- One Nation Under Baseball: How the 1960s Collided with the National Pastime by John Florio and Ousie Shapiro
Among the decades of the twentieth century, the years that comprise the 1960s offer a time in which the landscape of the United States endured its greatest upheavals politically and culturally. Looking back on that era, we see how the strands of civil rights disputes, assassinations, and an unpopular war merged into a contentious and uncomfortable fabric. While many Americans continued to enjoy the consumerism of post-World War II society, those benefits could not stanch the cries of African Americans for racial equality nor did they prevent several U.S. presidents from ratcheting up the nation's military involvement in Vietnam as part of the ongoing Cold War. This is the Zeitgeist into which John Florio and Ouisie Shapiro bring readers of their latest work, One Nation Under Baseball, as they juxtapose those days' current events with their relation to the national pastime.
The authors' collaborative effort is likely to please an audience of Baby Boomers who desire to look back at a formative time of their lives as well as those who want a glimpse of the highlights of baseball's actions and reactions during the transformative Sixties. However, it is also a book that will frustrate more knowledgeable readers seeking a deeper, more scholarly probe into—as the book's subtitle states—"how the 1960s collided with the national pastime." By catering to the former group at the expense of the latter, the results are mixed.
In its favor, One Nation is very accessible in that it is written in two hundred brisk pages that touch on a multitude of subjects taken in chronological order, beginning with a poignant breakfast meeting in 1960 between pitcher Mudcat Grant and then presidential candidate John Kennedy. By immediately introducing the demographic difference between a rurally raised black ballplayer and a white politician born to wealth, the existing divide between the races is made abundantly clear and shown elsewhere in the text to demonstrate that those who stoked the flame of Jim Crow were determined to let it burn.
Other themes coursing through the book include contentious labor issues between baseball club owners and their hired hands, the players who delivered the game for the benefit of fans in the stands and those viewing or listening at home. A less obvious factor that began to emerge in the 1960s is the output of a group of younger baseball writers who chose to report on the game from beyond the diamond and thereby move away from the beat of the traditional reporter. The "Chipmunks," as they were called, "were proud to be [End Page 249] set apart from the stodgy veterans, to be college-educated liberals who were printing stories the old guard wouldn't touch" (73). Florio and Shapiro do well in focusing on this brash subset of media writers because one of them, Leonard Shecter, would become Jim Bouton's partner-in-crime when the former Yankee hurler penned his landmark Ball Four.
While Bouton's iconoclastic diary is a well-known staple among sports books, the point made by the authors is that as the decade progressed, the players became further emboldened to stake their claim through gains in racial equality—with the desegregation of spring training camps—and freedom of expression. Concerning financial matters, Marvin Miller, the new head of the players association, exerted more pressure on team ownership to share revenues, while Curt Flood and his challenge to the reserve clause waited in the wings.
Although baseball is the book's overriding theme, Florio and Shapiro incorporate other familiar figures and events into the narrative to color it appropriate to the times. The Beatles, rioting in Watts, Muhammad Ali's refusal to be drafted, the silent protest of John Carlos and Tommie Smith at the 1968 Summer Olympics, and the first lunar landing all contribute to the triumph and tumult that imbued an unforgettable era. Documentary aspects...