A collision indeed--an atomic explosion of sorts--as intelligence, grace, and arrogance (Giamatti) meet stupidity, sweat, and arrogance (Rose), with fallout that will affect the world of baseball for decades to come. Reston (The Lone Star: The Life of John Connally, 1989, etc.) has tried before to weave two different stories into a seamless whole, in his Sherman's March and Vietnam (1984), with bumpy results. Here, he succeeds brilliantly. Let's credit his two protagonists, perfect examples of America's social and moral stratification. In this corner: Rose the ruffian, a lout from the Cincinnati riverbanks, a poor student, ``loud and vulgar,'' increasingly drawn to the world of vice (gambling, adultery, smuggling, the company of coke dealers) as he grew older. In the other corner: Giamatti the scholar, Yale valedictorian, Renaissance expert, a lover of dignified poses, ``inordinately interested in punishing transgressors'' both as Yale President and as Commissioner of Baseball. Yet an obsessive, childish love for baseball united these two men: Giamatti treasured the game as the epitome of human elegance, while Rose declared that ``I'd walk through hell in a gasoline suit to keep playing baseball.'' Reston paints the life of each, two upward curves reaching their apex as Rose sets a new baseball-hit record, and Giamatti then defends the national honor by banning the gambling-crazy Rose from baseball forever. Best of all, Reston canonizes neither figure: Rose comes off as Fred Flintstone with an attitude; Giamatti as Mr. Clean-Jeans, a dignified man whose flaw was to care more about image than fairness. Now Giamatti is dead, Rose a convicted felon just released from the pen--and the public wonders when the tarnish will wear off the national pastime. A sorry story, told with guts and verve.