Louis D. Rubin Jr. is a respected member of the Southern literary establishment. He is a University Distinguished Professor of English at North Carolina, has lectured on American literature in such alien climes as France, Japan and Harvard, is a novelist, a critic, a contributor to The Sewanee Review and The New Republic, and is currently head of Algonquin Books, a small but vigorous publishing house in Chapel Hill.
He is also a baseball fan—he used to write regularly on the game for The New Republic—and it is evidence of his interest that one of the books issued by his press this spring is a history of the curve-ball. The Crooked Pitch, by Martin Quigley (Algonquin, $16.95), is a warm, delightful book. Quigley, a pitcher in his youth, is in love with the curve ("...both the honest variety and its crooked cousins," he says) and he disparages experiments supposedly "proving" that a curveball doesn't really curve.
In remarkably clear detail, Quigley explains just how and why a pitched baseball can and does veer from a straight line. (And why, sometimes, it won't. One afternoon an astonishing drop in barometric pressure caused by an approaching thunderstorm quickly changed Bruce Sutter's feared split-fingered fastball, which ordinarily sinks sharply, into a straight pitch that was whacked all over the lot.)
Quigley mentions antique terms like "outdrop" and "inshoot," explores the mystique of the knuckleball and the spitter and tells with obvious pleasure of the time back in the 1930s when he was taught the "phonograph needle" pitch by a parolee. (An old-fashioned steel 78-rpm needle was surreptitiously pressed into the seam of the ball to give it the lopsided weight a dexterous—or sinister—hurler could use to make it do tricks.)
Baseball experts probably won't agree with everything Quigley says, but they'll learn things about the curve and the game itself that they didn't know before, and they'll have a lot of fun along the way—as I suspect Professor Rubin did.