It has been 10 years since the Chicago Cubs had a chance to play for the National League championship, and the race has come down to the last game of the season. They are up against the Philadelphia Phillies, and Sam Ward, a 32-year-old rookie, is on the mound for the Cubs. Behind home plate, however, is umpire Ernie Kolacha, who is going to call the game for the Phillies—a payoff to an old friend for something that once happened in Korea.
The gutsiness of players like Ward and the chill of a possible fix are familiar ground for both authors: Bouton, a former New York Yankees pitcher, wrote the 1970 bestseller Ball Four, and Asinof penned the definitive account of the 1919 Black Sox scandal, Eight Men Out. As Kolacha calls strikes balls, Ward, baffled, begins to wonder why this man he barely knows has it in for him.
The game quickly heats up on the field as well as in their hearts and minds. In alternating chapters, Bouton and Asinof create compelling fictional portraits of an idealistic ballplayer and an embittered umpire. In memories drawn out between the plays, Ward and Kolacha reflect upon their difficult lives. Estranged from their wives and families, they have pursued the dream of baseball—a dream that is being tested by this final game. Re-creating the camaraderie of the players in colorful play-by-play, Bouton (who writes Ward's part) and Asinof (the ump's creator) show that baseball is still a game of individual honor—in spite of occasional lapses of faith. (Viking, $21.95)