Fast-ball maestro Ryan, who tossed a gopher ball with his autobiography, Throwing Heat (1988), rockets one down the center of the plate in this zippy review of baseball pitchers and their foibles. Ryan entered the major leagues as a New York Met, and he dotes on memories of that team's early years as ``the strangest collection of athletes you can imagine.'' Although some pitchers he discusses (e.g., Warren Spahn) had careers that stretch back to baseball's Pleistocene Age, Ryan, writing with Herskowitz (coauthor, Cosell, etc.), sticks mostly to hurlers of his own era— a massive chunk of baseball history in itself: Ryan, 45, is about to begin his 25th year as a major-leaguer. He likes to rank and categorize his peers: Best southpaw? Sandy Koufax (``like watching a line of poetry come to life''). Pitcher with the nastiest curveball? Koufax again. Luckiest pitcher? Lew Burdette, who in 1957 won 21 games despite an astronomical E.R.A. Best reliever? Rollie Fingers. Strangely, despite his famed equilibrium, Ryan seems fond of pitchers whom he calls ``obsessed'': Jim Palmer, who attempted a comeback after being elected to the Hall of Fame; recluse Steve Carlton (``the Howard Hughes of baseball''); shipwrecks like 31-game winner and convicted felon Denny McLain. But Ryan dislikes bullies, and he argues fiercely and intelligently for good manners on and off the field. He backs this up by speaking well of just about everyone, picking a quip, quote, or quirk that quick-sketches the pitcher to perfection (Koufax became great only when his hair grayed and he realized that it was ``a signal to get busy''; as a child, McLain worked as a numbers-runner). Sometimes the author startles with the literary equivalent of a Ryan fastball: ``Poor timing: Don Larsen's wife filed for divorce on the day he pitched his perfect game in the World Series.'' A power performance from the greatest power pitcher ever. (Thirty-five b&w photos.)
Privately published by Strunk of Cornell in 1918 and revised by his student E. B. White in 1959, that "little book" is back again with more White updatings.
Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis (whoops — "A bankrupt expression") a unique guide (which means "without like or equal").
Noted jazz and pop record producer Thiele offers a chatty autobiography. Aided by record-business colleague Golden, Thiele traces his career from his start as a ``pubescent, novice jazz record producer'' in the 1940s through the '50s, when he headed Coral, Dot, and Roulette Records, and the '60s, when he worked for ABC and ran the famous Impulse! jazz label. At Coral, Thiele championed the work of ``hillbilly'' singer Buddy Holly, although the only sessions he produced with Holly were marred by saccharine strings. The producer specialized in more mainstream popsters like the irrepressibly perky Teresa Brewer (who later became his fourth wife) and the bubble-machine muzak-meister Lawrence Welk. At Dot, Thiele was instrumental in recording Jack Kerouac's famous beat- generation ramblings to jazz accompaniment (recordings that Dot's president found ``pornographic''), while also overseeing a steady stream of pop hits. He then moved to the Mafia-controlled Roulette label, where he observed the ``silk-suited, pinky-ringed'' entourage who frequented the label's offices. Incredibly, however, Thiele remembers the famously hard-nosed Morris Levy, who ran the label and was eventually convicted of extortion, as ``one of the kindest, most warm-hearted, and classiest music men I have ever known.'' At ABC/Impulse!, Thiele oversaw the classic recordings of John Coltrane, although he is the first to admit that Coltrane essentially produced his own sessions. Like many producers of the day, Thiele participated in the ownership of publishing rights to some of the songs he recorded; he makes no apology for this practice, which he calls ``entirely appropriate and without any ethical conflicts.'' A pleasant, if not exactly riveting, memoir that will be of most interest to those with a thirst for cocktail-hour stories of the record biz. (25 halftones, not seen)