Nature’s four seasons are inadequate, we learn in this scattered, disjunctive memoir by one of the deans of diamond writing. We need a fifth—baseball season.
Although he doubles as a novelist (The Ghost of Major Pryor, 1997, etc.), it is the baseball diamond that most engages Honig, who has produced a head-high stack of volumes over the course of several decades (Classic Baseball Photographs, 1869–1947, 1999, etc.), many dealing with the lumber-waving, flame-throwing demigods he’s idolized since childhood. Here, he wanders through his memories, sometimes with a purpose, sometimes with the aimlessness of a patron lost in a labyrinthine museum imagined by Steven Millhauser. He recalls favorite moments from games past, interviews aging, often reluctant and irascible players and describes his brief flirtation with glory after being signed by the Red Sox. (He traveled to Florida, attended a minor-league camp, impressed few with his pitching, lost his virginity in a beach scene out of From Here to Eternity, failed to survive the first cut and returned swiftly home, where he soon realized that writing was his game.) The strongest sections deal most directly with his life. The most powerful of these describes a late-night visit to his old neighborhood in Queens after decades of absence. Wandering the back streets, he sees “the figure of the boy who had walked here those years ago plotting and designing his future, which was now my past.” Instead of ending with this affecting image, Honig offers a few more superfluous stories about meeting Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams and ends with a daffy riff on global warming—hey, it would give us a longer baseball season! Much more effective are his interviews with the long-forgotten pitchers, infielders and sluggers who populate the less-lofty regions of baseball’s Mount Olympus.
Appealing, affecting stories too often prevented from soaring by the weight of hero-worship and self-regard.