09 June 2004

New York City Baseball: The Last Golden Age, 1947-1957

New York City Baseball: The Last Golden Age, 1947-1957
by Harvey Frommer

The Perfect Game. The Tape Measure Home Run. The Catch. Integration. The Shot Heard ‘Round the World.

You know the events. Now read the stories behind them.

The latest offering from noted author and historian Harvey Frommer, a reprinting of
New York City Baseball: The Last Golden Age, 1947-1957, (Paperback, University of Wisconsin Press, $19.95) does not disappoint. The original was published in 1980, with a reprinting and a new afterward in 1992. This edition has a new forward by Monte Irvin, but otherwise does not appear to include anything that the 1992 edition didn’t. But that’s OK. It’s got plenty.

The time period that Frommer and many other baseball historians call the Last Golden Era, 1947-1957, at least for New York baseball, saw the Yankees, Dodgers or Giants capture 17 of 22 possible pennants (9 by the Yankees) and nine of 11 World Series titles (7 by the Yankees). More than half of the MVP awards given in that span went to players from New York teams. It was truly a dominant time for the City That Never Sleeps, and Harvey Frommer does a great job of recounting the era. He discusses the teams myriad successes and few failures, the histories of each of the three NY teams, their rivalries, and the eventual move by the Giants and Dodgers out to the West Coast All of this Frommer carefully places within the framework of living and working, growing up and growing old in the booming, post-World War II era that allowed this country, and indeed New York City itself, to experience some of the most significant growth, socially, economically and otherwise, it has ever seen.

Frommer’s penchant for writing about history and his ability to get stories about history’s figures, often from the figures themselves, both serve him well in this book. One of the best aspects of his work is the numerous first-hand accounts of the happenings inside clubhouses and on trains, the little anecdotes that make our heroes human, but that we often do not hear about until they have passed. New York City Baseball is no exception to this rule, chocked full of these stories, which can be equally as poignant to the young fan who never saw Willie or Mickey or Duke play as to the older fan who spent his childhood arguing which of those was the greatest. Those of us who never got to hear Red Barber or Mel Allen call a game can appreciate their involvement in this time as much as someone who grew up with his ear glued to the radio, listening for a “How about that?”

Frommer’s style, the simple, straightforward prose that clarifies without embellishing, that gives the story without trying to impress you with his vocabulary, makes you feel almost as if you could see and hear these old-timers sitting across your kitchen table from you, telling their own stories over a cup of Joe.

Speaking of Joe, some of the greatest players in history either rose to stardom in this time or called it their heyday: DiMaggio, Mantle, Berra, Rizutto, Ford, Mays, Snider, Campanella, Hodges, Furillo, Monte Irvin, Johnny Antonelli, Sal Maglie, Hoyt Wilhelm, Dons Newcombe and Drysdale, Gils Hodges and MacDougald, Pee Wee Reese, and of course, Jackie Robinson, all saw prominence and success in this time, and Frommer has stories for each of them.

I have only two minor qualms with this book. The first is that it’s a little pricey for a ~200 page paperback that’s been around in some form for nearly a quarter of a century. I guess that’s inflation. But, as you probably know, the book can be had for much less than that on Amazon.com, so it’s not really a problem.

The other issue is that the book seems a little dated at times. I know, that’s kind of a silly criticism for a book that purports to be about an era that occurred nearly five decades ago, but it’s true. Since the book was originally written in 1980, Frommer mentions in passing things like how Phil Rizutto calls Yankee games on WPIX TV, and Mel Allen hosts This Week in Baseball. Even the afterward, mentioning that erstwhile Yankees infielder Dr. Bobby Brown is now the president of the American League, seems a bit stale now, four years after the offices of the league presidents were dissolved, and a decade after Brown stepped down from a position that no longer exists. It’s by no means awful or anything like that, but it would have been nice to have something new from Frommer himself for this edition, don’t you think? Heck, Jim Bouton's up to Ball Sixteen or something like that, isn’t he?

