In the late winter of 1976 Jim Bouton, who had enjoyed varying measures of success as a pitcher in major-league baseball, the author of a best-selling expose' called "Ball Four" and a television sportscaster and actor, began to entertain thoughts of returning to the game he loved, though he was 39 years old and quite certifiably over the hill. This is what his wife, Bobbie, had to say about that in a letter to her friend, Nancy Marshall:

"It won't be easy if he decides to go back to pitching. But I want him to be happy and will support him 100 percent. It may be disruptive for the children and me--moving around again--but it may be a good experience, too. I'm going to think positively; I know what you'll say. But we've had six years of relative stability. I may be out of shape for moving, but isn't it like riding a bicycle? Once you learn how, you never forget?"

As she had for virtually every day since marrying Bouton in 1962, Bobbie Bouton was being a good little baseball wifey; she was ready to do whatever was necessary, which is to say subjecting herself and her children to considerable inconvenience and dislocation, so that the man of the household could pursue his dreams of baseball glory. But it seems that he, for his part, wasn't being such a good hubby; the Boutons are divorced, and he has married the woman who often kept him company during his return to the big leagues.

Nancy Marshall was also married to a pitcher: Mike Marshall, a reliever for a number of clubs who won the National League's Cy Young Award one year and was widely known for his outspoken opinions on any number of subjects; the Marshalls are now divorcing. And Danielle Gagnon Torrez was married to Mike Torrez, who now pitches for the New York Mets; the Torrezes are divorced.

The problem isn't pitchers, but baseball players--or, more generally and accurately, well-known athletes. Popular notions notwithstanding, being married to a celebrated athlete is no bed of roses; as Nancy Marshall puts it: "Where the hell is that glamorous life I hear about that the wives of major-league ballplayers lead?" In point of fact, as these two books poignantly demonstrate, the only glamor attached to being the wife of a big-name athlete (or, for that matter, a small-name athlete) is that of reflected glory. The rest, save for the fortunate few, is interminable drudgery: Moving from city to city; raising small children in small apartments, often without their absent father's help; suffering with the husband's moods as he rides the giddy roller coaster of victory and defeat; abandoning one's own ambitions for a career or an individual identity; and, as all the world now knows thanks to (nice irony, this) "Ball Four," putting up with the nagging apprehension that the groupies--the "Baseball Annies"--have one's husband in their adoring grasp.

When Danielle Torrez told another baseball wife that she was "99.9 percent sure" her husband was faithful to her, she got this reply: "Don't be a fool . . . They all cheat, even my own husband. I've been really disgusted for a long time." The temptations of life on the road are never-ending and so is the boredom of it; that many ballplayers relieve the latter by succumbing to the former is scarcely surprising, but the predictability of their behavior doesn't make it any easier for their wives to tolerate. In fact, what is perhaps most surprising is that so many baseball marriages survive in the face of such errant behavior, whether actual or suspected.

Perhaps this is because, as both books suggest, baseball wives "always seem to take care of one another," as Nancy Marshall puts it. Danielle Torrez discovered that baseball wives are a self-supporting community: "You needed help getting through these lonely times; you often hated to leave each other, sometimes wishing you could stay together permanently like real sisters." Life forces them to be strong; according to Nancy Marshall, "Baseball wives are generally a sturdy, solid bunch of women. We're used to change and dealing with stress that a lot of women never encounter." They develop strengths that come in handy when marriages fall apart, but that surely are useful in keeping marriages together as well.

They are not, unfortunately, strengths that are applicable to the writing of books. There is much that's interesting and appealing in "Home Games" and "High Inside," but each is an artless piece of work. The Bouton-Marshall collaboration is done in the form of letters, which are notable primarily for their cloying chattiness; Torrez, in her as-told-to with Ken Lizotte, wobbles between describing her own life and telling tales that any follower of the game already knows far too well.

Choosing between the two is difficult because the stories they tell are so similar; by the narrowest of margins the edge goes to "Home Games," because it is the more candid of the two and because Nancy Marshall seems the most interesting of the three wives. But of all three women it can be said that they have come through their difficulties in good spirits, have learned from them and have established their own identities, even if, for whatever reason, they persist in using their husband's names.