When I first saw this book in the book store I thought “uh-oh, here we go again”. I expected another book telling me why New York baseball of the 1950’s was the best era of all time. I expected to hear the same recycled stories of Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle and Jackie Robinson. Really, how many times can we make a book about that topic anyway? Much to my surprise and delight…….I was wrong!!!!!
1954 – The Year Willie Mays and the First Generation of Black Superstars Changed Major League Baseball Forever
By:Bill Madden / DaCapo Press 2014
The newest book from Bill Madden is a great read. I usually don’t start my reviews with a sentence like that but I feel that strongly about this book. Madden takes a topic that has been covered by several other authors through the years, but finds a segment of it that is often ignored. We are all familiar with the stories of Jackie Robinson, Branch Rickey and the integration of the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947. But that is only one chapter in the complete book of integration.
1954 takes a look at the complete season and more specifically on the new black stars in each league as more teams follow in the area of racial integration. It is an important year on the integration front due to social changes in the country since Robinson’s first appearance in 1947, as well as the end of the Korean War. You have black players returning from military service and is the first true year that the players are all available to play together in number. Segregation was still prominent during this period, but you do see some changes that had taken place in the period between 1947 and 1954. Those changes allowed for some of the events of 1954 to take place.
The book also looks at how each team approached integration. Some teams saw the benefits in both social and professional arenas, while some teams quietly fought it until the bitter end. On the topic of integration, you always hear about Jackie Robinson because he was the first player to attempt it. Not to discount Jackie’s historical achievements in any way but this book shows how other players were involved in the bigger overall picture. Willie Mays, Don Newcombe, Joe Black, Hank Aaron, Larry Doby, Ernie Banks, Elston Howard and countless others all had a hand in this process. It gives all the players that were part of the continuing process in 1954 their just due.
I would be amiss if I did not say that this book intertwines the 1954 season amongst other topics. It shows how the topic of the black superstars affected the season as a whole and how the black stars changed the outcome of the season. 1954 can truly be remembered as a year of change that has lasted decades in baseball. It also has throughout the book a hint of how great baseball in New York was in the 1950’s, but not enough of it to make me lose track of what the real story was about.
Bill Madden as always, in my opinion, has made a very enjoyable book to read. It has a high attention to detail in the historical aspects and gives a very accurate depiction of the year 1954. This book seems like it may have been a labor of love for Bill Madden and the story comes across very strongly and to the point. I recommend this book to any true baseball history fan. You may learn as much as I did.
You can get this books from the nice folks at DaCapo Press