Clayton Kershaw has been compared to Sandy Koufax his entire career, so much so that the great Vin Scully would sometimes call him Koufax during a broadcast. They are tied by their Dodger lineage, their high release southpaw deliveries from the mound at Dodger Stadium, the K in their last names hinting at the strikeouts to come, and by their complete dominance of the game. The start of their careers, however, are pretty different other than both being so young at the time of their debut, Koufax at 19 and Kershaw at 20. Koufax was average or less than average for the first six years of his career, and nobody could be sure whether he would ever fully blossom. Kershaw, on the other hand, showed his massive potential even in his rookie season and was immediately effective beginning in year two.
The Girl With The Louding Voice felt more like Sandy Koufax’s career than Kershaw’s to me. I knew there was potential for the book to grab me, to tug on my emotions, but I had to wonder if it would ever truly blossom. Like Koufax, whose lowest ERA+ in the last five years of his career was 143, The Girl With The Louding Voice never faltered in the second half. You find yourself rooting hard for Adunni, a young Nigerian girl who just can’t seem to catch a break but nevertheless just keeps pushing on. As I finished the book this morning I couldn’t help but think about my takeaway from the book, and I think it’s that this book really just encapsulates my team rule: just don’t be an asshole.
Picking a baseball card bookmark for a book set in Nigeria about arranged marriages, lack of education opportunities for women, and slave trading isn’t particularly easy. I have to admit, I used the receipt for this book far too long before finally settling on Kershaw. His charity, Kershaw’s Challenge, helps “vulnerable and at-risk children” in Los Angeles, Dallas, Dominican Republic, and Zambia. Kershaw’s wife, Ellen, first went to Zambia 15 years ago, and since then the couple has been back many times to build orphanages, children’s homes, and a school.
Of course, Zambia and Nigeria are about as close as San Francisco and Miami, so using a Zambia connection is a bit like asking someone in San Diego if they know someone in Boston. Or maybe the equivalent of calling a team in Anaheim the Los Angeles Angels. But picking a card with a connection to Africa at all is challenging. Gift Ngoepe was the first continental-born African player to play Major League Baseball when he made his debut with the Pirates in 2017. Two years later, Tayler Scott, who grew up ten minutes from Ngoepe in Johannesburg, South Africa made his debut for the Mariners. There were two problems keeping me from using their cards. First, South Africa is twice as far from Nigeria as Zambia, and secondly, I don’t have either of their cards.
It feels a bit sacrilegious to write this, but there’s really not much of a comparison between the two pitchers – Clayton Kershaw has had the better career by far. Koufax’s best season by ERA+ was his last season, at 190. Kershaw has had four seasons with an ERA+ (which takes into account variables like ballpark) better than 190, including an incredible 237 in 2016 when Kershaw went 12-4 with a 1.69ERA and a 0.725WHIP. Koufax’s best WHIP was 0.875. Koufax had six seasons out of 11 full seasons with an ERA+ over 120. Kershaw has had 12 out of 12 seasons with an ERA+ of 120 or higher. In fact, the lowest full season ERA+ of his career is 133. You also have to consider the help Koufax received from pitching his entire career before the mound was lowered from 15 to 10 inches after the 1968 season (Not to mention Dodger Stadium’s mound was notoriously higher than 15 inches). For example, Koufax’s ERA at Dodger Stadium, where he made the most starts of his career (86), was 1.37. His next two stadiums were also home parks – his ERA at The LA Coliseum (72 starts) was 4.33, and his ERA at Ebbets Field (32 starts) was 4.04. His ERA in 31 starts at Crosley Field in Cincinnati was 4.13 and his ERA at Busch Stadium in St. Louis (29) starts was 3.98. And just for kicks, he pitched to a 3.58 ERA in 18 career games at Candlestick Park. Taking the home/road split into consideration, the mound height, the strength training and skill set of modern hitter, there’s really no comparison between the two pitchers, Kershaw wins hands down.
Unless you count postseason success. In which case… well, sorry Kersh, you are a mere mortal in the presence of a God.
In the end I really enjoyed reading this book. Through Adunni’s voice you really get a feeling for her and her experience, and of course Ms. Tia is wonderful. But perhaps my favorite part of the book came from the “About The Author” section, which ends with “Abi lives in Essex with her husband and two daughters, who inspired her to write her debut novel.”