First-rate compendium of baseball fiction by Ring Lardner, often featuring fictional players among real ones on real teams: an annotated edition, ten years in the making, that deserves high praise for its immaculate scholarship, for its 111 photos and drawings of Lardner's real-life characters and of those real-life men the fictions are sometimes drawn from, and for the historical detail that editor Hilton—a professor emeritus of economics (Univ. of Calif., LA) and longtime baseball fan—amasses to underpin each work. As with Ken Burns's PBS series last summer, sports blends with art. Yes, the post-1915 Lardner gets short-winded, but his humor is some of the best since Mark Twain. And here, Hemingway, as he himself admitted, learned more about style and The Sentence than he did from Gertrude Stein, and more about how to catch dialogue on the wing more immediately than any living writer. Among the 24 short stories in this long loaf filled with raisins and walnuts are the six later collected as the You Know Me Al series, and the imperishable ``Alibi Ike'' with its opening: ``His right name was Frank X. Farrell, and I guess the X stood for `Excuse me.' Because he never pulled a play, good or bad, on or off the field, without apologizin' for it.''
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