The Searcher is about retired Chicago police officer Cal Hooper who retires to a small village in Ireland after his divorce. So, of course, when thinking of a Cal in Major League Baseball you immediately think of… Cal Eldred. Why didn’t I initially think of the most obvious and famous Cal of all time, Cal Ripken, Jr.? I like to think it was the power of my unconscious mind. Cal Eldred would have been a great pick. Eldred was not nearly as famous or successful as Ripken, and I believe that fits better with low key Cal Hooper. In The Searcher, we are invited to the second phase of Cal Hooper’s life, just as we are now witnessing Cal Eldred’s second baseball incarnation as a pitching coach. Also, like the book which leaves you wondering what happened, Cal Eldred’s career has a mystery I’d like to uncover. From 1991 to 2001, Cal Eldred pitched in 206 games, all but five as a starting pitcher. During those years as a starter, Eldred had a 4.53ERA; as a reliever, from age 35 to 37, he had a 3.69 ERA. How did he reinvent himself late in his career after missing almost two full seasons to injury and ineffectiveness to become a reliable reliever for a World Series winning team? Was it just the switch from having to pace himself as a starter to going all out as a reliever that has helped pitchers like Andrew Miller and Wade Davis? Was it the knowledge that comes from experience, the same knowledge that now makes him a well-regarded pitching coach? Was it anything to do with playing in the heart of the Steroid Era?
In fact, I would probably enjoying discovering the answer to these questions more than the questions in the book.
Cal Eldred also went 10-2 in 2000 pitching on the south side of Chicago, which would have overlapped with Cal Hooper’s career with Chicago PD.
But, despite how appropriate a Cal Eldred card would have been, I ended up using a 1992 Topps Cal Ripken, Jr. for three reasons. 1) Cal Ripken is by far the better, more famous player. 2) I have always really liked this card. 1992 Topps is a great set. As my friend Terry wrote, he always “like(d) the 92 design and card stock.” And this card, with Ripken posing with Lou Gehrig’s Hall of Fame plaque, is both aesthetically pleasing and meaningful.* 3) I came across this card before I found Cal Eldred and thought, “oh yeeeeeeaaaah, Cal RIPKEN.”
*Cal Ripken was still 492 games played and over three seasons away from matching the Iron Horse’s consecutive games played streak when this card was issued. It always felt inevitable that Ripken would break the record, and yet, playing three full seasons without missing a game is anything but guaranteed, especially after not missing a game over the previous ten years. I wonder how we would look at this card if Ripken had never equaled Gehrig.
There was one other option for a bookmark: Jeff Francoeur. “Frenchy” didn’t really offer any connection to the book other than the author’s surname, so I’ll just hold onto that idea in case Tana French’s next book doesn’t offer any obvious possibilities.