The Dancer in Autumn is a novel that covers five decades in the life of its protagonist, Freddy Janek. Janek comes out of high school with the promise of being signed by the Chicago White Sox, but he leaves school after his freshman year in college in Chicago. He is promptly drafted and spends a tour in the Vietnam War.
When he returns home, he falls in love with Dee Dee Moret. They marry, but they're childless. Freddy and Dee then adopt a Vietnamese girl named Lin. Freddy lands a job at a Catholic high school teaching English and coaching baseball. His own baseball career ended when he came back and broke his leg trying out for those same White Sox. Now all he can do is watch younger men play the game. He turns back to his old game of Chicago style slow-pitch softball in order to re-live his former dreams.
When he approaches his fifties, his beloved wife Dee dies of cancer, and Freddy goes into a funk. Relief comes later with a potentially great baseball player at his high school, John (Doc) Holliday, a freshman at the school. The kid can throw a fastball at nearly 90 mph, and Freddy dreams of a State Championship. Complications with Holliday arise, however, and the struggle ensues as the novel ends.