David Halberstam, winner of the Pulitizer Prize for The Best and the Brightest and sportswriter of bestsellers like Summer of ’49 and October, 1964, reminisces as he takes us on a vicarious ride with Dom DiMaggio (Joe’s younger brother), Johnny Pesky, and friend, Dick Flavin, on a 1300-mile car trip to central Florida. The journey will be these major league baseball players’ (including unable-to-travel Bobby Doerr) last chance to visit a dying, Hall-of-Fame legend, dominating Boston Red Sox star, bombastic friend, and cantankerous teammate: Ted Williams.
With teenage roots in California and Pacific Coast League baseball, the four ballplayers started their rapid professional development and promotion to the Big Show with the Boston Red Sox in the early 1940s. Halberstam recalls stories about the players’ family life, interviews with them, and different perspectives on their personalities, conflicts, adjustments, wives (Ted had three), children, military service, and relationships on and off the field.
The book tries not to dwell on the imposing power, problems, and slugging achievements of Ted Williams or reveal new sensational material or revelations. Halberstam focuses on the teammates’ shared attributes: their desire to compete and succeed in baseball, their willingness to learn how to use physical/mental talents, how to provide for post-depression families yet display genuine appreciation and gratitude for each other’s contributions and careers.
According to the author, the teammates played baseball for a seemingly cursed Red Sox organization that had traded Babe Ruth to the hated Yankees in an earlier decade. The teammates lived together and experienced the daily joys and disappointments of playing in front of rabid Red Sox fans who came to believe collectively in their team’s near-misses and pending baseball misfortunes.
The author describes the 1946 Red Sox versus Cardinals World Series when the teammates
had the best opportunity to rid the organization, fans, and themselves from a perceived
inevitable jinx. They failed to win when Dom DiMaggio pulled a hamstring muscle late in
the game and had to be replaced by an inexperienced outfielder in the eighth inning of the seventh game of the series. The replacement was now the Red Sox centerfielder for the
ninth inning in a 3-3 ball game. After two Cardinal outs and Enos Slaughter on first base,
Harry Walker lifted a looping fly ball into center field, but the replacement outfielder was
not in the best position to field the ball, which fell in front of him for a hit. He retrieved the ball but threw to infielder Johnny Pesky INSTEAD OF throwing it to third base to stop
Enos Slaughter from circling the bases. Pesky caught the ball with his back to home plate,
but by the time he turned to throw home, Slaughter slid safely into home plate with a dramatic winning run! The Cardinals won this decisive seventh game 4-3. Pesky took
the heat from the fans and sports writers for not throwing the ball to home plate quicker,
but most teammates grieved and supported him after the loss. After eighteen seasons (1937-1953), only once had the Red Sox finished higher than the Yankees. The year was 1946 and the loss to the underdog Cardinals turned out to be the teammates only World Series action.
Only Dom, Johnny, and Bobby (but not Ted) would live to see the Red Sox finally beat the Yankees in four straight games for the 2004 American League pennant after staging an unprecedented comeback following three consecutive losses. The Red Sox went on to beat
the Cardinals in four straight games to win a 2004 World Series Championship rematch.
The curse was gone.
The Teammates is an easy-to-read, baseball story about intangibles and “old school” values. Through steady words and play and, at times, heroic deeds, these teammates attained a measure of respect, acceptance, and needed friendships in the competitive, changing, high-dollar business of major league baseball. Candid computer-enhanced player photos on the
book cover and throughout the chapters bring a satisfying old-time nostalgic feel
and emotional context for these players’ recollections, reported player/team statistics, and delightful anecdotes. I recommend the book to all vintage baseball fans, historians, collectors, Hall-of-Fame and Red Sox enthusiasts.