Roth populates his novel with dozens of characters, no one of whom can be said to have a dominant role. None is drawn realistically; rather, all are exaggerations, tools of the satirist’s pen in this pointed fable about a mythical baseball league.
The character who first garners the reader’s attention is the narrator, Word Smith, a retired baseball writer who transcribes the story that forms the heart of the novel. Smitty is confined to an asylum, ostensibly because he suffers from a chronic and fatal affliction: He alliterates too much. His excessive concern with wordplay is a source of humor in the novel; moreover, it provides a forum for some of Roth’s more serious comments regarding the nature of fiction and the power of words to shape reality and convey truth.
A series of larger-than-life heroes and villains populate the playing field and the behind-the-scenes operations of the Patriot Baseball League. Many of the characters are modeled loosely on real-life figures from the game: Luke Gofannon, the legendary hitter of the post-World War I era, is a composite of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. The dwarfs who are introduced into the league by Frank Mazuma have their real-life counterpart in three-foot-seven-inch Eddie Gaedel, who was brought into the real major leagues in 1951 in a short-lived experiment by entrepreneur and self-professed iconoclast Bill Veeck. (In Gaedel’s only big-league at bat, he walked.) The avid baseball fan will...
(The entire section is 563 words.)