Bill Scheft, a longtime monologue writer for David Letterman and newly anointed SPORTS ILLUSTRATED columnist, combines the two callings in his winning debut novel The Ringer (HarperCollins, $23.95). College Boy (who goes only by this nickname) is a professional softball ringer whose life consists of juggling 15 weekly games and stretching his shot muscles, until he becomes responsible for his addled Uncle Mort, an ailing sportswriter fond of bellowing antiquated jabs like “Don’t handle me like you’re looking for Bruno Hauptmann’s phone number!” As would be expected, Scheft pitches plenty of snappy one-liners: When someone asks if Mort’s plan to get ice cream at Howard Johnson’s is a good idea, he replies, “No. Friendly’s is a good idea. Howard Johnson’s is the cotton gin.” But this comic journey is more than a series of ba-dum-bums. Scheft blends crackling banter, pithy prose, and empathy for his characters in a punchy Raymond Chandler-meets-Bruce Jay Friedman style. The goopy, redemptive finale is a tad drawn out, but if you’re looking for a sparkling summer discovery, this is the cotton gin.