Author Mark Harris, whose baseball novels included “Bang The Drum Slowly”, “The Southpaw”, “A Ticket For A Seamstress” and “It Looked Like For Ever”, passed away yesterday in Goleta, CA. From an obituary by the New York Times’ Frank Litsky.
The (baseball) books follow the adventures of Henry Wiggen, a gifted pitcher for the fictional New York Mammoths. Wiggen himself narrates the tales in a colloquial voice laced with dry, country humor. All the books grapple with moral and social issues.
In œBang the Drum Slowly, Wiggen befriends a slow-talking catcher from Georgia named Bruce Pearson who is more ridiculed than respected by his teammates. When Pearson learns he is terminally ill with Hodgkin™s disease and is to be sent to the minor leagues, Wiggen rallies his teammates to keep the catcher among them and inspires Pearson to become a better player before his time runs out.
The book, wrote the New York Times sports columnist George Vecsey, œhas one of the loveliest last lines in American literature, a regret from Wiggen for the way the players made fun of a slow-witted and now-dead teammate: ˜From here on in, I rag nobody.™
The film version, adapted by Mr. Harris, starred Michael Moriarty as Wiggen and Robert De Niro as Pearson (above). In 1956, the story was the basis of a teleplay shown on CBS, with Paul Newman as Wiggen and Albert Salmi as Pearson.
œThe Southpaw recounts Wiggen™s rookie year. Here the narrator debates how to handle four-letter words and references to baseball players™ sex lives and decides in the end to leave them in, because they are part of the game.
Critics called it a serious work of fiction, comparable to Bernard Malamud™s baseball novel of the year before, œThe Natural.
In the last of the novels, œIt Looked Like For Ever, Wiggen, now 39, has lost his fastball. The novel œis not so much about baseball as it is about aging, just as ˜Bang the Drum Slowly™ was not so much about baseball as it is about dying, wrote the poet and critic Donald Hall in The New York Times Book Review.