An Associated Press story in the Washington Olympian about a new book and exhibit highlighting The Glory Days: New York City Baseball, 1947-1957, edited by John Thorn.
Note that this should not be confused with Harvey Frommer’s New York City Baseball: The Last Golden Age 1947-1957, published originally by Macmillan in 1980, and re-released by The University of Wisconsin Press in 2004.
Author and publisher have a tendency to toss around the description "the golden age" pretty liberally. Often, they can’t agree on the exact timeframe, to wit:
The Golden Age of Baseball, by Robert Cassidy, Bruce Herman, Dan Schlossberg, and Saul Wisnia (Publications International, 2003)
Baseball: The Golden Age, by Harold Seymour (Oxford University Press, 1989)
Baseball’s Last Golden Age, 1946-1960: The National Pastime in a Time of Glory and Change, by J. Ronald Oakley (McFarland, 1994)
Baseball’s Golden Age: The Photographs of Charles M. Conlon (Harry N. Abrams, 2003) Evocative shots of players and personnel from the early-mid 20th century.
Willie’s Time: Baseball’s Golden Age, by Charles Einstein (Southern Illinois University Press, 2004) One of my favorite stories recounts how Einstein, who had ghostwritten a Mays autobiography, ran into the ballplayer one day and went unrecognized. When he tried to identify himself as the writer who had done Mays’ book, the ballplayer, not known for his intellectual pursuits, asked "What book?"
Albert Charles "Chief" Bender was one of the best pitchers of the early 20th century, a stalwart for Connie Mack Philadelphia Athletics from 1903-17. During that time (with a one-game comback in 1925 with the Chicago White Sox) he won more than 210 games and compiled an ERA of 2.46 as he helpd his team to five world series apperances and three world champsionships.
So where’s the sad part?
According to Kashatus, author of several books about Phildephia baseball, it remained, for the most part, internal. In an era when African-Americans were still barred from the majors, when players of foreign descent were routinely regarded by the nationalities, the native American did not enjoy any dispensation because he was born within these shores. He and other Indian ballplayers had to endure racially-charged sobriquets (chiefly "Chief") from teammates, opponents, fans and sportswriters, as well as grotesque cartoon depictions.
Bender, who learned to play ball during his time at the Carlisle Indian Industrial School, was considered by Mack as his best pitcher on a staff that at one point included Rube Waddell and Eddie Plank. But he wasn’t paid as such, which led in a roundabout way, to a poor showing in the A’s 1914 World Series defeat by the "Miracle" Boston Braves. Kashatus raises the notion that there were those who felt the games were "tainted" — and that Bender was a part of any possible malfesance, althouth the proof he offers is less than convincing. Should we believe that Mack lost confidence in Bender merely because of a poor showing? Would that explain the rest of the series, which the Braves won in four straight?
Most of the book follows a simple biographical format: highlights of the subject’s career, descriptions of particular games or events, etc. The sociological aspects of the tragedy of assimilation are reserved for the final chapters, in which Kashatus, who also wrote September Swoon: Richie Allen, the ’64 Phillies, and Racial Integration (Penn State, 2004), blames Bender and his contemporaries for succumbing to the demands of White America, with its melting pot sensibilities and materialistic lures.
"When the United States government took [the Indians’] land and put them on reservations, it stole their livelihood of hunting, fishing, and farming. The young were encouraged to attend off-reservation boarding schools as a means of annihilating native culture. In those schools they were told that a future in white society promised good employment, more money, and better urban homes…."
Does the author mean to say that these young people had much of a choice when he cajoles them not exhibiting more moral fiber? What were their options? To stay on the land, with its poverty and lack of a future?
"Other racial and ethnic groups, with the exception of African Americans, were not forced to endure the same experience. For them, assimilation came voluntarily and, to a degree, on their terms."
Again, I would disagree to a degree: While some readily sought to shed evidence of their origins and be regarded as "American" as quickly as possible, at the same time they did not have much of a choice if they wanted to thrive and survive.
Despite this attempt to cram the "tragic" aspects into a single chapter where there may be none, Money Pitcher is nevertheless an interesting and sympathetic look atone of the underappreciated stars of the game.
by Doug Feldman. Unversity of Nebraska Press, 2006.
