Book Review: Summer of '49

Using old ticket stubs as bookmarks 
Summer of '49
By David Halberstam

My baseball reading never disappoints. It seems each baseball book is better than the last. I loved this book. My husband teases that each summer I declare that "This is the greatest baseball book I've ever read!" It is true that I adored both Bless You Boys and Last Days of Summer, and cried reading both. While I did not cry this time, I still thought the Summer of '49 is a nonfiction sports gem. Good sports writing is a fantastic art and Halberstam weaves the facts into a wonderful story. It's perfectly written.

The 1949 pennant race was indeed exciting. The mighty New York Yankees versus the Boston Red Sox engaged in a season-long battle in which literally every game counted. Boom, plot. Halberstam is masterful with his "characters." His journalistic skill is evident as he interviewed most of the people he writes about and essentially produces dialogue - rich, wonderful baseball yammering! There is a list of great characters, from players, to coaches, to barkeeps and fans. The book reads like fiction, with perfectly placed history, a full biography and a robust index in the back.

The book was so good and read so quickly that I didn't take many notes, but a lot of stuff stuck. It was interesting and terrible to learn about racism that kept exceptional black players off the Yankees and Sox longer than other clubs. Also, executives were cutthroat and always tried to underpay players. Yogi Berra was the first player to have an agent negotiate salary on his behalf. I learned about Joe DiMaggio's struggle with injuries and his quick and sudden healing and return.

My favorite was Ted Williams' study of every single aspect of hitting a baseball. Halberstam wrote, "Williams wanted not just to hit every pitch but to call it as well." Williams didn't like the press. He never tipped his hat to the fans. He loved his teammates and was like an extra hitting coach. And get this, he would regularly give tips to visiting team's players, too. He also wasn't a bigot and couldn't comprehend judging someone on the color of their skin. I really was engulfed in the mystique of Teddy Ballgame.

Finally, there was the pitchers hating the hitters. In fact, that's the only note I took. Jim Turner, the Yankee's pitching coach, told pitcher Vic Raschi, "Vic-those hitters are your enemy. If they get their way, you're out of baseball." He also said, "I've seen pitchers with talent who might have made the major leagues, but they didn't hate hitters enough."

Great, great summer book. I enjoyed it.

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