The Really Bad News Griffith Park Pirates
Book by John Albert
By Kim Hollis
August 22, 2005
As a longtime fan of the sport, I fully believe that baseball has amazing healing properties. If I'm having a down day, I oftentimes look to the simple happiness of a baseball game on TV to perk me right back up. Wrecking Crew: The Really Bad News Griffith Park Pirates exemplifies this emotion as it sees its real-life "characters" turning to the sport to find their own sort of solace.
John Albert, the book's author, is a some-time punk musician who co-founded the hardcore group Christian Death and was a drummer for the legendary Bad Religion. Like some of the people who were involved in that "scene", though, he fell under the spell of the drug culture that perpetuated. After suffering for years due to an addiction to heroin, he finally quit the stuff for good and started forging a living by writing. At the time the Wrecking Crew story starts, he is partnering with another kindred spirit to work on screenplays. It's a tenuous existence to be sure, but seemingly a huge improvement over his days as a junkie.
When one of his friends, Mike, becomes determined to put together a baseball team and join a local men's league, Albert is dubious about participating. Slowly, the team comes together and although they're not particularly good, they do have a fair amount of pride and determination.
Although baseball is the backdrop of the book, the real story revolves around the characters. Many of them are former junkies and people who were almost famous. One is John Navarro, cousin of rock god Dave Navarro. We learn a great deal about John throughout the course of the book, primarily that he has a habit of frequently falling deeply in love with the wrong women. His big heart gets him in a bit of trouble, as he willingly gives up his comfortable apartment and beloved cats for a woman who had been working as a high-priced hooker when he met her.
Wrecking Crew is full of small, anecdotal stories such as these. The team goes through numerous iterations as some people remain constant and others leave (occasionally falling back into old, bad habits). Through it all, we see the disillusionment that a generation of punk rockers feel now that they're well into middle age and heading into later years. An example that particularly resonates is a concert where one of the older gents finds himself in heavy conflict with the members of an up-and-coming band. When the younger guys basically imply that the guys are nothing more than has-beens, the comment rankles - and unfortunately rings true.
The remainder of the cast of characters includes an aspiring actor who hails from the Blue Ridge Mountains and a convicted murderer (needless to say, his teammates give him a wide berth). There's a former heavy metal hair band star who had once been on the verge of making it big, and there's a young Japanese man who is taking acting lessons and also happens to be the best player on the team.
My one disappointment with the book is that I was expecting there to be a lot more baseball involved in the telling of the tale. In reality, the games and practices were given only cursory glimpses, with the primary focus of Wrecking Crew being a series of interconnected stories about the teammates themselves. And it does indeed make for a fascinating character study, but as a baseball fan, I was looking for a little bit more detail about the team's travails.
Even so, the book is engagingly written and is particularly worth a look for anyone who grew up punk - or surrounded by those who aspired to the punk lifestyle.
The verdict: B