Ultimately, though, this book isn’t about something new. It’s about several things old, old and wonderful, at least for fans of New York baseball, which I am. We need books like this one, and writers like Harvey Frommer, to remind us that baseball isn’t just about statistics and dollars. It’s about people. Some of the greatest of these are now gone forever, but at least they left some of their memories with Harvey before they left.

21 March 2004

Red Sox vs. Yankees: The Great Rivalry by Harvey Frommer and Frederic J. Frommer

Red Sox vs. Yankees: The Great Rivalry
by Harvey Frommer and Frederic J. Frommer

The newest offering from father/son duo Harvey Frommer and Frederic J. Frommer, Red Sox vs. Yankees: The Great Rivalry (Sports Publishing LLC, $24.95) found its way into my hands about a week and a half ago, and I have taken nearly any opportunity I could to review it. Not only because I promised the senior Frommer that I'd get this review out in a timely fashion for once, but also because as a Yankee fan myself, there are few endeavors more satisfying than reading about the histories of my favorite team, its closest rival, and their competition with each other.

Having had the good fortune to have been raised a Yankee fan (and the good sense not to switch alliances when they started to suck in the early '90s), this book was and is a pleasere for me to read. Its pages are filled with stories of Yankees and Red Sox games and series, players and trades, fans and fights, quips and quotes, playoff wins and losses, heartbreak and joy for both teams. OK, so mostly heartbreak for the Red Sox.

Frommer starts the book with a timeline that starts with the birth of Babe Ruth in 1895 and ends with the acquisition of Curt Schilling by the Red Sox in November of 2003. The book then provides an entire chapter on the Red Sox and Yankees rivalry as it was played out in the 2003 playoffs, which, while incredible to watch, somehow was not nearly as exciting to read about only a few months later. The chapter, however, like the rest of the book, is well writen, interesting in its own right, and very readable. I expect that ten or twenty years from now, I shall be able to pick up this book and find it an excellent resource as I recount my own memories of that exciting seven-game series to my own children or (God help you) yours. The book, like the rivalry it recalls, will stand the test of time, I expect.

I know this because the very next chapter focuses especially on the 1978 season, and it is a great read. The Yankees and Red Sox were both vying for the AL East title and were forced to play a one-game playoff to win it, which the Yanks did, even though they had been down as much as 14 games in the standings as late as July 18th. From that huge deficit, to Reggie getting benched for dogging it, to Billy Martin getting canned to Ron Guidry's 25-3 record to Bucky-Effing-Dent, there is no dull paragraph in the chapter. Harvey and/or Frederic J. Frommer could have made a great living as a beat writer, had they not gone into slightly more prestigious careers as an Ivy League professor and a political journalist, respectively.

Moving on through the book, the Frommers spend chapters focusing on the general histories of the teams, the cultures and moods cultivated by the Rivalry, the merits and limitations of the respective ballparks, special games between the two clubs, a collection of quotes from various players, fans ad others, and list of statistics and trivia about the two teams. They even devote an entire chapter to perhaps the greatest rivalry between players on these two fabled teams, Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams. Frankly, this is one area in which I think the Red Sox have a decided advantage, though I doubt if many of my fellow Yankee fans would back me up on this.

As you may have deduced, the Red Sox don't have many advantages in this rivalry, and therefore I would venture a guess that this book doesn't offer nearly as much for them as it does for Yankees fans. In fact, the title, "Red Sox vs. Yankees", is about the only time that Boston has gotten first billing in this struggle for the last three quarters of a century. Personally, I can't imagine being very excited about spending hours on end reading about the myriad disappointments and seemingly endless heartbreak associated with my chosen team, thankyouverymuch. But maybe that's just me.

Regardless of your particular bent, Red Sox vs. Yankees is still a very well-done book. As a coffee-table book, it offers large, whole-panel pictures, many of them in vibrant color, to appease the eye, and solid writing to appease the mind.

And even the price is right!