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Red Sox Baseball in the Days of Ike and Elvis: The Red Sox of the 1950s Paperback – September 19, 2012
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This book gave me a deeper understanding of the only Red Sox teams from my lifetime about which I did not have a clue. The authors use articles from the time, stats and later interviews to produce more than 30 short bios. The result is a very long book that reads wonderfully during the commercial breaks between innings of Sox games. Included are players that are well known (Teddy Ballgame), incompletely known (Jimmy Piersall, Jackie Jensen) and not at all known (Leo Kiely, Pete Daley). The editors include as well entries for managers (Higgens, O'Neill, Jurges, Boudreau), GM Joe Cronin, owner Tom Yawkey and announcer Curt Gowdy.
The Days of Ike and Elvis were very different in baseball. First of all, these guys got paid nothing. They made well less than $20,000 per year, worked in the winter and needed to build careers after their playing days ended. The second thing that struck me is the near ubiquity of service in the armed forces. Almost all players took 2-3 years off very early in their careers to serve. Finally, the impact of injuries in the absence of modern strength training and medicine was much more marked. Bonus baby Frank Baumann hurt his shoulder doing push ups in the Army and, as a result, never lived up to his potential in Boston.
We all know that owner Tom Yawkey tried to buy a championship team in the forties and was very nearly successful ("Slaughter is rounding third..."). We learn in this book that he actually tried just as hard to do so in the Fifties. But while players like Williams, Doerr, Pesky and Dimaggio more than fulfilled their early promise, Willard Nixon, Frank Baumann, Jerry Casale, Ted Lepcio, Don Buddin, Milt Bolling, Billy Consolo and Matt Keough most certainly did not. Often the Sox signed these players in heated competition with other teams in a time before the major league draft. Many of them would be the equivalent of present day top ten draft selections. But this combination of poor player development, Yankee dominance, less than competent team management and a refusal to consider players of African-American descent has doomed the Fifties Sox to obscurity.
This book from the SABR digital library is an antidote to such obscurity. We learn about the steadiness of Goodman, White and Runnels, the one-two punch of Sullivan and Brewer, the inner demons that held back Piersall, Jensen and McDermott, the lost promise of Boston's own Harry Agganis, the magic month of Clyde Vollmer and the never to be repeated monster rookie year of "The Big Moose from Moosup" (Connecticut) Walt Dropo.
I have been lucky enough to spend parts of two Red Sox Fantasy Camps listening to the stories of Frank Malzone about his teammates from the Sox early years. Red Sox Baseball in the Days of Ike and Elvis is the next best thing. This is must reading for long time Sox fans.