Baseball novelist Harris dies
Harris, best known for baseball novels that included “Bang the Drum
Slowly,” narrated by the fictional Henry Wiggen, has died. He was 84.
Harris died Wednesday at Cottage Hospital, a month after he broke his hip in a
fall and got pneumonia, his wife, Josephine, said Friday from their home in
Harris had Alzheimer’s disease, she said.
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
“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
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.
“Diamond,” a collection of Harris’ baseball essays over nearly a
half-century, was published in 1994.
Harris took baseball seriously.
“I can’t stand fantasy, especially in baseball,” he told the Los
Angeles Times in 1994. “It has to be real for me. I think people make fantasy
of it who don’t know how it works realistically. That is a demand I made when I
was a kid — that baseball has to be done right.”
Born Mark Harris Finkelstein in
legally changed his name in the 1940s. He earned a bachelor’s degree in English
Denver, followed by a
master’s in English. He received a doctorate in American Studies from the
His nonfiction books included “City of
Discontent: An Interpretive Biography of
Vachel Lindsay,” “Mark the Glove Boy, or The Last Days of Richard
Nixon,” and “Saul Bellow: Drumlin Woodchuck.”
Harris taught in the English departments at the
Francisco State University, Purdue University,
Institute of the Arts,
Southern California and the
He was also a professor of English at
University from 1980 to
Besides his wife, Harris leaves three children: daughter Hester of San
Francisco and sons Henry of Los Angeles and Anthony of Santa Barbara.
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.