- The Team That Forever Changed Baseball and America: The 1947 Brooklyn Dodgers ed. by Lyle Spatz
When twenty-eight-year-old Jackie Robinson took the field for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, the Dodgers became the first racially integrated Major League Baseball team of the twentieth century. Led by outfielders Dixie Walker and Carl Furillo, shortstop Pee Wee Reese, and especially first baseman and National League Rookie of the Year Jackie Robinson, the 1947 Dodgers overcame the heavily favored St. Louis Cardinals to win the National League pennant, their first since 1941 and only second since 1920. Along the way they helped set new attendance records, captured headlines throughout the nation, forced America to confront racism and racial inequality, and became one of the iconic teams in American sports history.
Though there are numerous publications about Jackie Robinson and the 1947 Brooklyn Dodgers, The Team That Forever Changed Baseball and America: The 1947 Brooklyn Dodgers, edited by Lyle Spatz, is the first publication to provide detailed biographies of all the players involved on that team, as well as a chronology of the season and accounts of momentous events, awards, and aspects of the historical season. It is part of a new series by the University of Nebraska Press and the Society of American Baseball Research (SABR) focusing on iconic teams and their memorial seasons. With eighty-one individual essays from SABR members, this publication provides invaluable information and insights for the baseball historian, baseball enthusiast, and casual fan.
Spatz’s chapter “How the 1947 Team Was Built” and Irv Godfarb’s “Spring Training in Havana” provide the context for arguably the most tumultuous season in Dodger history. Though the Dodgers spring training experiment in Cuba lasted only one year, it was not without controversy. Accompanying the Dodgers was their Triple A team, the Montreal Royals; however, despite co-owner Branch Rickey’s desire to break the color barrier, all African-American players, including Robinson and all Royals players, such as Roy Campanella and Don Newcombe, were housed in separate, less luxurious facilities. On April 9, just days before the season began baseball commissioner Happy Chandler suspended Dodger manager Leo Durocher for the season due to controversies surrounding gambling and his personal life.
The individual biographies of the players comprise the majority of the book. Rather than just focusing on statistics, the biographies provide readers a comprehensive overview of the players’ lives, ranging from experiences in youth baseball, through the minor leagues, to the major leagues, and life after baseball. They correspond to the format of SABR’s Biography Project which is an ongoing effort to write a comprehensive biography of everyone who ever played or managed in the major leagues. Some players, like Gil Hodges, Duke Snider, Dixie Walker, and Jackie Robinson have been the subject of individual biographies; however, many players, such as pitchers Jack Banta, Johnny Van Cuyk, and Dan Bankhead, the first African-American pitcher in major league history, to name a few, are lesser known. Indeed one of the many accomplishments of the book is the publication of [End Page 571] biographies of forgotten players. Also included are biographies of Dodgers’ co-owners Branch Rickey and Walter O’Malley, and the voice of the Dodgers, Red Barber, whose initial reaction was to quit upon learning about Robinson’s place on the team. The biographies reveal an attention to detail and meticulous research, and some contain excerpts from interviews with the players or their relatives.
Whereas the biographies focus on players’ entire career, essays addressing one specific aspect of the 1947 season provide context and analysis of the complexities, controversies, and accomplishments of the season thereby bringing the biographies of the players alive. Jeffrey Marlett’s essay, “The Suspension of Leo Durocher” reveals “Leo the Lip” as a gruff, lightning rod for controversy and whose ultimate suspension allowed sixty-two-year-old Burt Schotten to come out of retirement to manage. In “Branch Rickey and the Mainstream Press,” Joe Marren demonstrates how one of the most...