Sunday, January 16, 2011

Book Review: Summer of '49

Got this book from one of my Brother-in-Laws for Christmas and was really pleased with it.

Ted Williams and Joe Dimaggio are just names in the record/history books to me.  While my father has real recollections of each, I never saw either play and am totally separated from the days of listening to baseball on the radio.

This book captures the 1949 baseball season as seen from the perspective of both the Yankees and Red Sox who would play to the final game of the season to determine the American League pennant winner. The Pulitzer Prize winning author, David Halberstam, presents this season as a turning point in so many ways, for both baseball and the Nation.  The country was fresh off WWII and was not yet involved in Korea while Radio was beginning to transition to TV, athletes were still working at the whim of ownership and management and not yet in possession of the large sums of money and power that they would attain in the near future and blacks had yet to make meaningful inroads into American professional sports.

Into this period of change came an aging Dimaggio and a rising Williams, each helming the most storied of baseball franchises and trying to lead them to victory.  Halberstam's tale here is more of a collection of obscure but highly entertaining anecdotes strung together across a single season rather than an individual narrative.  The names included in the anecdotes range from the obscure to the famous and infamous including Rizzuto, Mize, Stengel, Ford, Berra, Doerr, etc., though these are just the names you might recognize.  Far more interesting are the tales of lesser known players and those individuals who surrounded the great game of baseball at that time.

I truly could feel the innocence of the game at that point through this book (whether real or imagined) and come away from it wishing for a return to such a similar time and similar individuals.  Most of all, I came away with a much better understanding and knowledge of what was truly one of the "Golden Ages" of baseball and for that, I could not thank my brother-in-law more.

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