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Book Report: The Dreyfus Affair

I first read The Dreyfus Affair: A Love Story back in 1993 when it came out in paperback. I saw a copy signed by Peter Lefcourt and thought it looked interesting enough to pick up. And I enjoyed it and all, but not enough to make me want to reread it for fourteen years.

It’s about a couple of baseball players who fall in love. Randy Dreyfus is married, and suddenly finds himself attracted to his teammate DJ Pickett, who (unbeknownst to him) is a closeted gay man. The two start an affair, which is eventually exposed and leads to plot complications. It’s quite a fun book.

The odd thing about reading it fourteen years later is seeing what has dated and what hasn’t. The attitude toward homosexuality has changed somewhat, but not all that much. There still aren’t any openly gay ballplayers in any major-league sport, although several have come out after retirement. I think that a fellow who found himself with a crush on a teammate would go through quite a bit of the same stuff Mr. Lefcourt imagines in this book. On the other hand, if such an affair were exposed, I can’t imagine the commissioner of baseball expelling the players from baseball. Certainly not during the season or the postseason. On the other other hand, I think the likelihood of a violent attack on one or another of the players is very high, possibly higher now than fifteen years ago.

But what has really changed since the book was written is baseball. Our main character is a shortstop on a pennant-contending team in the last year of his contract. He’s leading the league in batting average, hit a ton of home runs, had a ton of RBIs, fields well, is a young shortstop and is negotiating a three-year contract for $20 million. That’s a total of $20 million, more or less $7 a year. Just to give you an idea, in 2001, Alex Rodriguez, who was essentially all that, signed a ten year deal for $250 million. That was six years ago. Derek Jeter signed for 10 years and $189M in 2001, Miguel Tejada signed for 6 years and $72M in 2004, in 2005 Edgar Renteria signed for five years and fifty million and Orlando Cabrera signed for 4 years and $32M, Rafael Furcal just signed for three years and $39 million and Carlos Guillen just signed for 4 years and $48M.

Not just the money, though. The book was written in 1991 or so, and even though it’s set in 1998 or so, after the round of expansion that in real life engendered the Marlins and Rockies (but not the Devil Rays & Diamondbacks expansion, which was in 1998 in real life but no part of the book), there are only two divisions and the playoffs are one round and then the Series. More important and more subtle, Mr. Lefcourt doesn’t predict the offensive explosion of the mid-90s, so the numbers of homeruns are low. I don’t remember how many Randy Dreyfuss had at the end of the year, but I remember an implication that having 40 at the beginning of September was plenty to challenge for the league lead. When he was writing, Cecil Fielder was hitting 51 for the Tigers, which was a Big Deal because it had been twenty years since anybody hit 50. Since then, 21 players have hit 50.

Also, in an important game, the visiting team still had their closer pitching in the 12th. Not impossible, but surprising. More likely was the home team’s manager telling the batter to finish it, because their crappy relief pitcher was out of gas and he didn’t have anybody else. Actually, I really liked the manager, who didn’t give a crap about the gay thing, the contract, or anything except getting the runner from first to third.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,