The book: “The Team That Forever Changed Baseball and America: The 1947 Brooklyn Dodgers”
The author: The Society of American Baseball Research, edited by Lyle Spatz, Maurice Bouchard and Leonard Levin.
The vital stats: University of Nebraska Press, 400 pages, $26.95.
The pitch: An on-going goal of the SABR historian group is to preserve the biographies of as many players as possible, even forming a Bio-Project Committee. They’ve also moved to the perseveration of notable teams as well — and of the several thousand who’ve existed in major league history, this first racially integrated team of the 20th century is “foremost among those with such national appeal,” Spatz writes in the introduction.
Meaning, of course, that this was Jackie Robinson’s rookie season, which started on this day 65 years ago and will be celebrated, as usual, with as many teams as possible wearing his No. 42.
Add to that the fact that the team that would eventually win the National League title started the season with manager Leo Durocher suspended for his unseemingly behavior. Co-owner Walter O’Malley was already trying to pry the team away from Branch Rickey. Red Barber was the play-by-play man. Future Hall of Famers Duke Snider (also a rookie) and Pee Wee Reese were also there, with Gil Hodges, Eddie Stanky, Carl Furrillo and Dixie Walker.
“For all these reasons, the 1947 Brooklyn Dodgers remain one of baseball’s most treasured teams,” writes Spatz, who has already authored a biography on Walker as well as a last year’s offering called “1921: The Yankees, the Giants and the Battle for Baseball Supremacy in New York.”
The result is an 81-chapter compilation of individual biographies, timeline summaries of each game played, separate stories about the broadcast team of Barber and Connie Desmond, as well as side stories on team advertisements, a protested game, “Rickey and the Mainstream Press,” Cookie Lavagetto ending Bill Bevens’ no-hit bid in the World Series, and epilogue, notes and references and a page of the 51 contributors’ bios.
It may not be the lightest reading you’ll come across, but it’s the most thorough, sometimes done in almost a sterile fashion to not let the author’s own personal feelings or opinions warp the facts.
An excerpt: The entries on Robinson, Reese, et. al., are predictably culled from many other books and stories written about them, boiled down into much smaller chapters.
Why, then, were we drawn to a piece that noted baseball writer Rob Neyer did on Marv Rackley? The 25-year-old outfielder played in just 18 games and started just one, on June 10, driving in the Dodgers’ only run with a ninth-inning single against Cincinnati ace Ewell Blackwell. Just because.
Rackley racked up a season where he went 2-for-9 with a walk. He was sent back to the American Association before the team got to the World Series, although he was on the Dodgers’ 1949 Series squad. That’s also him him, third from the right, next to Robinson, in a team shot touting all its big base stealers (with, from left, Gene Hermanski, Pee Wee Reese, Rackley and Robinson, a shot taken in 1948).
“Why hadn’t Rackley gotten a real chance to play for the Dodgers in 1947?” asks Neyer. “It probably did not help that he was relatively small — five feet ten and 170 pounds — had very little power, and did not throw well.”
Other than that, he made the roster, but just couldn’t beat out Hermanski or Snider.
And as the last graph of his bio reads: “In early 2011, the 88-year-old Rackley and the former Hazel Cleland, whom he married on November 23, 1946, still lived in his native South Carolina, just a few miles from his birthplace.”
For the record, his Baseball-Reference.com entry says he’s still kicking today (linked here), having turned 90 last July. And one of the few remaining from that team still living.
How it goes down in the scorebook: There may be no “i” in team, but now there’s a team I know much more about, and the dymanic under which Robinson had a support system (mostly) as he made his debut.
“Looking back at the 20th century, only one Major League team changed a nation,” writes Mark Langill, the Dodgers’ team historian, in the forward. And this is the one book that, without a lot of pizazz, explains why.
Coming up: The SABR project on teams will soon come out with books on the 1970 Baltimore Orioles, by Mark Armour, set to be released this May.