Books and Movies Reviews

Bang the Drum Slowly: Review

Mark Harris' 1956 novel Bang the Drum Slowly is a novel about the redemptive power of baseball, much like the movie "Field of Dreams" or "The Natural."The novel depicts a year in the career of the New York Mammoths, a now-nonexistent baseball team, and the relationship between the star southpaw pitcher, Henry Wiggen, and the lackluster catcher Bruce Pearson. Wiggen and Pearson have never got along particularly well, because Wiggen is irritated by Pearson's slow wit and even slower ball play. However, when the catcher learns he is dying, the formerly caustic pitcher finds unexpected reserves of compassion within his soul.
Despite his usually cool and distant manner, Wiggen unexpectedly demands that Pearson be kept on the team and has it written into the pitcher's own contract, when he hears the catcher is in danger of being cut. The confidence his action gives Pearson invests new life in both Wiggen's and Pearson's efforts and the team, and the team begins to shine and climb to the top of the league. As players begin to show more respect to Pearson, his game grows better and better.
Eventually, of course, the team owner hears about Pearson's condition and tries to change the terms of Wiggen's contract. Wiggen honorably refuses, and the team goes all the way to the World Series, although before he can'make it all of the way' the catcher has to leave the team because his condition has taken a turn for the worse. But despite the final success of the Mammoths, the theme of the book is clear-more than winning or losing, friendship is what baseball is all about. It would have been easy for Wiggen, on the cusp of one of his greatest seasons, to feel threatened when he heard that his catcher Pearson was dying from a terminal illness. He had every interest to reveal Pearson's secret, and could have even rationalized it for the good of the team. But he did not. Inst…

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