Day 24 of 30 baseball book reviews in 2021: Where were you in ’62? Or, does it really matter?

“1962: Baseball and America in the Time of JFK”

The author:
David Krell

The publishing info:
University of Nebraska Press
384 pages
Released May 1, 2021

The links:
At the publisher’s website
At The Last Book Store in L.A.
Note: The author has a website but the book is not listed

The review in 90 feet or less

Year after year after year, we find ourselves lured into fixating on one certain year in baseball.

Check your calendars. Then check your interest level.

Many an author has taken on a challenge to revisit the historical impact of one team in one particular season, or one particular World Series. Magicians such as David Halberstam could compose “October 1964,” or a Tom Adleman can tackle “Black and Blue: The Golden Arm, the Robinson Boys and the 1966 World Series that Stunned America” released in 40 years after it happened in ’06.

Others find more of a challenge to connect dots with a broader approach – a start-to-finish environmental impact report on how the game endured amidst all that was going on. But without a real foundation of believe ability, they can sound like a publisher’s marketing department filling in the blanks of a Mad Lib press release:

(Fill in the Year) was the most (Important/Pivotal/Astonishing/Awful/Eye-Opening/Prodigious/Rare/Phenomenal/Incomprehensible/Marvelous/Jaw-Dropping/Shocking/Surpring) season baseball has ever (experienced/seen/endured)! Go back to see how (list the events) reshaped the sport (like never before/never to go back/pushing it into the next century).

Nostalgia, and history, and “where you when when …?” can be compelling enough to sell. Especially if that was right around the time of your birthday. What was happening in the game, and around it, when you landed here?

Before offering at a pitch to read David Krell’s “1962: Baseball and America in the Time of JFK,” we took that tweet above as an opportunity to do more research into this sub-genre of baseball historical recordings led to a list of books that a) feature a year in the title and b) o explain why that period of time was most memorable (in chronological order of the year covered):

>>> “Crazy ’08: How a Cast of Cranks, Rogues, Boneheads and Magnates Created the Greatest Year in Baseball History” by Cait Murphy (released in 2007)

>>> “Mack, McGraw and the 1913 Baseball Season” by Richard Adler (released in 2010)

>>> “1939: Baseball’s Tipping Point,” by Talmage Boston (released in 2005, with a forward by John Grisham) and “Baseball in 1939: The Watershed Season of the National Pastime,” by Lawrence S. Katz (released in 2012), with morphed into “The Summer of Change: Baseball in 1939,” by Katz (released in 2020)

>>> “Baseball in ’41: A Celebration of the ‘Best Baseball Season Ever’ in the Year America Went to War,” by Robert Creamer (released in 1991)

>>> “The Season of ’42: Joe D, Teddy Ballgame and Baseball’s Fight to Survive a Turbulent First Year of War” by Jack Cavanaugh (released in 2012)

>>> “1947: When All Hell Broke Loose,” by Red Barber (released in 1990, mostly focusing on Dodgers broadcaster Barber witnessing the debut of Jackie Robinson)

>>> “Summer of ’49: The Classic Chronicle of Baseball’s Most Magnificent Season as seen Through the Yankees-Red Sox Rivalry,” by David Halberstam (released in 1989)

>>> “Baseball’s Golden Season: The 1956 Major League Baseball Season: Baseball’s Greatest Year” by Bill Leatherman (released in 2019)

>>> “1960: The Last Pure Season” by Kerry Keene (released in 2013), along with “Farewell to the last Golden Era: The Yankees, the Pirates and the 1960 Baseball Season” by Bill Morales (released in 2011)

>>> “Summer of ’68: The Season that Changed Baseball – And America – Forever,” by Tim Wendel (released in 2013)

>>> “Swinging ’73: Baseball’s Wildest Season: The Incredible Year that Baseball got the Designated Hitter, wife-swapping pitchers, world champion A’s and Willie Mays said goodbye to America” by Matthew Silverman (released in 2013)

>>> “Stars and Strikes: Baseball and America in the Bicentennial Summer of ‘76” by Dan Epstein (released in 2014)

>>> “Phinally! The Phillies, the Royals and the 1980 Baseball Season that Almost Wasn’t” by J. Daniel (released in 2018)

>>> “Split Season 1981: Fernandomania, the Bronx Zoo and the Strike that Saved Baseball” by Jeff Katz (released in 2015)

>>> “A Game of Failure: The 1994-95 Major League Baseball Strike,” by Ryan J. Eckert (released in 2016)

There are others that inexcusably failed to put the year in the title, hoping the reader could figure it out, and missing an opportunity:

