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The Victory Season: The End of World War II and the Birth of Baseball's Golden Age Hardcover – April 2, 2013
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*Starred Review* The war was over, and the stars were home. Baseball was back, after five long war years in which the action on America’s major-league playing fields looked like the fat guys versus the tall guys at the company picnic. But it was a different America from the one that was plunged into war on December 7, 1941. Weintraub, a frequent New York Times contributor and author of The House That Ruth Built (2011), paints a portrait of an America that was thrust nearly as unexpectedly into peace as it had been into war. Washington succumbed to public pressure and released a million and a half soldiers per month into civilian life from late 1945 through 1946. The breakneck reintegration caused a crippling housing shortage and a contentious labor movement that nearly included major-league baseball. Within this informative context, Weintraub covers the key story lines of the 1946 season, which included Ted Williams’ deteriorating relationship with the Red Sox fans contrasted with Stan Musial’s love affair with the St. Louis faithful. Naturally, the season came down to a dramatic World Series showdown pitting Williams’ Sox against Musial’s Cards. The baseball history makes great reading, but the larger story of our sometimes painful transition to peacetime gives the book its staying power. Fine popular history. --Wes Lukowsky
"Robert Weintraub recounts the game's joyous reacclimatization, duly honoring the fine record of service of many players, shedding light on veteran returns and underscoring significant contemporary events.... Admirably wide-ranging." -- New York Times Book Review
"Weintraub loads the bases with the kind of entertaining anecdotes, minutia and quotes that separate baseball -- and baseball writing -- from other sports, and he skillfully captures the facts and texture of the '46 season with meticulous research and a conversational style. Weintraub is a big-league storyteller." -- USA Today
"Weintraub tells myriad good stories. If you want generous context for a great season of baseball when it was still the national pastime and the country was in fascinating flux, Weintraub is your man." -- Washington Post
"A meticulously researched and elegantly written chronicle of what happened in 1946... From start to finish, The Victory Season is a home run." -- Fort Worth Star-Telegram
"As Robert Weintraub's measured, elegant prose illustrates, "The Victory Season" makes an irrefutable case that baseball's golden age begins in 1946. Grade: Grand slam." -- Mark Hodermarsky, Cleveland Plain Dealer
"A beautifully written paean to the 1946 baseball season, when normalcy returned to the national pastime." -- Mike Vaccaro, New York Post
"The Victory Season leaps off the page like a newsreel." -- Allen Barra, Chicago Tribune
"The baseball history makes great reading, but the larger story of our sometimes painful transition to peacetime gives the book its staying power. Fine popular history." -- Booklist (starred review)
"An entertaining read... Scattered among those big stories are little gems about players most of us have never heard of." -- Minneapolis Star Tribune
"We see a lot of baseball books each spring, but few will be more supremely entertaining than The Victory Season... Impossibly charming... A winning account." -- Newsday
"Even if you think you know the history of baseball, Weintraub will surprise you with many gems from his meticulous research. The Victory Season is an important work featuring an all-star cast." -- James Miller, co-author of Those Guys Have All the Fun: Inside the World of ESPN
"There was more to baseball in 1946 than Ted Williams and Stan Musial marching home from war. The tectonic plates were shifting beneath the game's surface as the color line developed its first cracks and greedy team owners unwittingly inspired baseball's labor movement. With a Halberstam-like sense of purpose, Robert Weintraub captures it all in The Victory Season." -- John Schulian, co-editor of At the Fights, author of Sometimes They Even Shook Your Hand
"Bright writing and the sweat of painstaking research bring baseball's Greatest Generation to life in this tale of a poignant and pivotal season in the game's history. Robert Weintraub's magic trick is to make you feel as if you're watching Leo Durocher, Ted Williams and company in real time." -- John Eisenberg, author of Ten-Gallon War: The NFL's Cowboys, the AFL's Texans, and the Feud for Dallas's Pro Football Future
"In the tradition of Robert W. Creamer's classic 'Baseball in '41,' Robert Weintraub's 'The Victory Season' doesn't merely revisit a pivotal baseball season, it places that season in a larger historical and cultural context. It is a season - and a book - to be relished, as America returns to a very familiar place: at home, at peace, and ready to follow DiMaggio, Musial, Williams, and their compatriots across another glorious summer." -- Michael MacCambridge, author of America's Game: The Epic Story of How Pro Football Captured A Nation
"Rob Weintraub has written a fascinating tale of a pivotal year for baseball and America. The research and storytelling are first-rate." -- Jonathan Eig, New York Times bestselling author of Luckiest Man: The Life and Death of Lou Gehrig and Opening Day: The Story of Jackie Robinson's First Season
Top customer reviews
What makes this book special to me is the number of anecdotes the author relates regarding the individuals in this story. The book is NOT a rehash of one game after another throughout the season which quickly, at least in my case, makes for very dull reading. The St. Louis Cardinals and Boston Red Sox took part in the World Series in 1946 with the Cardinals' pitching staff of Howie Pollet, Murry Dickson, and Harry "The Cat" Brecheen all taking part in World War II. Mickey Grasso, a catcher later with the Washington Senators, was captured by the Germans while other players experienced other horrors. Author Weintraub does a magnificent job in expressing interesting stories that even the most well-read baseball fan has not been aware of.
