“On September 24, the Yankees went back to Fenway for a two-game series. They brought with them a two-game lead, but it was not as good as the one-and-a-half-game lead they had come with last time.” David Halberstam
Now that the Asheville Tourists’ season is over, it’s time to turn our attention to a long-standing MLB rivalry that typically gets national attention.
A quick check of today’s standings on ESPN shows that as of September 25, 2011, the Yankees have clinched the American League East and have an eight game lead over the Red Sox. The rivalry that seems to have begun eons ago continues. The above quote from Halberstam comes from his 1989 book, The Summer of ‘49.
Joe DiMaggio (The Yankee Clipper) writes in his book, Lucky to Be a Yankee, “There were many reasons why the American League pennant race of 1948 was the most dramatic in my memory.” So why would a Pulitzer Prize-winning author choose the 1949 season to chronicle?
There are several reasons. At the close of the 1948 season, with seven games left, the Cleveland Indians, Boston Red Sox, and the New York Yankees were all tied at 91-56. A poor choice of pitchers by Boston’s manager, the Indians beat the Sox and cost them an appearance in the World Series. Boston did beat the Yankees twice to close the season and as Halberstam explains in the prologue, “..one of the most intense rivalries in professional baseball …would have to be continued in the summer of 1949.” The Sox were young. Ted Williams was at his peak. Cleveland had been lucky, and the Yankees were aging. Writes Halberstam, “The great DiMaggio’s legs were clearly giving out. So, perhaps, 1949 would belong to Boston.”
1949 was also, the first season for a new manager for the Yankees — Casey Stengel.
Halberstam makes readers feel like Sherman joining Mr. Peabody in the “Way-back Machine” as he takes on a journey back in time. It’s an era where television is in its infancy and radio (aided by the imagination of listeners) rules the airwaves. In 1949, baseball was still indeed, the national pastime. Home game attendance was doubled by post war crowds. Men stood in line after dinner to get the evening newspapers for the box scores. Crowds lined the platforms as team trains rolled through town en route to the next venue. A young sportscaster (Curt Gowdy) who had just joined the Yankees thought it was the last moment of innocence in American life.
Combined with the immediacy of radio, newspapers flourished and were able to take readers behind the scenes and offer readers a portal to the athletes themselves. According to Halberstam, “Trying to get a position as a beat baseball writer was like waiting for a Supreme Court justice to retire. It was a position held for life.”
The Summer of ‘49 takes readers into the dugouts and locker rooms of the contending teams. We enjoy exclusive entry into the living quarters, restaurants and clubs of the stars and meet their friends. Sit behind the mike with Red Barber and Mel Allen and listen with young fans at home as they idolize their heroes. Character studies of popular athletes (who really did have character) abound and make us long for times of days gone by.