongest to those whose career didn't follow the course they had mapped out as kids. Edward Everett Yates never envisioned it would take him ten years to reach the St. Louis Cardinals. His long-imagined debut hadn't included being ordered to bunt in his first—and only official—plate appearance. He may have dreamed of hitting for the cycle, but nowhere in that vision was the game washed out of the record books as he hung by his cleats from the outfield fence in Montreal, rain pelting his face as pain pulsed in waves from his shredded knee up through his body until he finally blacked out.
To tab Yates, or Edward Everett as he's called throughout, the hero of Joseph Schuster's The Might Have Been is to upsell his lot in the baseball landscape. There's little heroic about him, next to no glamour in his life once he returns to the bush leagues, never again to sniff major league air. As a young man his self-absorption sows the seeds of the loneliness that will plague him well into middle age when he moves into the coaching ranks. His only constants are baseball and regret, and in many regards the former fuels the latter.
What might have been for Edward Everett had he not leapt for that home-run ball in Montreal? His life, in his reflections, is a series of what-ifs, not all of which date back to that fateful game. When he, as manager, is burdened with informing his players that the organization no longer desires their services, he wants to tell them to find something else to do with their lives. Sell flour. Sell straw. Move on. "Be grateful for the life you have rather than regret over the one you don't."
Through Edward Everett, Schuster illuminates a side of the game utterly devoid of glamour and often even hope. For every young man who dreams of making a living under the lights, or every middle age office worker imagining how things might have turned out differently had he only been able to hit the curve ball, here's a reminder that the game doesn't always romance those who sacrifice their life and heart to it.