THE CHRYSANTHEMUM AND THE BAT by ROBERT WHITING 247 pages. Dodd, Mead. $10.
Roger Kahn's Season in the Sun is proof that, pace Thomas Wolfe, you can go home again-when home is a five-sided white plate. Kahn, a sportswriter whose columns appear in TIME, returned to baseball during the summer of 1976 to see how his favorite sport was getting along. From April to October, he traveled-to a town in Arkansas where locals watch college students do or die for old John Brown University; to a seedy ballpark in Pittsfield, Mass., where a minor league team plays to empty stands; to a sun-hammered field in Puerto Rico where children try to emulate the feats of the late Roberto Clemente; to Cincinnati, where a country boy named Johnny Bench has parlayed his skills as a catcher into a million dollars worth of endorsements and franchise arrangements. The resulting collection of interviews and observations is an affectionate, and at times painfully accurate evocation of the game-and its recent erosions.
Robert Whiting's book orients the baseball enthusiast in a different manner. Some 20 years after Admiral Perry revealed Japan to the world, an American university professor taught some of his students how to play baseball. Since then, the nation has been hooked. Each year, some 12 million fans jam its stadiums to eat an American import called the hotto dogu and scream "ganbare" (Let's go) as Japan's twelve professional teams battle each other with the ferocity of a samurai.
As old Asia hand Whiting explains, their enthusiasm is understandable. Managers demand that players perform like warriors both on the field and off. Sadaharu Oh, the 37-year-old first baseman for Tokyo's Yomiuri Giants, practices his swing with a katana, or long sword. Perhaps that is why he has hit more home runs than any man alive -including U.S. record holder Henry Aaron. Unsuccessful managers also behave according to the code of Bushido. None have thus far committed hara-kiri to atone for their teams' losing streaks. But most perform its modern-day equivalent. First they apologize to the players and the fans. Then, they resign.