Top positive review
A Fast Moving Classic
Reviewed in the United States on January 1, 2020
Given David Halberstam's prodigious output, it's a surprise that I've never read any of his books before. I've seen this particular volume and given that I find the figures of Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams endlessly fascinating, I've purchased it, yet never got around to actually reading the thing. Fast forward about thirty years. My golden years lie before me in plain metaphorical sight. They are not some distant unseen thing over the horizon, but a serious approaching reality, soon to take on a physical dimension. Then in December 2019, something in me gave way. Perhaps it was the partisan divide that seems to inflict my country like some malignant cancer. In an act of reaction and revulsion, I began to remove most of the political statements off my social media accounts. If a friend made a political declaration right or left, I snoozed them. I just got sick of the whole thing.
Then for reasons I cannot explain, I turned to baseball. I had at best a passing acquaintance with the game. I attended some Detroit Tiger games at Tiger Stadium. The last being in 1991 when I was 28. But the positiveness of the game struck me. The "wait till next year," and the passion fans have for eternally losing ball clubs, was something I can relate to. We can marvel and rejoice at Kirk Gibson's immortal home run in 1988. But I think even more, we can relate to Boston's Bill Buckner's error that cost the Red Sox game 6 in the 1986 World Series. Who hasn't committed some gaffe in their lives?
There was something about the legendary Yankees Red Sox rivalry, but I believe that there was a larger than life quality to the players of that era. Their names, their passion for the game and their prowess was the stuff of legend: Joe and Dom DiMaggio, Ted Williams, Tommy Henrich, Phil Rizzuto, Birdie Tebbets, Yogi Berra, Mel Parnell. These days, I can go to YouTube or mlb.com and watch almost any player of the last 25 years and watch highlight moments with a click of a button. I think because not every moment was filmed or recorded for these players, their deeds take root in the imagination. There's film of the era, but it's grainy and all we are left with are photos of the season. When TV was in the future, we had to rely on the great announcers like Mel Allen and Red Barber to paint the scene for us. That allowed for us to fill in the gaps with color and pageantry in our imaginations, the perfect accompaniment to what they would so eloquently say over the airwaves.
This book is a fast moving chronicle of the 1949 season. Boston looked fierce with a roster of power hitters anchored by Ted Williams. The Yankees, clearly aging, but competitive, lead by Joe DiMaggio, his career clearly on the wane looked vulnerable. Instead, what would emerge was a classic collision between longtime rivals and we would be left with a season to remember.
Halberstam was 16 when this season was underway. He was a Yankees fan and he cheered his heroes when they won and despaired when they lost. With Summer of '49, his book reads quickly and we can relive the last years when DiMaggio and Williams were still playing, still competing and not yet fading into legend and enshrinement in Cooperstown. It reads briskly and the only flaw I can think of is that the '49 World Series is only covered briefly.
Still, if you want to see an America where times were simpler, politics had their place and an entire nation sought some kind of salvation on the baseball diamond, this is the book for you.