Jimmy Piersall running the bases backwards after hitting his 100th home run. . .Bill Lee walking out to pitch wearing a gas mask. . .Dock Ellis tossing a no-hitter while high on LSD: just a few of the hundreds of eyebrow-raising exploits that Shlain (coauthor, Acid Dreams, 1985) relates in this colorful, scattered survey of baseball screwballs. ""The great baseball characters,"" Shlain writes, ""are without doubt a vanishing breed""--giving way to a new species of homogenized stars perfect for cereal-box exposure. But baseball's legacy of screwballs is long and deep, and Shlain's dug out most of it here, basing his chronicle of high jinks not only on the written record but also on in-depth interviews with scores of goofy, mostly retired, ballplayers. He divides his material into two parts. The first, entitled ""Oddball Gumbo,"" is just that, a sloppy slosh of minibios, anecdotes, and reminiscences--Moe Drawbowsky giving hotfoots, Frank Thomas catching fast balls barehanded, Rube Waddell turning cartwheels after pitching 20 innings, and on and on--rather haphazardly subdivided into chapters such as ""Temper, Temper"" and ""Eggheads and Gozzleheads."" The second, ""Diamond Voices,"" offers detailed portraits of some of the game's greatest personalities, including: pitcher Mark Fidrych, who talked to the ball for a few glorious seasons in the mid-70's and then faded into injury-limbo; Norm Cash, who batted against fireballer Nolan Ryan with a table leg; Luis Tiant, whose pitching motion resembled ""a hippopotamus trying to wriggle into a girdle"" and who here whines about being passed over for the Hall of Fame. Also hemmed Onto this last section--why let good material go to waste?--is an ill-fitting but intriguing profile/interview of an arrogant Ted Williams and his son. Shlain's vigorous legwork shows in the variety and extent of his material, which most fans will relish--but more reflection on the vital relation of character to ballplaying, on the import of Shlain's excavations, would have made this a richer, more satisfying work.