Baseball fans are going to love Rainbow Curve. And even readers not familiar with the intricacies of the game, like me, will find themselves drawn in by the drama Michael Boylan conjures from the lives of multi-racial players who make baseball America’s national pastime and in Latin America a game “more serious than life itself.”
As Buddy Bael, field boss and general manager of the Chicago Cubs, says to a crowd of Rotarians, “Baseball is just like life…It ain’t just no symbol of life; it is life. And you know it.”
Boylan knows it, and you will know it, too, because on these pages there is life aplenty: a sports world filled to overflowing
with corruption and political intrigue, loyalty and love, aging and coming of age, betrayals and human barracudas all vying to
make a profit from the players. At the story’s center is talented, blue-eyed, left-handed pitcher Bo Mellan, the quiet and good-natured protégé of Rainbow Billy Beauchamp, once a star pitcher in the Negro baseball leagues. Boylan describes those bygone days of glory with prose that makes palpable a very special era in sports history:
“It was in Chicago that the Negro Leagues held their All Star game. ‘My, that was a special game,’ Rainbow used to say. He
had played in four All Star Games. The first in 1934 was when he threw for the Crawfords. Gus Greenlee had paid him a hundred fifty dollar bonus for being selected and for pitching several scoreless innings against some of the finest hitters in the country.
They played to 30,000 paid customers. It was a fine day…Robert Cole, owner of the Chicago American Giants, had thrown a giant party for them the night before. It lasted till almost game time the next day. There was music, women, whiskey, and a big-time crapshoot bankrolled by some of the high rollers in the league.
Thirty-four had brought in a lot of gate even though it was in the midst of the Depression. Perhaps people needed entertainment more than ever.”
Beauchamp feels he has one “last chance to hit the road again” and relive a little of that glory. After raising money by selling
his dry cleaning business, he puts together a team––the Pan-Am Elite Giants––to barnstorm its way across South America. Among the players are whites, Mexicans, a Venezuelan, and one player who, like Judas Iscariot, masks his real reason for traveling with the team.
We travel the small town circuit with the eleven players, watch Rainbow sharpen their skills as players and entertainers,
and see the ball club at play both on the field and in nightclubs. We also witness the political graft, “La Mordida” and the mounting danger that the Giants must deal with, specifically from a corrupt and sleazy baseball entrepreneur named Juan Cortez. Rainbow knows Cortez is “out to ruin us because we’re cutting into his territory.” That effort at sabotage reaches its disastrous peak in a field near Zacoala when they play a team from a local stone quarry, not knowing how they’ve been set up for an ambush. Boylan masterfully handles the suspense of this deception and its consequences for young Bo Mellan and Rainbow Billy Beauchamp.
But if playing ball in South America is dangerous, how much more so must the risk, treachery and reality of corruption be
in a city “run by influence and infiltrated by organized crime?” Entering the Major League and becoming a star player for the
Cubs, Bo Mellan finds himself in a snake pit of politics, and a “people’s war in Chicago.” Ruppert Cakos, the puppet-master
who pulls Buddy Bael’s strings, is the Mogul who “owned a major Chicago newspaper (the Sun), TV and radio station (WDRT), Major League Baseball team (the Cubs), the largest construction firm in Illinois (Advanced Building Contractors) and extensive land holdings in Chicago.” Predictably, the power structure in the Windy City is feudal. “Beneath Dailey were his four lieutenants: Adam Wojciuk, Tony Ballestrieri, Sean Patrick O’Neil, and Jesse Jefferson. They controlled the Polish, Italian, Irish, and black voting wards respectively. O’Neil was Council president and Ballestrieri headed Advanced Builders as well as being the mob liaison with the ruling Acardo family. Jesse Jefferson and Adam Wojciuk also had indirect ties to Advanced Builders.” Bo learns from his childhood friend Angela that blacks in the city have pulled together what remains of the Black Power factions of the sixties into a new coalition, called Krakatowa, that aims to topple the existing power structure.
“You see,” says Angela, “there’s this big Federal contract called the Loop Redevelopment Project. It’s really for the whole city and is it huge! Ten billion dollars according to the papers…It just seemed as if Advanced Builders was going to get all of it by default. That’s why Krakatowa was started. They wanted minority businesses to get an even break on some of the money.”
“But doesn’t Advanced hire blacks?” asks Bo.
“Sure they do, but only if they work for the City Machine. It’s all so cozy. The blacks who take that money are either crooks or
Oreos––because no self-respecting Afro American would work for Dailey.”
Bo hits upon an idea to help the city’s poor, disadvantaged blacks. He starts the Chicago People’s Project, a non-profit lending institution devoted to helping minority businesses, thus creating an alternative to Advanced Builders and the militant Krakatowa group.
But Ruppert Cakos is Bo’s boss, and Bael feels he owns the player, and insists that Bo use his celebrity to “tell everyone how Advanced Builders are good for the city.”
The uncompromising ball player, now a “marked man,” finds himself between a rock and a hard place. He’s assaulted by two of Balestrieri’s goons, and told by al Sulami, a founder of the Krakatowa group, that, “If you’re not with me, you’re against me.”
With everyone bent on killing him, including a powerful figure from his days with the Elite Giants, Bo Mellan wonders, “How
could he fight back? Could he get something on Cakos as Rainbow had with Juan Cortez? Coretz was a considerably less formidable opponent, but the same principle ought to hold.”
Readers will keep turning pages eagerly for the answers to these questions, because the fate of Bo Mellan triggers surprising changes that sweep through Chicago and beyond. Like the special curve ball of Beauchamp, Rainbow Curve will keep catching you by surprise right to the very end.
Title: Rainbow Curve
Author: Michael Boylan
Buy a ticket for a bus ride taking you from North to Central to South America and a boat ride to the Caribbean along with a traveling baseball team. Discover baseball in all its mythical allure: Rainbow Curve is a compelling tale about race, politics, corrupting power and one man’s courage to stand up against it.
An aging baseball player, his multi-cultural teammates, a domineering manager, and a South American drug lord—are all brought together in Rainbow Curve, a gripping novel that explores the international baseball scene. Moving from training camps in Sun City, Arizona, to Wrigley Field in Chicago, to a mountain citadel in Columbia, author Michael Boylan expertly draws connections between America’s favorite pastime, cultural power, and ethical choice.
-Linda Furgerson Selzer, Associate Professor of English/ Penn State University.
Michael Boylan writes like a true baseball fan. Rainbow Curve is a novel filled with more than 9 innings of history. From barnstorming and tales about the Negro Leagues to the Chicago Cubs, Boylan examines the life of players on and off the field. Bo Mellan, Rainbow Billy Beauchamp and Buddy Beal are just some of the characters who give this novel a high batting average. Baseball is not just a game about balls and strikes, it’s also about economics, race, youth and growing old. Rainbow Curve is a reminder of why we sing “God Bless America” at the ball park.
- E. Ethelbert Miller, Literary Activist and author of The 5th Inning.
Michael Boylan is Professor and Chair of Philosophy at Marymount University. He is the author of 26 books and over 120 articles in Philosophy and Literature. Details can be found at michaelboylan.net.