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Sunday, June 1, 2014

Bob's Books - 1947: When All Hell Broke Loose in Baseball by Red Barber

Barber and Robinson
Red Barber is a Hall of Fame baseball announcer who was broadcasting for the Brooklyn Dodgers during Jackie Robinson’s rookie year. From reading the cover and the dust jacket, you would think that 1947 – When All Hell Broke Loose in Baseball was about Robinson. But it’s actually not.

To be sure, there’s much about the man who broke baseball’s color barrier. But this book is really about the relationship between Branch Rickey, General Manager of the Dodgers and Larry MacPhail, part owner and essentially GM of the Yankees; and their teams, which squared off in the World Series.

The two men had a long history; first as friends, and by the end of 1947, as enemies. Rickey and MacPhail were great baseball men who had dramatic, lasting impacts on the game. For example, Rickey invented the minor league farm system, while MacPhail created night baseball. This book, in looking at the 1947 pennant races, tells their story.

Any Dodgers or Yankees fan interested in the 1947 editions of their teams will enjoy this book. And of course, followers of Jackie Robinson will be interested in hearing from the man who broadcast Dodgers games that year.

MacPhail and Rickey in happier days
At least as early as 1943, Branch Rickey began preparing the way for adding a black man to the Dodgers roster. A committee, headed by Larry MacPhail, was appointed by Major League Baseball to look into the issue of signing Negro players to contracts. The group voted 15-1 against the idea. Branch Rickey, the lone dissenter, stormed out and knew that he would be going it alone. MacPhail reportedly was angry with his former mentor for defying the group.

Days before the first game of 1947, Commissioner Happy Chandler suspended Brooklyn manager Leo Durocher for the season. Not only was it a blow to the Dodgers, who had finished two games behind the Cardinals in 1946, it was also a monkey wrench in Rickey’s plans for integrating baseball. For he was ready to install Jackie Robinson at first base for the Dodgers and he knew that the fiery Durocher would battle on Jackie’s behalf. And Larry MacPhail played a huge part in Leo’s suspension.

Barber takes us through that historic season, with Rickey and MacPhail usually at the center of the action. And they remain there to the last few pages. Barber also provides a look at the world of radio broadcasting in those days before television dominated the airwaves. In our modern era of ESPN highlights and digital channels, it’s like the Stone Age.

I find 1947 to be one of the most fascinating seasons in baseball history and this is a good accounting of it. However if you want a Robinson-centric look, this isn’t your best bet.

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