What better venue for the story of two hard-luck underachievers than the baseball field, where anyone can try to attain the American dream? Sam Ward, at age 32 possibly the oldest rookie in baseball, has been called up from the minors by the Chicago Cubs to pitch against Philadelphia as the teams vie for a spot in the National League playoffs. This is the seventh time Ward has been sent to the majors for a short stint, and it may be his last chance to prove that he is of big-league caliber. The greatest obstacle to this dream is not his inconsistent knuckleball or the Phillies' line-up, but head umpire Ernie Kolacka, now calling the last game of his 38-year career. Twenty-four of those years were spent disappointingly in the minors, where he felt like an innocent man in prison, but he waited for his release with dignity and did not scab when the major league umpires went on strike. Kolacka has never even bent the rules to favor the home team, but today he must orchestrate a Phillies victory in order to repay a debt to a Korean War buddy in gambling trouble. During the fateful nine innings, Ward pitches the game of his life, but Kolacka quickly becomes a master at making crooked calls look like fair play. The field is shared by wisecracking players, umpires, and fans -- all of them familiar caricatures who aren't nearly as zany as the authors think. Ward and Kolacka are the memorable characters here; they sacrificed their marriages and never signed million-dollar contracts, persevering out of love of the sport. Their story demonstrates that the man of principle is the true hero of baseball. Asinof (Eight Men Out, not reviewed) and Bouton (Ball Four, 1970) have written a pleasant diversion for an off-season Saturday afternoon.