Fans of a certain age will recall some of the great collective let-downs in the game ‘s history: After cruising for most of the 1951 season, the Brooklyn Dodgers let the New York Giants catch them. The Philadelphia Phillies were running away with the pennant in 1964 before they fell apart spectacularly. Then there’s the Yankees-Red Sox comedy in 1978.
But perhaps the most disappointing, given their long World Championship drought has to be the Chicago Cubs in 1969. The team had not won the Fall Classic since 1908, a pennant since in 1945. Nor had they even been close since then. In 1966, they had the ignominy of finishing behind the New York Mets, who had been the doormats of the League since their debut in 1962.
Led by the fiery Leo Durocher (who skippered the ’51 Giants), the Cubs had a bevy of veterans in 1969: Ernie Banks, Billy Williams, Don Kessinger, Glenn Beckert and Randy Hundley, as well as a pitching staff lead by Fergie Jenkins, Ken Holtzman and Bill Hands. For a sizeable part of the season, they stood atop the newly-formed Eastern Division, only to disappoint their fans once again by floundering while the Mets were acting the juggernaut for the last six weeks.
Feldman follows a time-honored (and worn) method, following the fates of the team from spring training through the end of the schedule. He offers no new insight as he lauds the wins and individual performances and bemoans the lost opportunities. He sprinkles his tale with then-current events, such as the moon landing, Sen. Ted Kennedy’s fiasco at Chappaquidick, and the Manson murders, but such inclusions seems like he’s trying to fill some page quota rather than having a bearing on his topic.
Older fans know what’s coming: that Durocher’s steadfast reluctance to rest his regulars in the face of a season’s collected fatigue led to the team’s demise. This might be news to more recently-arrived Cubs fans, but Feldman doesn’t build any sense of suspense. In fact, the downfall is matter-of-fact and done quickly in the telling.
Even the epilogue is standard, as the author comments on the key players and how they fared in ensuing seasons, and chronicles Durocher’s dismissal as manager.
Feldman is an interesting hybrid: a professor at the College for Education at Northern Kentucky University, he is also a part-time scout for the Cincinnati Reds. Writing for a university press, as he does, the book should be an product of substantial research and scholarship, but, to this reviewer, neither particularly shines through.
- Durocher’s Cubs: The Greatest Team That Didn’t Win, by David Clearbaut. Taylor Publishing Company, 2000. Clearbaut, to whom Feldman refers in his own book, did a similar treatise on the team’s fates.
- The Cubs of ’69: Recollections of The Team That Should Have Been, by Rick Talley. Contemporary Books, 1989. Talley goes the interviw route, tracking down former members of the team to get their takes on what went wrong.
A brief review of a brief book.
Guzzo does a nice job explaining the key stats to newcomers to the game who want to enhance their experience by adding that numerical component, rather than "just watching."
He also offers an explanation of fantasy baseball, for those who just don’t get what all the fuss is about (present company included). But by adding an histroical perspective — that simulation games have been around for decades, including the popular Strat-O-Matic — Guzzo makes the phenomenon a bit more reasonable. So, were newer statistics such as Runs Created, WIn Shares, and VORP (Value Over Replacement Level) created for fantasy baseball, or vice versa? Either way, it’s another way of looking at the game, so what could be bad?
The author has a nice sense of humor, expecially when he chides broadcasters for using ridiculous factoids ad nauseum during the course of the game. To wit, and quoted at length:
The New York Yankes joined the 1992 Toronto Blue Jays and 2003 Seattle Mariners as the only team since 1976 to win heir first eight day games. Seatle started 17-10 in the daylight that year….
Wow. Drop everything to make it to the stadium today or risk missing the extension — or tragic end — to that streak of daytime wins. Talk about drama…. I mean, if the Yankees can win just nine more consecutive games (emphasis original) …they’ll be just the second team since way back in 2003 to win at last 17 day games in a row. [Writer’s Note: Guzzo mentions that there are many more night games than day games, which somewhat reduces the impressiveness of the feat.]
That sort of statistical noise isn’t even worthy of the term trivia.
The publisher, ACTA Sports, also produces The Hard Times Baseball Annual, The Fielding Bible, and Strat-O-Matic Fanatics: The Unlikely SUccess ofa Game That Became and American Passion, also written by Guzzo.