A baseball story that tells all--from one side only

April 28, 1991|By Mark Hyman


Peter Golenbock.

Birch Lane Press.

391 pages. $19.95.

There are a few things to say in praise of Peter Golenbock'sports books and I will say them in a paragraph. They're provocative. They sell lots of copies. They do not fill the bookshelves at the home of Jim Valvano, whose job as North Carolina State basketball coach vanished after Mr. Golenbock

alleged two or three thousand improprieties in "Personal Fouls."

Now that that's out of the way, here's the problem: Mr. Golenbock isn't a careful reporter. Or, perhaps, a reporter at all. We're not exactly talking about Iran-contra here. But even Mr. Golenbock's books have a few facts sprinkled throughout them, and he'd be advised to check them more thoroughly.

The latest example of his light regard for fact-checking is "The Forever Boys," a Peeping Tom's view of the now-defunct Senior Professional Baseball League. Mr. Golenbock spent the league's first season (1989) living with and listening to the St. Petersburg Pelicans, the league's best team, although one suspects not its most colorful.

Mr. Golenbock starts at the beginning. He takes us to the owners' meeting at which he stands up and first proposes his plan to follow a team through the season, with broad access to everything that goes on. Only Pelicans owner Jim Morley, a

33-year-old Colorado real-estate developer, who also happened to have invented the league, accepts the offer.

So far, so good. Of course, that's only the prologue.

The book is divided between chapters on the Senior season and profiles of Pelicans people, most of whom seem to have spent their years after baseball squandering their life's savings and/or going through messy divorces.

Some stories, including one that should particularly interest Baltimore Orioles fans, are genuinely sad.

From 1978 to '85, Sam Stewart was a hard-throwing, high-living relief pitcher for the Orioles. He spent part of last season with the Pelicans, until his "erratic" behavior led to his release. Mr. Golenbock writes that Mr. Stewart leased a car and promptly crashed it. He writes that the pitcher phoned teammates in the middle of the night, seeking loans of $50 and more. When he was released, Mr. Stewart owed almost $2,000.

Mr. Golenbock gives Mr. Stewart 12 pages, mostly to complain about how the Orioles, Red Sox and Indians didn't give him a fair shake and, eventually, ran him out of baseball. Former Orioles manager Joe Altobelli is an ogre because he expected the pitcher to show up on time. The traveling secretary for the Red Sox deserved to be spat on by Mr. Stewart -- after all, he'd allowed the team bus to leave on time, without Sammy. On and on. The accusations are too powerful to kiss off with Mr. Stewart's version only. But Mr. Golenbock settles for one, biased view.

This is a recurring problem. Throughout the book, the players confide in Mr. Golenbock and he passes on their nuggets to us, presenting each perceived slight as documented fact.

It's a useful technique if you want desperately to know what Randy Lerch thought of Herm Starrette -- "a back stabber."

Or have never stopped asking why Ron LeFlore thinks that Sparky Anderson soured on him when LeFlore refused to shave his mustache to conform with the Detroit manager's ban on facial hair. "I guess he thought I was being rebellious," LeFlore tells the author.

But Pete, how about a second opinion?

Mr. Hyman is a sportswriter for The Sun.

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