Michener's encyclopedic overview of today's sports scene is prompted by his gratitude for the lifelong enjoyment he's derived from competitive games and by the pained recognition that sports have changed--for the worse. The wholesome luster is gone: big money wars, cynical franchise peddling, the growing awareness of the unequal status of women, the "flesh market" in athletes lured by promises of beefy scholarships, the exposes of Little. League horrors--all have altered the popular image of athletics. None of this will be news to the informed fan. But Michener writes for those who remember the unsullied joys of sandlot baseball and dedicated coaches. He scores with a chapter on the exploitation of black athletes "bought" by business tycoons, used up and discarded when their legs or pitching arms give way. They are property--America's "gladiators." Consider the disgraceful story of Artemius Crandall, quasi-literate, a stranger to multiplication tables; 87 colleges "bid" for him offering millions in football scholarships. Or the outrage of importing 14 black players into all-white Laramie, Wyoming. Michener has combed the sports press and mined the fiction of Hemingway, Irwin Shaw, Philip Roth, and Jason Miller (That Championship Season) to press home the point that today's superstars are tomorrow's big losers. The sedentary prose misses the grace, drive, and glamour of athletic meets but Michener, earnest and reform-minded, is sincerely sorry that the honest competition of times past has become a money-grubbing jungle.