An agreeably informal narrative history of organized baseball from a veteran annalist who knows how to work the corners. Alexander (John McGraw, 1988, etc.) offers a concise chronological account of the diamond game from its pre-Civil War origins to the present day, when banjo hitters and break-even pitchers command seven-figure salaries. The Ohio Univ. history professor chronicles the advent of the first professional associations, the surge in baseball's popularity during the early 20th-century, the glorious 1920's (which could as easily be called the age of Ruth), the Negro League clubs that barnstormed through long seasons, the breaking of the color line after WWII, the expansion period, and the dubious blessings of free agency. And leaving no doubt that the national pastime is as much a business as a sport, Alexander also recalls the summer game's less seemly moments, e.g., the Black Sox scandal, franchise shifts, player strikes, management lockouts, the Pete Rose affair, and the unlamented departure of George Steinbrenner. In recounting yesteryears' pennant races and World Series match-ups, moreover, Alexander provides a wealth of anecdotal material on major league baseball's principal personalities-officials, owners, players, umpires, and even writers. The box score: an evenhanded audit of an enduring socioeconomic institution, which, for all its unsparing detail, should delight fans of any era.