In today’s Chicago Sun Times, writer Joe Cowley reflects on a more sober White Sox clubhouse. In past years, the team was animated by characters more reminiscent of the players who populated the books of Mark Harris, “Bang the Drum Slowly” in particular (originally a “US Steel Hour” TV drama with Paul Newman as catcher Bruce Pearson, a role that De Niro played in the 1973 movie directed by John Hancock). Cowley writes:
No longer heard in the clubhouse is Juan Uribe calling Mark Buehrle ”Bailey” because that was the only way Uribe could pronounce his name. Or Uribe calling his teammates ”white people” because, for the most part, he didn’t know their names.
In Harris’ book, pitcher Henry Wiggen is the narrator. By virtue of his having written a previous book about his rookie season on the New York Mammoths (“The Southpaw,” also by Harris), his nickname is “Author.” Pearson, who can’t get most things right, calls him ‘Arthur.’
Which is to say that BTDS is a gem of a baseball novel (in a Ring Lardner/Mark Twain mode), the movie is underappreciated (Vincent Gardenia as Manager Dutch Schnell is particularly memorable), and it’s a primer for anyone interested in learning the intricacies of the card game TEGWAR — “The Exciting Game Without Any Rules.”
And that, crazy as he is, the Sox miss Uribe, his total lack of self-control, his ability to run sideways like a lizard (maybe even breathe through his eyelids like a lizard), his home-run minstrel-hands pose, and his voodoo whisper ‘Pro-fundo’ to the assembled in the dugout after each dinger.