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October 1964 ()


David Halberstam is undoubtedly one of the great journalists of the past few decades.  As the New York Times correspondent in Vietnam in the early 60's, he was one of the most influential media voices on the War and The Best and the Brightest was one of the first really important books on what had gone wrong.  The success of the book freed him from the grind of daily newspaper work, but in the succeeding years he has produced books on The Times, the auto industry and various sports, almost all of which are characterized by  reportage of the highest quality.  I particularly liked The Reckoning, wherein he recounts the fall of the American and the rise of the Japanese auto industries and Breaks of the Game, in which he details one year in the life of the Portland Trail Blazers and which I maintain is the only good basketball book ever written.    And, of course, he wrote the terrific Summer of '49, about the rivalry between the Red Sox of Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio's Yankees.

In October 1964 he returns to baseball, this time to the World Series showdown between the Yankees and the Cardinals, and combines the detailed reporting for which he is known, with a theme similar to that of The Reckoning.  For what truly interests him about that year, a seemingly ordinary enough season in most respects, is the aspect of race and how the different teams dealt with it.  He explores the manner in which the Cardinals, through their commitment to finding and developing black players, were leading a revolution in the game of baseball, building their team around superior speed and athleticism and the burning desire to succeed.  He contrasts them with the Yankees, an increasingly fossilized institution, refusing to use black players, attempting to quash free spirits and unable to replace declining stars like Mantle and Ford.

Now if, like me, you grew up listening to Bill White and Phil Rizzuto and Tim McCarver broadcast baseball games, many of the stories in here will be familiar.  In fact, I became conscious for perhaps the first time of the difference between a great reporter and great writer as I was reading this book.  I really noticed that large swaths of the book are simple regurgitation of interviews and the judgments about the game that are being related are not even his own, they are the interviewees.  If Mel Stottlemyre  told him that the key to pitching was throwing breaking balls and keeping the ball down, then that's Halberstam's belief.  I don't know whether he actually doesn't know all that much about the game or simply chose to believe the professionals, but I found a lot of the opinion that he offers to be unconsidered.  His editorial voice wafts very faintly through the book, emerging only on the racial and labor issues (Curt Flood of the Cardinals would be the first man to challenge baseball's restrictive contracts, paving the way for free agency).  Much of the rest reads like a reporter conveying the players' impressions after a game.  There are also some really annoying repetitions in the book, redundancies which any editor should have caught, assuming editors still exist.

But on balance I liked the book.  His essential "changing of the guard" premise is absolutely correct.  Black players completely dominated the 60's and 70's, not merely for athletic reasons but also because they were simply hungrier and had more to gain (for much the same reason, Irish then Jews and Italians enjoyed their hey day earlier in the century and Latin American players are in the ascendancy now).  The more aggressive signing of black talent also led to a long period of dominance by the National League after years of Yankee invincibility.  This racial theme gives the book a greater social resonance than most sports fare which, combined with the baseball lore, would seem to make the book an ideal vehicle to teach young adults about the civil rights struggles in a format they'd find interesting and entertaining.

(Reviewed:)

Grade: (B)

  

Websites:

See also:

David Halberstam (2 books reviewed)
Sports (Baseball)
David Halberstam Links:

    -BOOK SITE: The Teammates by David Halberstam (Hyperion)
    -BOOKNOTES: The Fifties by David Halberstam (C-SPAN, July 11, 1993 )
    -AMERICAN WRITERS: Halberstam & Sheehan (C-SPAN)
    -ESSAY ARCHIVES: David Halberstam (ESPN.com)
    -ESSAY: One Splendid day (David Halberstam, ESPN.com)
    -ESSAY: In admiration of Iverson (David Halberstam, ESPN.com)
    -ESSAY: HOW HE GOT UP THERE  His near perfection proves the value of apprenticeship for even the most talented (DAVID HALBERSTAM, TIME)
    -ESSAY: NBA AT 50  Basketball's Golden Era: The Era of Michael  (David Halberstam, nba.com)
    -ESSAY : The Education of a Journalist (David Halberstam, November/December 1994, Columbia Journalism Review)
    -ESSAY : Richard Nixon's Last Campaign (David Halberstam, July/August 1994, Columbia Journalism Review)
    -REVIEW: of Red Smith on Baseball: The Game's Greatest Writer on the Game's Greatest Years (David Halberstam, NY Times Book Review)
    -CHAT: 'The Teammates': With David Halberstam (May 20, 2003, Washington Post)
    -INTERVIEW: Q & A: David Halberstam: Coming back to foreign policy (Jonathan Curiel, 9/23/01, SF Chronicle)
    -INTERVIEW: THE CHILDREN May 22, 1998 (The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer Transcript, PBS)
    -INTERVIEW: Salon Books | THE SALON INTERVIEW: David Halberstam (Geoff Edgers, Salon)
    -INTERVIEW: Interview by James Buckley Jr. (Book Page)
    -INTERVIEW: One on One (nba.com)
    -PROFILE: The children's crusade In his new nonfiction epic, David Halberstam tells the story of the unsung heroes of the civil rights movement (Jonathan Karp, at random magazine)
    -REVIEW : of The Best and the Brightest (VICTOR S. NAVASKY, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: David Halberstam. October 1964 (Leverett T. Smith, The Bibliography Committee of the Society for American Baseball Research)
    -REVIEW: of Summer of '49   David Halberstam (David Martinez, HomerunWeb)
    -REVIEW: of THE CHILDREN By David Halberstam (CHRISTOPHER LEHMANN-HAUPT, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of THE CHILDREN By David Halberstam (David M. Oshinsky, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of The Children by David Halberstam (Sanford D. Horwitt , SF Chronicle)
    -REVIEW: Halberstam, David. The Children (ALA Booklist, starred review)
    -REVIEW:  David Halberstam's  'Children' (Curt Schleier, george jr)
    -REVIEW: of The Children (YVONNE CRITTENDEN -- Toronto Sun)
    -REVIEW: The Children Shall Lead David Halberstam credits the youth in the civil rights movement (Will Campbell, Sojourners Magazine)
    -REVIEW : of The Fifties by David Halberstam (Hilton Kramer, New Criterion)
    -REVIEW: of PLAYING FOR KEEPS Michael Jordan and the World He Made. By David Halberstam (Ira Berkow, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Playing for Keeps (MICHIKO KAKUTANI , NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of Michael Jordan and the World He Made By David Halberstam (Steve Ketteman, SF Chronicle)
    -REVIEW : of War in a Time of Peace by David Halberstam (Jane Perlez, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of War in a Time of Peace (Richard Bernstein, NY Times)
    -REVIEW : of War in a Time of Peace: Bush, Clinton, and the Generals by David Halberstam  (Mark Bowden, Washington Post)
    -REVIEW : of War in a Time of Peace: Bush, Clinton, and the Generals by David Halberstam (Louis Freedberg, SF Chronicle)
    -REVIEW: of Firehouse by David Halberstam (James Traub, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of Firehouse By David Halberstam (Peter Lewis, SF Chronicle)
    -REVIEW: of The Teammates by David Halberstam (Charles McGrath, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Teammates (Steven Martinovich, Enter Stage Right)
    -REVIEW: of Teammates (Jonathan Mahler, Washington Post)
    -REVIEW: of Teammates (Mike Barnicle, May 18, 2003, NY Daily News)

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