Does this kind of thing happen to you fairly often at your friendly neighborhood tavern?
Wiseacre: All right, for two beers—what's Mickey Lolich doing these days?
You: Lolich is making a living frying doughnuts in Rochester, Michigan.
Wiseacre: O.K., I'm buying.
If it does, then Where Have You Gone, Vince DiMaggio? by Edward Kiersh ( Bantam Books, $3.50) is for you. If it doesn't, it isn't.
What Kiersh has done is put together the answers to 55 baseball trivia questions and disguised them as a book—or at least tried to. He interviewed each of 55 former stars and has written brief accounts of what they're doing now to go with even briefer recountings of the highlights of their major league careers. If you want this sort of information, you could do worse with your three-fifty. And you'll probably get that back at the bar.
Aside from the boiler-plate writing, what's wrong with Kiersh's effort as a book is this: Most big league players are woefully ill-prepared for what happens after the cheering stops, as has been endlessly documented. If they are unable to stay in baseball in some non-playing capacity, they usually flounder through several years and several jobs and end up in an everyday occupation, earning a middle-class salary. As players, they were our heroes because they were larger than life, doing heroic things: running, throwing, hitting, pitching and catching far far better than we even dreamed of doing. But there's no getting around the fact that what they're doing now is routine and dull. And if there is a way of making that interesting reading, Kiersh hasn't found it.
Wilbur Wood owns a fish store and stews chowders and poaches salmon on the side; Jim Landis makes signs and posters; Gus Triandos has a mail-delivery service; Daddy Wags Wagner sells Olds-mobiles; Elroy Face... Elroy Face! Holy cow! ( Phil Rizzuto wrote the book's foreword.) Maybe the best relief pitcher of all time. Went 18-1 one year. Saved three of the four Pirate wins over the Yankees in the '60 Series. Face is now a carpenter in a state hospital. All of these gentlemen are making admirable contributions to society, and none are soliciting your sympathy because the cheers of thousands, the fawning of groupies and the importunities of the press don't now accompany demonstrations of the skills for which they are paid. But those demonstrations are not the stuff of dreams. Oops, we almost left out Vince DiMaggio. Vince is a Fuller Brush man.
It's Kiersh's grandiloquent notion that, as he has moved from Lolich's doughnuts to Wood's clam chowder to Face's tool chest, he has viewed "the soul of America." If indeed he has, he hasn't given us a glimpse of it here. Maybe he's saving that for another book.