- George Steinbrenner’s Pipe Dream: The ABL Champion Cleveland Pipers by Bill Livingston
Bill Livingston’s volume on George Steinbrenner and the Cleveland Pipers is more and less than it might seem. In providing an account of the Pipers, who existed as part of the American Basketball League (ABL) for the 1961–62 season and the 1962–63 season (attenuated in December of 1962), Livingston also offers a profile of the city of Cleveland during that era, as well as some lengthy biographical insights on Steinbrenner himself. There is also much less on the play of the ABL than might be expected, but this is offset by short chapters on a number of key figures in the league and team: John McLendon, Bill Sharman, Dick Barnett, Bill Bridges, Jerry Lucas, and the Ohio State basketball team during the era of Lucas. Connie Hawkins (ABL MVP) and Lenny Litman, owner of the Pittsburgh Rens, for whom Hawkins played are also described in some depth.
Livingston’s book flows nicely, enhanced by short chapters and breezy writing. He combines good research utilizing the Cleveland newspapers of the era—the Cleveland Press, Cleveland Plain Dealer, as well as the Columbus Dispatch and Kansas City Star—combining those with interviews with a number of sportswriters from that period. He also relies on interviews with former players and front-office personnel.
The frenetic rhythm of the league and its personnel is ably captured in Livingston’s tone and anecdotes. He recognizes that, even at the time, the league was viewed with skepticism by many and hope by those involved. Few saw that the key rule changes in the ABL, that is, the three-pointer and the thirty-second clock, would be a lasting legacy. The Pipers utilized the three-pointer, when needed, mostly by Johnny Cox and John Barnhill, but relied on a balanced offense with five players averaging in double figures and nine averaging eight points or more. This was not that great a stretch, however, in a league when scoring was rampant. Top coaching also made a difference with the Pipers, first with McLendon, the first African American coach of a major professional franchise, then Sharman, after Steinbrenner drove McLendon to quit over his hot-headed ownership tactics that would characterize his later Yankee ownership years.
The book is at its best when the battles with the West Division champion Kansas City Steers are described. Led by Bill Bridges, Larry Staverman, and Nick Mantis, the Steers won the first-half title against the Pipers in three games, and the Pipers, of course, won the overall championship in five games.
As with many volumes, there are a number of annoying errors in the book, some factual, some grammatical. Particularly egregious was the reference to the “Cleveland Rosenbluths,” rather than the “Cleveland Rosenblums” of the 1920s and ’30s, apparently conflating the team with the All-America player at North Carolina in the late 1950s. Despite these, Livingston cannot hide his enthusiasm for the league, the team, the players, and the era. This makes the book an enjoyable and easily digested trip back to a younger, more “innocent” Steinbrenner and a league that reflected that. [End Page 239]