Baseball and America in the Time of JFK
by David Krell
This title was previously available on NetGalley and is now archived.
Pub Date 01 May 2021 | Archive Date 31 May 2021
In the watershed year of 1962, events and people came together to reshape baseball like never before. The season saw five no-hitters, a rare National League playoff between the Giants and the Dodgers, and a thrilling seven-game World Series where the Yankees, led by Mickey Mantle, won their twentieth title, beating the San Francisco Giants, led by Willie Mays, in their first appearance since leaving New York.
Baseball was expanding with the Houston Colt .45s and the New York Mets, who tried to fill the National League void in New York but finished with 120 losses and the worst winning percentage since 1900. Despite their record, the ’62 Mets revived National League baseball in a city thirsty for an alternative to the Yankees. As the team struggled through a disastrous first year, manager Casey Stengel famously asked, “Can’t anybody here play this game?”
Earlier that year in Los Angeles, Dodgers owner Walter O’Malley launched Dodger Stadium, a state-of-the-art ballpark in Chavez Ravine and a new icon for the city. For the Dodgers, Sandy Koufax pitched his first of four career no-hitters, Maury Wills set a record for stolen bases in a season, and Don Drysdale won twenty-five games.
Beyond baseball, 1962 was also a momentous year in American history: Mary Early became the first Black graduate of the University of Georgia, First Lady Jackie Kennedy revealed the secrets of the White House in a television special, John Glenn became the first astronaut to orbit Earth, and JFK stared down Russia during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Weaving the 1962 baseball season within the social fabric of this era, David Krell delivers a fascinating book as epochal as its subject.
“Cracking the spine of David Krell’s literary journey back to 1962 is like opening a time capsule on the bookshelf. Chapter by chapter, NASA, The Flintstones, Maury Wills, Bo Belinsky, and so much more are carefully unwrapped before your very eyes and exposed to twenty-first-century sunlight for what feels like the first time. In Krell’s capable hands, everything old feels new again.”—Mitchell Nathanson, author of Bouton: The Life of a Baseball Original
“David Krell has done prodigious research to bring you the events, the issues, and the famous personalities of 1962. Not only will you encounter JFK, the seven Mercury astronauts, civil rights figures, and Marilyn Monroe, but you’ll reconnect with Buddy Ebsen and the Beverly Hillbillies, the cast of Car 54, Where Are You?, and Edd Kookie Byrnes. And yes, the Yankees won the World Series.”—Peter Golenbock, author of The Bronx Zoo and Bums
“For those of us who remember 1962, we think of it as Camelot, the last year in which America was mostly at peace with itself. For those too young to remember, David Krell brings it back to life in an informative and entertaining way. Among other aspects of American culture, Krell vividly describes a baseball season that featured two new teams in the National League, a thrilling pennant race, and a World Series with a memorable ending; a year of wonderful Hollywood movies and not so wonderful tv shows; and the ups and downs of our popular young president.”—Lyle Spatz, author of 1921: The Yankees, the Giants, and the Battle for Baseball Supremacy in New York
Available on NetGalley
Average rating from 6 members
This is a book with a really promising idea, which unfortunately is somewhat confusingly organized, making for a disjointed reading experience. For this book, the Pros all center on the amount of research that went into it. David Krell has clearly done his homework, and there are some great nuggets of writing about events in America in 1962. He does a great job providing in depth storytelling around the creation of the two baseball expansion teams of 1962 (the Mets and the Houston Colt-45s), especially the Houston team. And you get some in depth biographies of individual baseball players, as well as good commentary on other important figures and events in 1962 America. The Cons all center on how the author organized the material. Each of the book's 12 chapters has two heading - the calendar month January through December, and then a thematic or topical chapter name that relates to the bulk of what's covered in the chapter. To be honest with you, I completely glossed over the month chapter titles until I got to July, since the book is NOT really chronologically organized. The October through December chapters are more centered on events that occurred during those months than any of the earlier chapters, which will have events from the month at the beginning or end of the chapter - in some cases only a couple of paragraphs - before the topical thrust of the chapter sets in. The title of the book would lead you to believe that you'll be reading about the 1962 baseball season. I so wish the author had structured the book that way, so that the biographies of the players would come naturally out of the stories of their play during the season. As it is, they are arranged within rosters of each of the teams he covers, and so feel very disjointed. Likewise, the topics of each chapter, though some of them really interesting, don't build on each other. If you are a baseball fan, and you are interested in events in the early 1960s, this book has a wealth of information and, if you can get past the issues with the organization of the material, may be worth your time.
This book brought back memories for me. 1962 was the year that I initially became more than passably interested in baseball, and I memorized the lineups of both world Series teams (S.F. Giants and the N.Y. Yankees). I cheered for the Giants because I lived in the community where Chuck Hiller grew up (who hit a grand slam in the second game) and for a short period of time after the series, he and his family lived a half block away from me. John F. Kennedy was the first president I remember being aware of, and John Glenn was a household name. Author David Krell does not stop with the obvious people, however. He has delved deep into the space race, politics, and baseball to offer us a book steeped in the knowledge of these niches. Mr. Krell provides what seems to be an endless supply of stories and anecdotes, slices of life of those who were living and providing a backdrop to what the rest of us were doing. As a child, they were bigger than life. As an adult, some of the magic wears off, yet it is still interesting to learn about the lives of those I only could see in the papers or through television. “1962” provides all that and more. Most of the baseball lore centers around the teams in the World Series, teams that had moved cities and those teams that found their way into a growing league (Houston Colt 45s and the New York Mets). Political stories are not limited to JFK, they extend into others working in the government. There were also stories about the space race I had not heard before. These three areas provide plenty of opportunities for the author to find interesting tidbits and fill up an entire book. Some of the stories/anecdotes last for a few pages while others only take up a few paragraphs. This would make it easy to set the book down and return later, not worried about trying to figure out where in the story you left off. Well researched, and enjoyable not only for those who witnessed some of the action firsthand, but also for those who wish to take a look back at how some of the world was before larger events in the 1960s took over. Five stars. My thanks to NetGalley and the University of Nebraska Press for a complimentary electronic copy of this book.