by Harry Stein ‧ RELEASE DATE: Oct. 12, 1983
A solid, stylish evocation of American journalism and baseball in the 1910-20 ""hoopla"" decade--with a predictable loss-of-innocence theme emerging through the parallel memoirs of a fictional ""scribe"" and a real-life ballplayer (one of the ""Black Sox"" scandal Eight). Luther Pond, a faintly Lardner-ish figure, recalls his frankly ambitious rise to fame as a sportswriter for W. R. Hearst: in 1910 he covers the ""Fight of the Century"" in Reno (Jack Johnson vs. white hope Jim Jeffries), but spends most of his time nursemaiding ex-champ John L. Sullivan, now a fat, drunken pseudo-newsman; later in the decade he sees a vulnerable ""kindred spirit"" in arrogant, unlikable Ty Cobb--but is forbidden to publish the inner-Cobb story (""People don't want to read about Ty Cobb crying, for Chrissakes""); in 1915, after a personal hint from Hearst, he looks into a mob-crime trial, covers the execution, but then just misses a big white-slavery scoop--though his shift into a reporter-at-large/columnist career has been assured. Meanwhile, in alternating sections of more colloquial, folksy prose, George A. (""Buck"") Weaver gives his year-by-year history as a Chicago White Sox infielder--with special attention to ""skinflint"" club-owner Comiskey, the fickle press, ""our gripes over dough,"" winning the World Series in 'l7, the public's attitude toward non-enlisting ballplayers during the War. . . and a few fellow players: decent, insecure Eddie Cicotte, ""the first twirler to invent the knuckleball""; much-hated ""domehead"" Eddie Collins, whose smartalecky ways fractured the team's spirit; Shoeless Joe Jackson, of course, ""stupid and ignorant."" And though Weaver refers to scribe Pond once or twice, their paths won't really cross until that much-chronicled 1919 World Series fix: Weaver, with a mixture of regret and bitterness, tells of his semi-reluctant involvement (""we were just stuck in a jar of jam, with no way out""); Pond describes his role in exposing the fix--with a tip from hypocrite Ty Cobb. . . and no congratulations from Ring Lardner, who's disgusted by Pond's opportunism. First-novelist Stein (an Esquire columnist) doesn't bring a fresh viewpoint to the familiar socio-cultural picture of the period: ""Quite simply, we found ourselves at the edge of an era in which many of the precepts with which we had come to maturity, and virtually all of the constraints, would abruptly be antique."" Neither of his narrator-heroes comes to full-bodied life; the juxtaposition of their memoirs is only fitfully resonant; and the broader canvas--despite the usual cameos and some gritty details--isn't as spirited or inventive as many other similar historical re-creations. Still, if studied rather than buoyant and more well-researched than richly imagined, this is pleasant, intelligent fare for those partial to diamond/press-box history--of largely nostalgic appeal, even with that sour-end-of-an-era motif.
Pub Date: Oct. 12, 1983
Page Count: -
Review Posted Online: N/A
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1983
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