A splendid slice of baseball tradition, served up with wit, style, and a mere soupcon of nostalgia. Curran is a veteran sportswriter (for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch), and a student of the game for the past half century or so. And if there's one thing he's positive about, it's that major league fielding has been getting better all along. From 1901 to 1910 the National League's fielding average was .955; by the 1970's it had risen steadily to .977. (In the 19th century fielding was pretty much a farce, with some teams making more than 600 errors a season.) ""The 1930s,"" he notes, ""never knew a shortstop with the range and precision of an Ozzie Smith, a Mark Belanger, a Dave Concepcion."" On the other hand, the designated-hitter rule continues to provide asylum for ""muffins,"" and America continues to worship sluggers (Greg Luzinski, Reggie Jackson) regardless of their ineptitude afield. But, though he pauses to mock the butter-fingered stars, ancient and modern (from ""Gentle Willie Murphy"" to Willie Mays Aikens), Curran mainly wants, as the subtitle says, to celebrate the Golden Gloves. He almost licks his lips, in fact, as he scans the choices for his all-time greatest fielders list (excluding active players): p-Bob Gibson, c-Johnny Bench, 1b-Bill Terry, 2b-Bill Mazeroski, 3b-Brooks Robinson, ss-Luis Aparicio, If-Joe Dimaggio--bumped from his natural position by. . .cf Willie Mays, rf-Roberto Clemente. The ultimate catch: Mays' barehanded grab, on a dead run, of a 450-foot blast by Clemente. Or maybe Gibson's attempt to throw to first after his leg had just been broken by a line drive. Curran is an agreeable raconteur, a discreet statistician, a knowledgeable historian (of mitts, official scoring, the one-handed catch, etc.). Only the most ill-tempered bleacherites could raft to enjoy him--and even they will find him a dugout-full of information.