It's the eve of armageddon and a major league manager controls the fate of the world.
The Cold War rages, tensions are high. The Soviets have positioned troops in Sri Lanka and the Americans are insisting that they be removed. Meanwhile, Al Tiller, manager of the Chicago Cubs, is positioning his club for their first pennant in over forty years. Armed with the checkbook of new Cubs owner Chester A. Rowdy, the billionaire discoverer of an Alabaman super worm, the northsiders have one of the most expensive and powerful offenses ever assembled. It doesn't matter if their shortstop and second baseman are both really third baseman when they're being paid obscene amounts of money to help the team.
Meanwhile, Tiller, the veteran minor league manager who has lucked into this All-Star team, is having dreams.
Across the desk from the old man, seated in a semi-circle, were five people, ordinary looking, dressed in pale, twentieth-century clothing. Each sat on a polished wooden chair with claw-feet; the seat of each chair was upholstered in expensive-looking ice-blue velvet.
"Please, God," the man furthest away from Tiller was saying, "we'd like you to arrange for the Chicago Cubs to win the pennant this year."
The five people gathered around God were, Al Tiller discovered, representative of baseball fans, how many he wasn't able to determine, but certainly a large contingent, all apparently deceased. Lobbying, Tiller supposed, was the word for what they were doing. Each one, in turn, pleaded politely with God to see that the Chicago Cubs won the pennant.
With the season winding down and the pressure of Chicago's first pennant since World War II looming over Tiller's head, everything amplified by the team's historic payroll, Tiller fights these prophetic visions on a nightly basis. Are they real? Is he indeed getting supernatural assistance? Or are they the dreams of a man in way over his head?
And what happens when God finally speaks?
"I appreciate your interest," God said. "I want to assure you that I hold the Chicago Cubs in highest esteem. I have listened to your entreaties and considered the matter carefully from all angles. I am aware of how long it has been since the Cubs have won a pennant. I think you should know that when the Cubs next win the National League Championship, it will be the last pennant before Armageddon…"
The story of Al Tiller and "The Last Pennant Before Armageddon" can be found in "The Thrill of the Grass", a 1984 collection of short stories from W.P. Kinsella. Other stories in the collection worth reading, each of which infused with the same kind of unexplained but welcome magic seen in "Shoeless Joe", are "The Night Manny Mota Tied the Record", "The Battery", and "How I Got My Nickname." Kinsella may be most famous for writing the book that spawned "Field of Dreams", but its his short stories that showcase his skills best. The stories are tighter, the magic less troublesome, and the questions asked more profound. No story from this fine collection better exemplifies this than "The Last Pennant Before Armageddon."
Now hurry up and read it. You don't have much time!