Here is Henry Wiggen, at age 39 handed his release by the New York Mammoths, reflecting on the beginning of his illustrious career: "When I first come it looked like for ever. I was confident, I was strong, I had enthusiasm, I had motivation, I drank nothing, I smoked nothing, and I could throw a baseball harder than almost any body. The rivers flow and the bridges stand while the people come and go."
How Wiggen comes to learn that hard but inescapable lesson is what Mark Harris' fourth baseball novel, It Looked Like For Ever (McGraw-Hill, $9.95), is all about. The novel appears nearly a quarter of a century after its immediate predecessor, but the years have not altered the tone established by Harris in Wiggen's first baseball novel, The Southpaw: Lardneresque use of the vernacular, a blend of braggadocio and self-scrutiny, an easy familiarity with baseball's intimacies. If this isn't Wiggen at his best, it nonetheless contains enough good moments to reward his many admirers for their long wait.
We learn here that Wiggen, in the years since last we saw him, compiled one of the most imposing alltime pitching records: 19 seasons, 247 victories, "27th winningest pitcher in baseball history." But now the Mammoths have cut him loose, and he isn't ready to quit—especially because his youngest daughter, Hilary, has never seen him pitch and goes into screaming fits each time she contemplates this deprivation.
So Wiggen takes off on a singularly tortuous path back to the big leagues. It takes him to Oyasumi, Japan, where he finds a perfect little ball park designed solely for television; to the broadcast booth of Friday Night Baseball, where he plays a Don Meredith role; to Moors Stadium in New York, for a Mammoths' Old Timers Game; and finally to the clubhouse of the California team, where he returns to baseball with consequences it is up to the reader to discover.
It's giving away no secrets, though, to say that Wiggen's fight against the inexorable passage of time is, like everyone else's, a, losing one; not even the owners of the "Iceoleum," who proposed packing him in ice for 125 years, can ward off the effects of nature. Unfortunately, the novel advances about as slowly as old age does; without sufficient dramatic tension to sustain interest, it moves falteringly from episode to episode. Still, it's good to know that Henry Wiggen is alive and well—and wise at last.