Frank Deford's 'The Entitled:' A Baseball Novel

Frank Deford

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Part of The Entitled takes place in Cuba. Frank Deford discusses Cubans' fanaticism over baseball with John Ydstie.

Excerpts: 'The Entitled'

Frank Deford reads from the book.

Sweetness and Light

Sportswriter and commentator Frank Deford's new novel, The Entitled is the story of Jay Alcazar, a power hitter for the Cleveland Indians, and his manager, Howie Traveler, who is dazzled by his star player's enormous talents.

Traveler is the "soul of baseball," Deford tells John Ydstie. "The guy who couldn't make the grade himself as a player but has plugged away and loves the game probably more than anybody. Howie has given up a lot of his personal life chasing the baseball dream. And finally now, at the end of his career, he's gotten to be the manager of a Major League team."

Alcazar, on the other hand, is the "classic American superstar," Deford says. The Entitled's title character, he is attractive, smart and Cuban American.

The plot turns when Alcazar is accused of rape and his manager is faced with a decision that could end both of their careers. Alcazar proclaims his innocence, and the book has readers wondering which one of them — the star or his accuser — is telling the truth.

Deford says he keeps writing about sports because it's "the easiest thing to write about and I guess the most fun to write about .... Every day there [are] winners and losers and there's drama and there's joy and there's glamour. And the guys playing it are young, and so lots of times they say all the wrong things."

Excerpt: 'The Entitled'

'The Entitled'
Note: There is language in this excerpt that some readers may find offensive.

Jay

Alcazar thought the whole idea was a royal pain in the ass. He didn't know Howie Traveler, and he didn't want to be his buddy. He was going to spend the next season, maybe more, with him every day, so what earthly good would it do to spend a day in the off-season getting to know one another? He never gave managers any trouble. He wasn't a clubhouse lawyer. He came to play. He played hurt. Wasn't that enough?

However, when he bitched about it to his agent, Montague––because that's what agents were good at, listening to you bitch––Montague dared to tell him to just go ahead and meet with Howie. "For Chrissake, have lunch with him, Jay. Everybody's convinced you wanted Diaz for the job, so you blow off old Howie, somebody'll make a big deal outta it."

Then Montague told him about some group in Fort Lauderdale that wanted to give him a brotherhood award. "I told you, Freddie, no awards. Tell 'em to get Muhammed Ali. He'll go anywhere for an award." The trouble was, you see, even if they paid you to come and accept the award, you had to go to a reception and dinner and be on display for hours. "I told you, Freddie: only awards they'll mail me."

Montague laughed, as Montague did whenever Alcazar assayed anything even remotely humorous.

But, anyway, Jay called Howie and agreed to meet him at the Mandarin, the hotel where he was going to stay in downtown Miami. No, no, Howie said, I'll come to you, to your house. Jay wouldn't have it. He would do the driving. Of course, he didn't say it, but that way, he was in control. He could make his excuses and leave whenever he'd had enough. He'd give Howie the time for one sandwich. How much more time did they need? What were they going to do, talk about signs for the double steal?

So, after a late breakfast that day, Alcazar walked Ashley out to her car. Her's was a sunshine yellow Saab convertible. Ashley was in marketing in Fort Lauderdale. Or anyway, she had been when Jay had first met her. The subject hadn't come up on this occasion. Ashley was cagey enough to understand Jay didn't ever want to talk baseball, or about himself, so she didn't talk about herself either. Actually, they didn't talk a whole lot about anything. "I'll give you a call," he said, when they got to the car.

Ashley reached up and pinched his cheek. "Sweetie, you said that last time."

"And I did."

"Well, yeah. Three months later. Hey, that passed my sell-by date."

Alcazar had to laugh. He pinched her cheek back. Ashley smiled. She was an older woman, at least thirty-two or –three. Jay liked the aging ones, the grown-ups. There was less posturing with them, and he knew that nobody that much older than he was would be ridiculous enough to imagine anything serious could come of this.

"Hey, I had a baseball season to play."

She clicked her door lock, and he opened the door for her. "Well, there's that other thing you do as well as you play baseball, so I guess it's worth the wait."

"Dancing?" he said, coyly.

"That too, sweetie. You're fun to be with, Jay. You're not like what you're supposed to be."

"Yeah. What am I supposed to be?"

"You're supposed to be like an asshole ballplayer."

"And I'm not?"

Ashley shook her head and reached up and kissed him quickly, before sliding down into the driver's seat. "No, you're too much like a gentleman. I feel like a lady with you, Jay. Even when I'm in bed with you, I feel like a lady. A naughty lady, but still a lady."

"That's nice. My mother always told me, don't be common, Jay."

"Well, your mother raised a good boy." She turned the ignition on and flipped the convertible hooks.

He reached into this pocket and extracted some hundred-dollar bills and gave them to her. "I was gonna getja something."

"But you forgot again."

"Well, I'm no good at picking stuff out, anyway. You know what you want."

