Frank O'Rourke, . . Carroll & Graf, $25 (320pp) ISBN 978-0-7867-0950-2

Cannily displaying the intricate complexity of baseball, adroitly clarifying and reducing it to a human level, and balancing the throbbing pathos of individual achievement against the universal mystique of a shared endeavor, this sterling collection of 16 stories represents the best work of a venerable mid-century master of baseball fiction. Harking back to a more naïve time, it is also a valuable repository of a style of American popular fiction that, like the postwar period that spawned it, rose and fell with the comparative arc of a high fly, then died in the outfield glove of demands for realistic dialogue and grittier reality. From the whimsical title story to the moving and brilliant drama found in "The Last Pitch," "Flashing Spikes" or "One More Inning," the tales are a fine sampling of O'Rourke's consistently excellent control of language, style and composition. His sturdy players come off the page with such vividness that a reader can almost smell their sweat, feel their heat, share their triumphs as well as the bitterness of their defeats. In the longer stories, particularly "The Catcher," this collection meets the challenges of making a single player, a single sport into something immeasurably bigger. Although sometimes too sweet and often too sentimental for modern tastes, it should occupy a revered place in any collection of sports fiction or, indeed, of American fiction from the last half of the 20th century. (Mar.)

Forecast:O'Rourke, who died in 1989, was as well known for his westerns as for his baseball writing. This strong collection should attract readers nostalgic for simpler days and stories.