- The New Boys of Summer: Baseball’s Radical Transformation in the Late Sixties by Paul Hensler
Paul Hensler’s The New Boys of Summer: Baseball’s Radial Transformation in the Late Sixties is a fascinating book that builds on the author’s previous work on the changes Major League Baseball faced at the end of the 1960s (The American League in Transition, 1965–1975: [End Page 372] How Competition Thrived When the Yankees Didn’t, 2013). Hensler writes that, in this book, however, he intends to “probe more deeply the aspects that held currency in the transformation of the game at the dawn of the 1970s” (x). He proves up to the task and has produced a well-researched, nuanced look at the significant issues and events that dramatically changed Major League Baseball as it entered its modern era.
Hensler starts with an introductory chapter that, while brief (just four-and-a-half pages), does a nice job of setting the table with anecdotes and contextual commentary that concisely introduce the reader to the central argument: “Moving from 1968 to 1969, baseball reached a juncture at which an old version of the national pastime gave way to a new, modern era punctuated by other changes that were radical in nature” (5). In the following chapters, Hensler looks more deeply at some of those changes, including league expansion in both the American and National Leagues and new leadership in the Commissioner’s Office, though none altered the game as radically as the rise of Marvin Miller as the director of the Major League Baseball Players’ Association.
Chapter 2 serves as a general introduction to the forces that led to expansion in 1969, such as the political pressure applied by Missouri lawmakers when Charlie Finley moved the A’s to Oakland and the growing demand for baseball in other regions, both in the United States and Canada. Hensler then provides a more detailed examination of American and National League expansion in the following chapters, respectively. These chapters do an excellent job of demonstrating the factors that often decide whether cities and communities are capable of sustaining a professional sports franchise.
Hensler’s chapter on the American League contrasts the success of Ewing Kaufman’s Kansas City Royals, which “beginning in 1976 . . . dominated the American League West, winning the division crown four of the next five years,” with the “short, sad voyage of the Seattle Pilots” (25). The irony of Seattle’s failed one-year experiment was that “Bud Selig arrived to rescue the Pilots in time for the 1970 season” (36), giving them a new home in Milwaukee, a city still angry about losing the Braves after Lou Perini sold the team to new owners who moved the team to Atlanta in 1966. Since Kaufman and Selig took the reins, both franchises have become stable organizations beloved by their communities.
The chapter on the National League focuses on the expansion San Diego Padres, which provided another National League West team to compete with the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants, and the Montreal Expos—Major League Baseball’s first team outside the United States. Hensler again highlights the challenges of new ownership and stadium conditions as well as how the teams approached roster construction during the expansion draft, such as the Expos who, on draft day, “opted for players with big-league experience, [hoping] that favoring veterans would give them a quicker chance to be competitive” (47). The Expos ultimately moved to Washington, which was a shame given how enthusiastically they were supported by the community in Montreal.
The fifth chapter, which covers the transition from William Eckert to Bowie Kuhn as baseball’s commissioner, is interesting, though it shows less about the radical shift from the Boys of Summer to the modern game. There was certainly a radical difference between the relative competencies of Eckert and Kuhn, but Marvin Miller’s radical effect on the game is much more convincing in the following...