THE GIFT OF THE BAMBINO

Jerry Amernic, Author . St. Martin's/Dunne $22.95 (218p) ISBN 978-0-312-31759-1

In 1914 in Toronto, Lazaros Slackowicz, then a young boy, sees Babe Ruth, the "bambino" of Amernic's O. Henryesque debut, hit a monstrous home run in a minor league game. This glimpse of baseball's first superstar transforms Lazaros into a devoted fan and a dedicated, if ultimately unsuccessful, player; this is his story, told through the eyes of his grandson, a narrative device far too reminiscent of Mitch Albom's Tuesdays with Morrie . The narrator eventually learns what baseball meant to his grandfather, but the book strives much too energetically to distill moral lessons from the game. Particularly awkward is a scene in which the hero-worshipping Lazaros encounters the Yankee great falling down drunk in a New York speakeasy ("Babe... I think you're the greatest and I'm gonna be a ballplayer just like you"). While the book competently recreates some big moments in Babe Ruth's career, as well as providing a thumbnail history of professional baseball in general, it falls short as a novel. The prose is overwrought in its search for mythic lyricism: "a baseball... isn't of this earth. It is something celestial that belongs in the heavens with the stars" (unless of course you're trying to pitch, hit or catch one). Loads of historical detail may help this sentimental book resonate with devotees of the game, but readers really interested in baseball should just take themselves out to the ballpark. (Apr. 1)

Reviewed on: 02/23/2004
Release date: 04/01/2004
Genre: Fiction
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