Lefcourt (The Deal) has plenty of faults as a novelist—humorlessness and insufficient knowledge of his subject among them—but he tells an involving story, and his other shortcomings would not seem so annoying if he weren't so all-fired self-important.
Not only does he title this trivial yarn about homosexuality in major-league baseball after the historic 1890s case of anti-Semitism in France, but he also heavy-handedly creates a sportswriter named Zola (novelist Emile Zola played a crucial role in exposing the French government's discrimination against Jewish army officer Alfred Dreyfus, who was accused of being a spy and was court-martialed).
Lefcourt's protagonist is Randy Dreyfus, an all-star shortstop for an American League expansion team in the late 1990s. Dreyfus, despite having a dishy wife, local TV personality Susie Dreyfus, and twin daughters, Molly and Dolly, begins to have doubts about his sexuality when the focus of his fantasies changes from Pia Zadora to D.J. Pickett, the Vikings' second baseman.
As Randy agonizes, Susie suspects she has a rival and sics a scruffy private eye on her husband. Meanwhile, Lefcourt drags not only the Zola character but the Vikings' straitlaced owners and a conservative U.S. President into the confusion. He also lapses into such gaffes as having a manager agonize over whether to remove his pitcher for a pinch hitter, which would not happen in an American League game, where designated hitters remove such problems.
Lefcourt also writes clumsily, describing a native French speaker as having a "Frog accent" and calls Dallas a place "where they routinely mowed down Presidents." And while Lefcourt refers only indirectly to the physical aspects of the Dreyfus-Pickett affair, he gets downright embarrassing when it comes to the romance. Dreyfus, who keeps likening being gay to "hitting lefty" (don't tell Wade Boggs), decides at one point to "try to explain to his young daughters that he was in love with another man, that every time he saw that man the Rockies crumbled and Gibraltar tumbled...."
Lefcourt tries to juggle the stories of Randy's convoluted love life and the team's drive for a season championship. In the process, he makes Dreyfus a faithless, shortsighted, unadmirable sort of jock. But he's never dull. (Random House, $20)