Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 318
Mark Harris’ 1956 novel tells the story of Bruce Pearson, a baseball player who learns he has been diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease (lymphoma), and that it is fatal. He and his friend Henry Wiggen both play for the New York Mammoths. Henry, the narrator, is a pitcher, and Bruce is a catcher. Henry takes Bruce from a Minnesota hospital to Bruce’s home in Georgia. In the small town of Bainbridge, the two men pass the time while Bruce comes to terms with his illness and imminent death. So Bruce can continue to play baseball, they decide not to share his medical information with the team’s owner and manager. Henry, who is a better player, negotiates a contract that attaches Bruce’s status to his own, including any potential trades. Through the course of the novel, the other team members learn of Bruce’s condition, until finally management learns as well and must honor the contract terms. As the period covered in the novel draws to a close, the Mammoths have a phenomenal, winning season, but sadly at that time, Bruce passes away.
Overall, the book is moving as a portrayal of male friendship and loyalty. Especially Henry’s actions, but also the behavior of all the team members, are inspiring examples of solidarity. The support that the team shows for Bruce as he strives to continue play show their values as a coherent team. In turn, this cohesion helps the other members play better and even wins them the pennant. The limit to this feeling is shown, however, after Henry leaves the team. After Bruce passes, the other ex-teammates do not attend his funeral. Because the book concerns the 1950s, one striking feature is the attitudes toward cancer and the extreme vulnerability of the baseball players, which exaggerates the rift between players and owner-management, leading to the elaborate deceptions by which Bruce must protect his livelihood.