"Bang the Drum Slowly" tells the fictional story of Bruce Pearson, a catcher for the New York Mammoths who is diagnosed with fatal cancer. It is told through the eyes of star pitcher Henry Wiggen, who is Pearson's roommate and closest friend on the team. The novel is the second of series of four, which detail Wiggen's Set during an indeterminate year—likely during the 1940s or early 50s (the novel was published in 1956). It tells how Pearson and Wiggen drive to the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota and receive Pearson's medical diagnosis. They are dogged by investigators working for the Mammoths, and throughout the story, the Mammoths ownership tries to pry the truth out of the pair. Wiggen eludes their inquiries (claiming the pair went to Minnesota on a fishing trip) because he knows if management discovers Pearson's condition, it will cut him from the team or send him to the minor leagues. Besides being ill, Pearson is slow-witted, and thus becomes a target for teammates to tease. As the baseball season progresses, Wiggen helps teach Pearson the game and urges teammates not to tease him so much. Eventually, Wiggen confides in another teammate, who tells his roommate, and word slowly spreads to the entire team. The title of the novel is a line from a popular song called "Streets of Laredo." Harris uses the song in the story to reveal that the rest of the team knows about Pearson's condition. In the locker room during a rain delay, a teammate is strumming a guitar and starts playing the song, which is about a cowboy who has been shot and knows he will die soon. Management knows about Pearson too, by now, but it is late in the season, and Pearson is playing well, though getting increasingly sick. He dies shortly after the baseball season ends. Wiggen is the only representative from the Mammoths at his funeral. "Bang the Drum Slowly" tells the story of friendship, life and death, and team. The final sentence in the novel, Henry Wiggen's reflection, "From here on in, I rag nobody," is recognized as one of the finest closing lines in literature, and Sports Illustrated magazine recently named "Bang the Drum Slowly" one of its top 100 all-time sports books.
Bang the Drum Slowly is not a sequel to The Southpaw (1953), even though many of the characters in Mark Harris’s earlier novel reappear in this second novel narrated by Henry W. Wiggen (the full title is Bang the Drum Slowly by Henry W. Wiggen: Certain of His Enthusiasms Restrained by Mark Harris). When references are made to The Southpaw, those passages are reprinted in Bang the Drum Slowly . Henry Wiggen, who tells the story, is a star pitcher for the New York Mammoths. Bruce Pearson, his roommate and the third-string catcher for the Mammoths, is dying of Hodgkin’s disease. The novel begins as Bruce calls Henry from the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, to tell him that he must come to see him, and it ends with a winning season for the Mammoths and Bruce’s death. After Bruce checks out of the hospital, Henry and Bruce drive to Bruce’s hometown of Bainbridge, Georgia. The principal activities in Bainbridge are waiting for the mail and swatting flies on the front porch. The high point of the visit for Bruce is learning to play Tegwar, a game in which the rules change all the time and the object is to keep a straight face. Bruce wants to continue to play ball as long as he can. Realizing that Lester T. Moors, Jr., the owner, and Dutch Schnell, the manager, would release Bruce if they knew of his illness, Henry and Bruce decide to keep it a secret. When Henry negotiates his contract for the year, he includes a clause stating that he and Bruce must be treated as a package: “[I]f he is traded I must be traded the same place. Wherever he goes I must go.” Humor is introduced in this very poignant scene, when Henry is asked if Bruce Pearson...
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