"So do you, Jay, so do you," she said, laughing, as she started to send the convertible top down. "Okay. Anytime you wanna dance again."

"Stay by the phone," he said, winking at her.

Ashley wasn't the kind of woman who wouldn't have taken this kind of treatment from anybody else, but now, she just laughed and tossed her head. She had a fabulous head of hair. Then she roared away around the circular drive.

Alcazar watched her go. He liked her better than most. Next time he wouldn't wait so long. But only then did he really remember that he had to meet Howie, and so, he walked back to his house, that instantly put him in a bad mood. Goddamn managers would drive you crazy. Wasn't Howie supposed to be a tough guy, toe-the-line, and all that bullshit? Isn't that why they fired Phillips, because he was too easy on everybody? Now, what's this old guy doing, trying to be palsy-walsy so he'll be my buddy when he starts to bust balls?

I know one thing, Alcazar thought, as he got into his Porsche, if he starts in on how the team has got to be like a family, I'm outta Cleveland next year when I'm a free agent. Nobody says an insurance office is supposed to be like a family, or the local Burger King. Just do your job. Show up ready to play. It's always the fringe players, the guys who make all the noise with their mouths instead of their bats, who play up the family crap. And those are the guys who end up managing. They get the last word. They get to push the buttons of the next generation of the guys who can do things they never could themselves.

Alcazar especially hated it when other players called the manager "Skip." That was for Skipper, which was some ancient half-assed synonym for manager. He literally rolled his eyes every time he heard that. Oh well, it was better than the other sports where all the coaches were called "Coach," like it was a title, an honorific, like they were doctors. At least in baseball nobody ever actually called a manager "Manager."

But Alcazar would never voice his opinion on a subject like that. You wanna call him Skip, go ahead. You wanna call it family, call it family. He might not like it, but he just went on his way, mum. That was the good thing about baseball. It was a team sport, sure, and sometimes you had to give yourself up and hit it to the right side, move the runner up, that type thing, but by and large, four or five times a game it was you and only you standing in against the pitcher. Once one of his managers in the minors was carrying on because somebody screwed up, and, quite seriously (as if this was original with him), he said: "Remember, there's no I in 'team.'"

Yeah, you asshole, Alcazar muttered under his breath, but it's no team in the batter's box when heat comes in at you over the top ninety-some miles an hour. Don't tell me it's not me––I––then.

Alcazar was fifteen minutes late meeting his manager. But then, he was always late. It wasn't, the way some people imagined, that he was late on purpose, to show he was a big star. It was more the other way round, that since he was a big star, no one ever called him to account, so Alcazar just naturally didn't pay rigorous attention to appointments or promises to get back to you. Hey, he knew Ashley would be there whenever he got back around to her. He knew people would wait on him; he knew they wouldn't even mention it. You might lose your privacy being a big star, but in consolation, one of the perks you got is that time belongs to you. It's a wonderful thing to own, time. That and your own airplane––well, anyway, a time-share jet, like Alcazar had––are about the ultimate luxuries today.

Alcazar passed through the tables at the hotel restaurant, outdoors, overlooking the water. The diners cleared a path for him with their eyes. Almost subconsciously, waiters leaned away from him, giving him the floor. Howie watched in admiration. He'd always heard the phrase "cut a swath." He never really understood it till right now when Jay Alcazar strode through the tables, cutting a swath. Exactly; whatever it meant, he was seeing it. Howie stood up. After all, he wasn't sure that Alcazar actually knew what he looked like. Alcazar did seem to recognize him, though, and smiled a benediction on him and shook his hand. However, right away, he said he didn't want to eat anything, maybe just have something to drink.

Here was the thing Jay had considered: food would take awhile to be prepared, and then it would have to be consumed. Don't get trapped.

So Alcazar ordered an iced tea. Howie really was hungry and wanted a big meal, but he settled for a cobb salad, as if that had been what he had in mind all along.

From the first, Howie understood that Alcazar only suffered his presence. He had no interest when Howie told him about his plans for the team. He didn't ask any questions. Howie even quickly recognized the way Alcazar treated him; it was like those times when he himself had to do an interview with some reporter, and he just robotically mouthed the standard answers––all the while thinking about whether he needed to pick up his cleaning on the way home or when he was getting a haircut. Now he knew the feeling of being on the other side. It wasn't that Alcazar was antagonistic or rude. If he had been, it would have encouraged Howie more, because at least he would have felt then that Alcazar was engaged, that perhaps then he could win him over.

But, sitting there, sipping his own iced tea, stabbing at the salad, he felt so impossibly removed from him. He grew certain that there would never be anything between them, that he would manage the Indians and Alcazar would play for the Indians, but they would never really intersect on the Indians.

"What's he like?" Lindsay asked him over the phone later that day.

"I don't know what he's like because I don't know anyone like him," Howie replied.

"Maybe you don't have to be like anyone if you're that good."

"And you know you're that good yourself," she said.

