I am sure no one has missed me on here, but I should probably give a brief explanation of my MIA status. Between a new job, moving back to Philadelphia and figuring out this whole Fatherhood thing, baseball books have become the victim of circumstances. Now that we are settled in our new place and the very large former Ron Kaplan book collection has been moved, I can hopefully focus on some more books, but if anyone has any ideas how to get an eight month old to sleep through the night, I would love to hear from you. I figured I would start back with a book that was highly anticipated by myself and did not disappoint.
I was familiar with Dickson’s previous work on his Bill Veeck book and really enjoyed that one, so I expected more of the same with this. Leo Durocher was one of those figures in baseball history that was either loved or hated, somewhere in the middle was not an option. To date, there have been a few books about Durocher, but none recently so it was a subject worth revisiting.
Paul Dickson takes a hard look at both Durocher’s playing and managing career. Not really much of a player numbers-wise, he had the small guy attitude that was appreciated by many a manager. This book looks at his trouble with Babe Ruth and the hard-nosed play that forged his cocky reputation. It is very thorough look at an often overlooked part of Leo’s resume.
Durocher’s real strength was his managing obviously. With varying degrees of success at all of his stops in the big leagues, you see how his hard-nosed playing attitude spills over into his managing. The reader also sees how Leo becomes the victim of a changing game. How more success early in his career does not carry over in the latter years. The game changed along with player attitudes, but old Leo stuck to his guns. It translated into some rough times for the long time manager, but those stops still put the finishing touches on an impressive career.
The one aspect of this book I found most interesting was the details of his private life. From associations with known gamblers, to his friendships with the Hollywood types, it leads to a very interesting life. Of course, the four wives add some zing to that private life also. It is an interesting aspect of Leo that we know some details about, but this sheds a whole new light on the subject.
Overall, this book is tirelessly researched and prepared well. It gets a little stat heavy at times, but the overall content of the book makes up for that lone aspect I did not like. If you have any interest in Durocher, or are a fan of this era of the game, check this one out. At 300+ pages it is a lot of reading but is for sure, time well spent.
Check it out, I don’t think anyone will be disappointed.
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