Ever a sucker for fantastic stories involving baseball, I enjoyed a new story by Gardner Dozois that appears in the current issue of Fantasy and Science Fiction, entitled “The Hanging Curve”. In the story, the scene is set with the ultimate baseball situation: the top of the ninth in the World Series, Game Seven, and the home team (in this case the Phillies) are one strike away from winning it all (against the Yankees, who are only down by a single run and have a man on base). The pitcher winds up, throws, and then the ball stops midway to the plate. It simply stops in midair, and all efforts to move it are met with complete failure. The ball becomes, literally, a hanging curve — hanging there, in the air, for years as the players and then the game itself pass on. This striking image becomes the obsession of the home-plate umpire, who returns more than fifty years later to witness the ball’s sudden conclusion of its original journey. Analyzing the angle the ball takes as it flies through the spot where a catcher’s mitt once would have been, the umpire reveals what has been on his mind all these years: whether that pitch was a strike or a ball. The story is a nifty allegory about how, in the face of events of such unbelievable strangeness, we can still focus to exclusion of all else on those things that matter most to us.
The story also includes a few other neat details, such as Game Seven of a World Series only drawing ten thousand or so fans. Who knows how far in the future Dozois has envisioned this tale taking place, but to anyone alarmed by the recent refusal of baseball to clean up its act, such an image is very cautionary indeed.
(Gardner Dozois, by the way, is the editor of Asimov’s Science Fiction and of the yearly anthology series The Year’s Best Science Fiction, as well as an impressive number of other anthologies in SF. He is also, by the evidence presented in this story, a fine writer.)