For his fourth publishing start, former American League umpire Luciano (The Umpire Strikes Back, 1982; Strike Two, 1984; The Fall of the Roman Umpire, 1986) has a promising game plan--to contrast baseball's folkloric past with its unruly present. The predictable outcome, however, is a mixed bag of short-hop yarns about the national pastime and personal updates. Less than a generation ago, baseball was played outdoors on grass that cows could eat, and six-figure salaries were as rare as .400 hitters or 30-game winners. Now, as Luciano reminds us in his frequently ham-handed way, it's a whole new ballgame. Break-even pitchers who seldom finish what they start and glovemen command mega-buck contracts to play on plastic carpets in domed stadiums. On the near horizon, moreover, are warning tracks that emit electronic alerts when ball hawks approach outfield fences. In his anecdotal recap, Luciano nonetheless identifies as many continuities as innovations. By way of example, he notes that players still seek to gain an edge over rivals by doctoring the ball, their bats, or the field itself. In like vein, the author offers an all-time lineup of celebrated hit batsmen--Ron Hunt, Don Baylor, et al.--and opines that baseball would be well rid of the knockdown pitch. This preference does not stop him from devoting nearly a full chapter to notorious headhunters and their prey. Included as well are entertaining rundowns on how as well as why rules change, famous judgment calls by the men in blue, platooning, the emergence of relievers, and trends in uniform styles, plus self-conscious japes about Luciano's evidently gross eating habits and two-year stint as an NBC broadcaster. As many hits as errors for diamond fans, but less would have been more.