Play Ball

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

John Feinstein is the high priest of the “inside” school of sports writing. His first book, A SEASON ON THE BRINK, an up-close-and-personal examination of controversial college basketball coach Bobby Knight, became the best-selling sports book of all time. A longtime basketball writer for THE WASHINGTON POST and SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, Feinstein produced a series of books examining that sport before writing HARD COURTS, a look at professional tennis. With PLAY BALL, he turns his attention to baseball.

Feinstein’s method is consistent from book to book. He gets close to his celebrity subjects—closer than the “outside” fan can hope to get—and reports to the reading public about what he learns. Since he is, in effect, acting as the average reader’s spy, it is essential for him to establish and keep an utter credibility. Fans necessarily take his writing on faith.

That’s what makes the errors that dot PLAY BALL so troubling. Some of these are trivial in themselves—a reference to current star Barry Bonds by his father Bobby’s name (on the book jacket, no less), or mention of outfielder Kevin McReynolds as “Kevin Reynolds.” Others are more significant, as when Feinsteinplaces Red Sox pitcher Roger Clemens’ celebrated verbal assault on umpire Terry Cooney in the 1988 playoffs, rather than in 1990, when it occurred. At another point, Feinstein alleges that New York and Chicago are the only places where it’s reasonably...

(The entire section is 486 words.)