Fans of baseball fiction will remember Mark Harris primarily for Bang the Drum Slowly, arguably the best baseball novel ever written. In 1973 the book was turned into an excellent baseball movie starring Robert De Niro and Michael Moriarty. According to his wife, Harris died of pneumonia just a month after he fell and broke his hip but he also suffered from Alzheimer's disease.
Harris wrote five nonfiction books and 13 novels, including the baseball books "The Southpaw" (1953), "Bang the Drum Slowly" (1956), "A Ticket for a Seamstitch" (1957) and "It Looked Like Forever" (1979).
"Bang the Drum Slowly," which he also adapted for the 1973 movie starring Michael Moriarty and Robert De Niro, was the most popular of the four, and it was named one of the top 100 sports books of all time by Sports Illustrated.
The story centers on a pair of ballplayers for the fictionally fabled New York Mammoths. Moriarty played pitcher Wiggen, and De Niro played catcher Bruce Pearson, who is dying of Hodgkin's disease.
"He's every bit as permanent and important as Huckleberry Finn, as Ishmael and Ahab in 'Moby Dick,' and as Nick Adams in Hemingway's short stories," Cordelia Candelaria, author of "Seeking the Perfect Game: Baseball in American Literature," said of Harris.
"Henry Wiggen struggles with his individuality, his place in society and the moral dilemmas he faces. All of those struggles are as much about him as an American character as they are about baseball," Candelaria said.
Harris will be cremated and a portion of his ashes will be scattered over the Mount Vernon baseball field where he played sandlot baseball, his wife said. A memorial service will be held later.Baseball seems to have always been his first love, something upon which he centered his life, so I can't imagine a better place to scatter his ashes. Rest in peace, Mr. Harris, and thank you for those wonderful baseball books. They were an important part of my childhood and are one of the reasons that I still love the game so much today.