Cromartie, a decent baseball player who became a superstar across the Pacific, and Whiting, a crack baseball writer (You Gotta Have Wa, etc.), combine on a gutsy look at baseball, Japanese style. The ex-Montreal Expo was floored when he landed at Tokyo's Narita Airport in 1984 to the effusive greeting of his new boss: ``You are our messiah.'' It didn't work out that way at first. Cromartie slumped-until a batting lesson from manager Sadharu Oh set him straight. Soon he was burning up the league during the first of seven splendid seasons culminating in a Japanese MVP. Cromartie sketches in his American background-poor childhood, racial tension (he is black), nine seasons in the Show-but the juice here flows f rom the clash between American and Japanese baseball sensibilities. We've heard it all before-the rigid conformity, the exhaustive workouts, the nitpicking by coaches, the obsession with ``spirit,'' the fanatical press coverage, the xenophobia-in Whiting's brilliant earlier accounts of besoburu, but the weirdness, to American eyes, of Japanese baseball takes on new life when filtered through Cromartie's electric narrative. The man is candid (he fills us in on the difficulties of urinating in Japanese locker rooms, the charms of Japanese groupies), angry (mostly about the racism of the Japanese, who snub their greatest player, Sadaharu Oh, for being half-Chinese), generous (in his praise of Oh, for instance), always exciting. Banzai!