You Gotta Have Wa

by Robert Whiting
339 pages,
ISBN: 0026276625

The Heart of the Order

by Thomas Boswell,
384 pages,
ISBN: 0385199678

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The Wit And The Wa
by Brian Fawcett

BASEBALL HAS always fascinated writers, and since the days of Ring Lardner, the sport has produced a wealth of fine writing. Unlike football, which is really one long steroid-induced mathematical orgasm, or hockey, which has replaced reading and writing with Don Cherry and picture books, baseball is a game of subtle textures, rituals, and allusive actions carried out at controlled velocities. People who like to give 110 per cent tend to be lousy ball-players and even worse fans. Baseball confounds them at every turn.

The cream of baseball writing in the last year or so is rich and thick, as befits a sport whose head honcho, A. Bartlett Giamatti,. is a former Yale English professor. Cream, however, has many permutations and uses. What follows is my evaluation of what I found at or near the surface of baseball writing.

For a decade, Bill James was baseball's most innovative statistician, publishing his annual Baseball Abstract to an increasingly large and avid audience. In 1988, he announced he was quitting, citing staleness and exhaustion. This year he's offering This Time Let's Not Eat the Boxes, an anthology collected from the 11-year run of the Abstract. Take this man's offer. James is by far the most acerbic and funny writer baseball has, and while he's delivering his delicious raspberries, he's also telling you how baseball really operates.

Frozen yogurt, I hear, was invented in Japan. It's tasty and it has a unique texture. So does Robert Whiting's You Gotta Have Wa, which is about Japanese baseball. Even though they use the same rule book, the Japanese play the game very differently. If anything, they play with more ferocity and commitment. Aside from being highly readable on its own terms, You Gotta Have Wa is highly recommended for trade officials and captains of industry who want to know what makes the Japanese tick, and why they're beating the hell out of us economically.

Thomas Boswell's The Heart of the Order, like his two previous collections, is filled with creamy prose and over-whipped allusions that try to suggest that baseball is exactly like life. Unfortunately there is more to life than daiquiris, cream-filled croissants, and fern bars. Boswell writes very well, but he's no Roger Angell. Somebody ought to remind this guy baseball is just a game, and then send him off on the back of a motorcycle to spend two weeks with the Hell's Angels in downtown Beirut.

The Elias Baseball Analyst, which was created to compete with Bill James's Baseball Abstract, just doesn't cut the mustard. The statistics aren't complete, the analysis is second rate, and the commentaries are sophomoric and badly written. Wait until next year, when James promises to ,bring us a renewed, improved Abstract.


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