Well, Howie interjected, one thing: he didn't think Alcazar was as handsome as everybody always said. When describing him, in fact, invariably they wrote: "movie-star handsome."

"Aw, come on, Daddy, he's one good-looking dude."

"Hey," Howie cried, in mock seriousness. "You stay away from him."

"Don't worry," Lindsay said. "I don't want to sleep with him. I just wanna get out of the government and be his agent. Do they have any women agents?"

"No. It's altogether a man's world, agents."

"Well, I'm a woman, and trust me, Daddy: Jay Alcazar is a hunk."

"All right, nice looking," Howie said. "If you're a star, they always say you're smarter and better-looking than you really are. If some star just lets on he knows what country Paris is in, he's played up like some international expert."

As lunch had continued at the Mandarin, a man had come over to the table and nicely, almost obsequiously, asked for an autograph. Politely, Alcazar replied: "I'm sorry, but I'm meeting with this gentleman now. When I leave, I'll be happy to sign."

The man backed away, embarrassed, but understanding. Howie said: "You handled that very nicely, Jay."

Alcazar shrugged. It was something stars learned. It was like they had to tip more, too. That was another surcharge on fame, a celebrity tax. "The cocksuckers never leave you alone, wherever you are," he declared.

"Yeah," Howie said. And, taking advantage of this one register of emotion, he said: "I'm thinking of maybe switching you and Wyn'amo, batting him ahead of you. Whatdya think?"

This was as sensitive as Howie was going to get. Always before, Alcazar had batted third, Willis fourth. In the diamond argot, this way Willis "protected" Alcazar. That is, the pitcher throwing to Alcazar couldn't get too cute with what he threw, couldn't risk walking him because then he'd have to face another good hitter, but with a man on base to boot. The pitcher was therefore more obliged to throw strikes to Alcazar, which, of course, gave him a better chance to see a good pitch to hit.

Alcazar rubbed his chin. He didn't answer directly. Instead: "We gonna get Casagrande?" Casagrande was a free agent, a good hitter.

"We're trying like a sonuvabitch," Howie said. "But his agent wants five years."

"He can hit better than Amo can now."

"Wouldn't surprise me."

"Get his ass and bat him behind me," Alcazar said. But he grinned when he said that.

Howie nodded. That, however, evidently concluded that particular line of discussion, and it was equally clear to him that Alcazar had no topic of his own to introduce. So Howie said: "I saw Amo yesterday. In Atlanta."

"Go to church with him?"

"No, just had a nice dinner at his house."

"Well," Alcazar said, "you'll find out: he's a good man. He's not the player he was, but he's a good man. I'm usually suspicious of the Jesus-this/Jesus-that guys, but Amo doesn't fake that crap."

"That's what I've heard," Howie said. He was pleased that Alcazar appeared to like Willis. It was nice that the young star approved of the old star he had superseded. That sort of thing mattered on a team. But Alcazar didn't offer anymore.

Idly then, in some desperation, like they were no more than two strangers with nametags on their lapels at a convention, Howie said: "So, you got any interesting plans this off-season?"

"Nothing much." But then Alcazar perked up, and he actually volunteered something. "One year, though, I'm gonna go to Cuba," he said.

"Yeah? How old were you?"

"When I came over?" Howie nodded. "I was a baby. I don't remember any of it."

"Jay, maybe you'll go this year, Jay."

"No, not this year. Maybe next. It's uh ––" But he stopped and shrugged. "Nah, I don't wanna go there."

"I thought you said you did."

"No, I mean, I wanna go to Cuba, but I don't wanna talk about it now."

"Oh, okay," Howie said, and since Alcazar didn't have anything else he wanted to say, this was usually the time that men would start to talk about their golf games, but Howie didn't want to go there, so he just said thanks for coming to visit with him, and he'd see him in Spring Training. They just shook hands perfunctorily then, and Howie watched Alcazar walk away.

The man who had asked for his autograph earlier pounced again now, and as soon as he did, so did some of the other more reticent diners and a red-headed waitress and a Latino bus boy, who looked up at Alcazar absolutely beatifically. Alcazar signed, and he flashed that brilliant smile of his as he did, his logo-like deep blue eyes glowing out of his khaki skin, but he never stopped walking, never even broke stride. That was the secret. Keep signing, but keep moving. Howie thought of fish. Isn't that what they said of fish––or is it just dolphins? or sharks?––that if they stopped moving, they would sink? Alcazar kept moving, signing his name, but never stopping.

Always after that, in his own mind, Howie always thought that Jay Alcazar was like a shark, a big, beautiful fish that no one could ever sink a hook into. More even than that, though, as Howie got the chance to observe Jay more, he noticed how, like a fish, when he moved on, things would close up behind him, leaving no trace that he had gone before. And that, Howie knew, is how Jay liked it.

Excerpted from The Entitled Copyright © 2007 by Frank Deford. Published by Sourcebooks, Inc.

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The Entitled
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2007

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