Nine Innings

Baseball is so well structured that one game of the hundreds played during a major-league season can display the sport in all its riches as well as its problems.

Daniel Okrent, author of THE ULTIMATE BASEBALL BOOK, chose to make a complete analysis, almost pitch-by-pitch, of a game played on a fine Thursday in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, after the rained out games and cold weather of April and May, but before the midsummer doldrums or the increasing tensions of a pennant race. No one could have known that the Brewers would win the American League Eastern Division title by one game, making every win crucial. This knowledge lends an air of retrospective importance to every time at bat and every fielding play, but the game can also be enjoyed the way a good fan could enjoy going to the park to see the team, with nothing at stake but an afternoon of baseball.

The Brewers had just changed managers and were in a losing streak and a batting slump, while the Orioles believed they would be in the pennant race right up to the end. In addition to offering a profile of the teams, Okrent examines each individual player’s psyche--and he is more successful at this than many another writer. Perhaps only Roger Kahn’s THE BOYS OF SUMMER has brought back as much information and emotion from the inner world of the professional athlete.

Yet Okrent goes further. As the players come to bat or field their positions, he uses their careers to examine free agency, years in the minors, the game’s traditions noble and silly, the business of running a ballclub, uneasy relations between players and the press, and every strand of the complex texture of baseball--except the drug problem, which had not yet surfaced in 1982.

Anyone who cares for baseball and good writing will admire and perhaps even love this book.