Thursday, June 28, 2007

Bang the Drum Slowly

I first read Bang the Drum Slowly as a high school student and it stayed on my mind for several days after I finished it. In fact, it had such an impact on the way that I saw life that I was more than a little reluctant to read it again, fearing that my fond memories of the book would be spoiled. That kind of thing has happened to me several times in the past, but not this time. Bang the Drum Slowly is still the great book that I experienced the first time around.

In the era before free agency rules made millionaires out of very mediocre baseball players, even all-star left-handed pitchers had to find work in the off season. Henry Wiggin, star lefthander for what was probably the best team in baseball during the early 1950s, the New York Mammoths, was no exception. Henry took to selling life insurance and annuities to his fellow ball players and he became quite good at his sales job. One of Henry’s customers was Bruce Pearson, a third-string Mammoth catcher who bought an insurance policy covering his life only to later discover that he was dying of Hodgkin's Lymphoma, a disease that was incurable in the 1950s.

Bang the Drum Slowly at its base is a realistic baseball novel told in the words (and with the spelling skills) of a small town boy born during the Depression who had the physical skills to become a major league baseball pitcher. It is an honest look at what goes on off the field and in the clubhouse when athletes spend more time on the road, and with each other, than they spend with their wives and children. There are racial tensions, drinking problems, womanizing and personality clashes that have to be dealt with by management, a baseball management generally interested only in the club’s bottom line.

The heart of this story, however, is the bad break that fate has handed Bruce Pearson. He faces imminent death even in what turns out to be the best season of his career. Henry Wiggin, feeling protective of the na├»ve Pearson, does his best to keep Pearson’s secret from team management and their teammates. But when word of Pearson’s situation slowly begins to leak, amazing things begin to happen to the New York Mammoths and to Bruce Pearson.

Mark Harris, who passed away just a few weeks ago, will long be remembered for Bang the Drum Slowly, a book that was chosen by Sports Illustrated as one of the Top 100 sports books of all time. This book has something for baseball fans and non-sports fans alike and, even after such a long absence, I enjoyed spending time again with Henry Wiggin.

Rated at 4.0


  1. Sam,
    Will I be able to find this book in a Hastings or Barnes and Noble when I go to the US next month?

  2. My husband really liked the movie, which starred Michael Moriarty and a young Robert DeNiro. And whenever I think of the song "Streets of Laredo", I think of the sad story. Also, my husband uses the phrase "TegWar, which stands for the exciting game without any rules," which comes from the movie, and I'm guessing is also in the book, to describe a job he had with an insane and unpredictable boss.

  3. You know, bybee, I'm not sure. The book was first published in 1956 but has remained in print pretty much all the time since then as far as I know. It's easy to find at Amazon and other book websites but I haven't looked for it in a real live bookstore for a long time.

  4. Wow, Gentle Reader, the movie seems to have made quite an impact on your husband. Mark Harris wrote the screenplay for the movie and, from what I remember, it is true to the book. "TEGWAR" and all the good that eventually came from that "game" is one of my favorite parts of the book.

    I haven't seen the movie in a I have to find it. :-)