It’s Baseball Season Once Again. . .
Reviewed by Dana Bliss
The Teammates: A Portrait of a Friendship
By David Halberstam
Summer of ’49
By David Halberstam
First Published in 1989 by William Morrow
In the era of the free agent, when multi-million dollar contracts and endorsement deals have become the norm, superstar marquee players now dominate professional sports with a level of control that was unimaginable only a few years ago. Michael Jordan earned a reported $33 million during his last season with the Chicago Bulls in 1998. It is rumored that British football star David Beckam recently signed a staggering $100 million, life-long contract with the sporting goods giant Adidas. And then, of course, there’s A-Rod.
In December of 2000, Alexander Emmanuel Rodriguez signed a 10-year contract with the Texas Rangers for the unprecedented sum of $252 million, thus catapulting himself onto the list of highest-paid entertainers in the world. Because after all, what are professional athletes, if not entertainers? Given the state professional sports today, it is sometimes hard to remember that at one point each and every one of these millionaires was just a kid playing a game with his friends. And sadly enough, in one of our culture’s great ironies, it can be argued that it is the fans themselves who have created this atmosphere through our unflinching willingness to pay inflated ticket prices and our tendency to get swept up in the drama surrounding the marquee players. By doing so, we alienate these stars from their teammates, managers, friends, and family, just as we progressively alienate ourselves from the game. And yet, even amidst the current climate of superstardom, intense media pressure, and runaway salaries, one can still find examples of the kind of friendships like those forged in little league. In The Teammates, Pulitzer Prize winning author David Halberstam paints the portrait of a friendship that began in the 1930s and continues today, the kind of friendship that can remind a fan that these millionaire entertainers are also boys having the time of their lives.
centers around four members of the powerful – yet harrowed – Boston Red Sox
teams of the post-war 1940s. Johnny Pesky, Dom
DiMaggio, Bobby Doerr and Ted Williams were four of the best players on a
string of the greatest Red Sox teams to ever be assembled. Dominic Paul DiMaggio, younger brother of the
tremendous Joltin’ Joe, was signed by the Red Sox in 1937 and never wore
another uniform, playing center field in the majors for eleven years. Robert Pershing Doerr is considered by many
to be the best second baseman ever to play in Fenway, where he was a defensive
anchor from 1937-51. John Michael Pesky
played shortstop and third base for the Sox from 1942-52, before finishing out
his career in
opens in the fall of 2001 when, as we quickly discover, Ted Williams is
dying. Dom and Johnny decide to drive
Some of the more amusing anecdotes and baseball
moments discussed are drawn from the magical 1949 season when Doerr, Pesky,
Williams, DiMaggio, and the Red Sox were in an unnervingly close pennant race
with their archrivals, the New York Yankees.
That year the Red Sox’s season, as Ted Williams would often recount
years later, ended with a “dying quail blooper” hit by Yankees rookie Jerry
Coleman. A more detailed (and more
heartbreaking) examination of that same hit comes at the end of another of
Halberstam’s books, The Summer of ’49, which chronicles that year’s tumultuous
seasons for both the Yankees and the Red Sox.
This earlier work, first published in 1989, closely follows both teams
from the close of the 1948 season through the remarkable finish of the following
year when Coleman ended
In The Summer of ’49 Halberstam again balances two stories within one text, on the one hand moving chronologically through the season, while interspersing well-placed digressions into each players’ experiences. And, while these asides offer some interesting background information about the members of the two teams, this book is really about the depth of the game, about pitch selection, a manager’s late-inning moves, the players’ instincts in the field, and ultimately why baseball is so great. But beyond even the recounting of pivotal games in the season, Halberstam seems fascinated by the supporting characters in the story. For instance, we learn that Red Sox owner Tom Yawkey, in addition to being a terrible drunk, would put on a uniform and take a private batting practice, with only a handful of bench players, nicknamed the “ass-kisser all stars,” and local kids shagging balls. Halberstam also devotes a surprising amount of time to exploring the unique dynamics that the sportswriters had with the players, particularly a writer for the Record named Dave Egan, who is described as “gentle and kind when sober, he became, when drinking, a monster, a man with the foulest tongue imaginable.” As the season progressed, so did Egan’s drinking, which only exacerbated the bad blood between him and Ted Williams, against whom Egan fostered a terrible grudge that he perpetuated in his articles.
On the other
hand, The Teammates centers on the four friends, and the book rarely strays
from their story, if only for a short diversion or reminiscence. These four men played together on the Red Sox
for almost a decade before Ted was called back to service at the start of the
Korean War. Bobby Doerr retired from
baseball at the end of the 1951 season, after a back injury took away what was
left of his competitive spirit. From
So, will friendship continue to be a part of professional baseball, or will the kind of relationships forged in little league get pushed farther and farther into the background by the increasing pressures of the modern game? At the time of this writing, the 2004 season has just begun, introducing us to Red Sox and Yankee teams with many new faces, mixed in with a few old ones returning for another season. Will new friendships emerge as established players bond with their new teammates? And will older friendships outlast this past winter’s trades as players move around the league? Of course. But it is easy to romanticize the days when a young kid signed up to play ball, with a starry-eyed look and a pure love of the game, and then played out his career with a core group of guys, grateful for the chance to play a game with his friends, and get paid to do it. In these two books, Halberstam guides us on such a nostalgic trip, and makes us glad to go along for the ride.
Bliss is a Senior Editorial Assistant at Routledge. He earned his BA from