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The only thing wrong with this baseball novel is its insipid, misleading title. Otherwise The Greatest Slump of All Time, by David Carkeet (Harper & Row, $14.95), is a beauty—a funny, raunchy, touching tale of a major league team's season of discontent and triumph. Beginning in spring training, each of its key players is mysteriously overwhelmed by persistent depression, even as the team just as mysteriously continues to win.

We never learn what city the team represents, though we know it's in the National League West. But we do learn a great deal about its skillfully realized cast of characters; I got so involved in their foibles and frustrations that, when I turned the last page, I found myself dying to read about what would happen the next season. Too often—and not just in sports novels—clever plots and promising developments lead to flat, contrived endings as the author tries vainly to extricate himself from his own inventions. Not Slump. Carkeet can write. He wrote another book a few years ago called Double Negative; if you've got a copy, I'd like to borrow it. My library doesn't have it.

Apples, the team's ace pitcher and preacher's son, is rescued from his virginal inhibitions by a passionate dental assistant but remains depressed. Battery mate Narvel blames his psychoneurosis on his idiot parents. Scrappy, the shortstop, an orphan, yearns for a fatherly word of praise from manager Gram-mock, who's too busy telling off-color jokes and searching for signs on which to base his myriad superstitions. And so on. There's a lot of solid baseball, too, especially involving second baseman Bubba, who studies the rule book for loopholes by means of which he can embarrass unwary opponents, and third baseman Frank, who drives everyone to boredom with endless recitations of obscure statistics. Your favorite may well be slugger Jaime Jan Orguyo van der Pijpers, a gentle, libidinous man from the Caribbean, who doesn't grasp the language and thus cannot empathize with his teammates' plight. But you will.