The Brooklyn Dodgers are an important part of the year 1946 as this was the year Jackie Robinson played for the Montreal Royals, a farm club of the Brooklyn Dodgers. Branch Rickey, Larry MacPhail, and Leo Durocher are all prominently featured.
The Fall Classic featured the Cardinals of Stan Musial and the Red Sox of Ted Williams, two illustrious super-stars neither of which did well in the Series. The Series was won by the Cardinals in the 7th game on Enos Slaughter's "mad dash" to score from first on Harry "The Hat" Walker's hit. I hesitate to call it a double. Teddy Ballgame took the Series loss hard, but he was hampered by an injured elbow from being hit by a pitch. Johnny Pesky took the blame for "hesitating" before throwing the ball home as Slaughter raced for home. Author Weintraub spends appropriate time dissecting the play and what would have happened had Dominic DiMaggio still been in center field.
Weintraub's epilogue at the end of the book is extremely well written as well as he relates what the future held for those involved in this story. I have read hundreds of baseball books and with previous authors of classic books passing away I am thankful for an author like Robert Weintraub to pick up where others have left off. This book is a gem. Do yourself a favor and buy the book.
We also see the first stirrings of player agitation against the blatantly unfair reserve clause and the power that baseball owners had over the players. The owners had absolute control over where the players played and how much they got paid and, not surprisingly, they abused their power. The first attempts at real unionization did not succeed, in part because the players, most of whom had little education, were terrified of the owners. It took a later generation of players and a more competent union leader in Marvin Miller to change things but the first hints were here. Interestingly, Weintraub points out how star players, both then and later, supported the owners against the idea of free agency.
Weintraub does an excellent job at connecting baseball with the rest of society. The housing shortages following the war were incredible and ballplayers, like ordinary people, had immense problems finding even rooms to live in during the season. Strikes and labor unrest plagued the economy; the railroad strike made it difficult for teams to get to games on schedule. In part due to this, some teams, especially the Yankees, began flying, to the distress of some players.
Like most Americans, ballplayers sacrificed during the war. But the real sacrifices were made generally by minor leaguers and lesser-known players. Most stars did not see combat; Bob Feller was a notable exception, serving on the battleship Alabama and Ted Williams was a flight instructor preparing for combat when the war ended. According to Weintraub, Feller volunteered for the navy on December 8, 1941 and, when asked why he did not wait to be drafted, said "the country is at war and we are losing." But Joe DiMaggio spent the war years playing baseball and complaining about what the war had done to his career. This is even more appalling in the context of several players that died in the war and others that were severely wounded. The story of Lou Brissie, who pitched with essentially one leg for several years in the majors is moving as are the stories of the several major leaguers that saw serious combat and gave their lives.
In terms of the season itself, the book focuses on the Cardinals and Red Sox, who won their respective pennants and met in the World Series. These were classically great teams, and Weintraub discusses them in some detail.
All in all, a very fine book and I would highly recommend it to anyone that enjoys baseball and American history.