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Thursday, May 3, 2012

Bob's Books - The Era, 1947 - 1957: When the Yankees, the Giants and the Dodgers Ruled the World by Roger Kahn

In the forties and fifties, baseball was the national pastime. No other sport, professional or collegiate, was remotely as popular. And from 1947 to 1957, New York City, home to the Yankees, Giants and Dodgers, was the undisputed center of the baseball universe. Roger Kahn, best known for The Boys of Summer (the most compelling baseball book I have ever read), chronicles this glorious period of baseball in the aptly titled The Era, 1947-1957: When the Yankees, the Giants and the Dodgers Ruled the World.

In 1946, the Yankees finished seventeen games out of first place while the Giants were dead last in the NL at 61-93. The Dodgers, who finished tied with the Cardinals (but lost a best of three playoff series in two games), had won only one NL pennant since 1920. But everything changed in 1947, starting with Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier.

In The Era, there were eleven World Series played. Nine of those World Series were won by a NYC team (7 by the Yankees, 1 by the Dodgers and 1 by the Giants.  The Yankees lost another one: only the 1948 matchup between the Cleveland Indians and Boston Braves did not feature a NYC ball club. Eleven seasons of baseball; eleven World Series; and a NYC team in all but one of them. And in seven of them, two NYC teams played each other!
My favorite Brooklyn Dodger: Pete Reiser. Leo Durocher said that
Willie Mays was  the geatest player he ever saw. But that the
oft-injured Reiser could have been .
So, of the twenty-two teams competing in the World Series between 1947 and 1957, seventeen of them were from NYC. Though the domination of these three teams would continue (the Dodgers, Yankees, or both would appear in the ensuing nine World Series, with the Giants making one appearance), the Dodgers and Giants would be based in southern California beginning in 1958: the Era of New York City baseball was over.
Jackie Robinson stealing home in the
1955 World Series
Kahn digs into the amazing cast of characters from the Era. Managers like Bucky Harris, Casey Stengel and Leo Durocher. Owners such as Branch Rickey, Walter O’Malley, Harry Stoneham and Larry MacPhail. And the players: oh my. Some shone briefly and flared out, like Pete Reiser, Bobby Thomson, Preacher Roe Vic Raschi and Bobby Brown. Others contributed great individual moments, like Bill Bevens, Don Larsen, Sandy Amoros and Johnny Podres. And some etched their names into baseball history, like DiMaggio, Mantle, Berra, Hodges, Snider, Robinson, Campanella and Mays.


'The Catch' by Willie Mays. This book tells you that
Joe Dimaggio thought that it was only the second
greatest he ever saw.
Kahn includes his own memories of being a NYC reporter then, along with contemporary interviews of notable participants. And he ties in events of the time, such as the House Un-American Activities Committee (before which Jackie Robinson testified) and Harry Truman watching the World Series from the White House. Every generation seems to romanticize the one that came before. But there is no denying that NYC baseball during The Era was simply amazing. And baseball changed when the Dodgers and Giants moved west. You could look it up (Casey Stengel reference, there). 

Did you know that the Yankees (bigotry) passed on Willie Mays? And the Dodgers (decelerating their affirmative action program) had also looked at him? Snider and Mays. Wow. Mantle and Mays. Stratospheric. And there is a great picture of young Mickey Mantle collapsing at Joe Dimaggio’s feet on a fly ball during the 1951 World Series.  The aging Joltin' Joe called  off the young Commerce Comet at the last moment. How good would Mantle have been if he hadn’t blown out his knee on that play?

This book is an excellent account of perhaps the most compelling time in baseball, on and off the field. It is well worth reading.
Mickey, Willie and Duke: 3 of the greatest
center fielders of all time in one city

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