"When I was in the big leagues," writes retired Baltimore Orioles demigod Cal Ripken, Jr. in Play Baseball the Ripken Way (Random House, $24.95), "and it came time in spring training to review baserunning, everyone wanted to call in sick. . . ." Fans sometimes feel the same way, as you may note from the booing often provoked by a pitcher's repeated attempts to pick a runner off first base (or at least deter him from taking a long lead). Get the game moving, those catcalls seem to say. And yet baserunning -- including daring the pitcher by stretching your lead off a base -- lies at the heart of baseball: As Ripken points out, "Granted, if we hit home runs all the time we don't have to worry about how to run the bases, but that's not going to happen." Baserunning -- and defending against it, as when a center fielder with a rifle arm throws out a runner trying to score from second on a one-hop single -- can also produce some of baseball's most thrilling moments. In covering the subject for this primer on the game, Ripken promises, "We've edited the boring parts out and simplified the message (leaving in all the good stuff)."

Ripken is also a stickler for good defense, and naturally readers will want to pay special attention to his chapter on playing the infield. Fielding well is the thing he was proudest of in his career, he explains, especially his astonishing performance in the 1983 season: "I went 95 straight games without an error that year, and made only three errors for the entire season, a record low for a fulltime shortstop."

-- Dennis Drabelle