>>> About 1908: “The Unforgettable Season: The Most Exciting and Calamitous Pennant Race of All Time,” by G.H. Flaming (released in 1981) and “More Than Merkle: A History of the Best and Most Exciting Baseball Season in Human History,” by David W. Anderson (released in 2000)

>>> About 1945: “The Victory Season: The End of World War II and the Birth of Baseball’s Golden Age” by Robert Weintraub (released in 2013)

>>> About 1968: “The Year of the Pitcher: Bob Gibson, Denny McLain and the End of Baseball’s Golden Age,” by Sridhar Pappu (released in 2013)

So if we were to circle back to ’62, with all that history documents into this kind of framework, what might we glean? Are we missing something, because it’s not one of those years that jumps out at redefining much of anything, but we’re always open for interpretation.

The publishers’ salescrafters, in their best-push-foward approach, have presumed to be “a watershed year” where “events and people came together to reshape baseball like never before.”

OK, show us.

This was a season that saw another Yankees’ World Championship, pitting Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays at opposite sides and a memorable ending to Game 7.

There were two NL expansion teams with the Houston Colt .45s (yes, named after a gun) and the New York Mets (who lost 120 games and brought Casey Stengel back to life) to balance everything out, and everyone gets a 162-game season. There was the opening of Dodger Stadium. There were five no-hitters (one by Sandy Koufax, against the Mets, at Dodger Stadium), a critical three-game National League playoff series between the Dodgers and Giants … anything else?

The part where Krell is “weaving the 1962 baseball season within the social fabric of this era,” there is the aura of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy’s Camelot, more of the Cold War and the Space Race with Cuban Missile Crisis overlapping with the Mercury astronauts and John Glenn’s orbit of earth amidst all that right stuff,  the death of Marilyn Monroe, the launch of the “Beverly Hillbillies” and “The Jetsons,” a push for civil rights, John Wayne and Henry Fonda and Sean Connery and Rod Steiger in “The Longest Day,” Gregory Peck in “To Kill a Mockingbird,” Peter O’Toole and Alec Guinness in “Lawrence of Arabia.” …

President John F. Kennedy peers into the “Friendship 7” Mercury capsule with astronaut John Glenn while touring Cape Canaveral in Florida in February 1962. (NASA)

The blurb insists Krell “delivers a fascinating book as epochal as its subject.” Not that we don’t understand fancy words like “epochal,” but here’s a bit of a mundane epiphany: Krell’s SABR bio gives credence to his understanding of history and baseball over many years. His website frames him as an author, journalist and commentator, with books done about the Brooklyn Dodgers, New York Mets and New York Yankees’ connection to pop culture.

Krell says in his acknowledgements this project started as an idea to write about how the Mets and .45s came into being but it “morphed into an exploration of a pivotal year in America.” But because Krell was taking a Non-Fiction Book Proposal class, he was encouraged to broaden the scope. Nice idea.

Again, on some levels, that seems sell-able just on face value. But the execution is a meandering disjointed journey of research. Baseball’s lack of fitting into this premise seems to materialize in how there are 12 chapters – one for each month – and the game can’t be expected to fill it out to the edges amidst everything else.

There is even more confusion in the photos chosen to illustrated, which only hurts the credibility.

Only a few shots culled from various libraries are actually from 1962 – including key moments from baseball that could have easily been tracked down.

One in particular jumps out at us: In trying to highlight how the Dodgers’ Maury Wills was the NL MVP of ’62, there is a photo from April, 1960, showing the Giants’ Orlando Cepeda (wearing No. 30) sliding into second base in a game at Candlestick park. The caption from the photo taken by the San Francisco News-Call Bulletin that we found in the San Francisco Public Library: “ORLANDO CEPADA (sic) flies through the air with the greatest of ease for one of the Giants’ three steals of second base in yesterday’s 1-0 victory over Los Angeles. Shortstop Maury Wills leaps for Roseboro’s wide throw.” But the caption in the book for this same photo reads: “ ‘Go! Go! Go!’ The shouts filled the air at Dodger Stadium in 1962 whenever number 30, Maury Wills, took a lead off first base. That year Wills set a new single-season record with 104 stolen bases. His defensive play in the infield often gets overshadowed by his base-stealing acumen.” Was that last sentence added as a way to tell us that isn’t Wills, No. 30, stealing second base, but actually Wills on the other end taking the throw?

Was it that difficult to secure the color pix of Wills stealing his record-breaking 104th base against the Giants in that playoff at Dodger Stadium (see above) that locked up his MVP honors (just edging out Willie Mays)?

One more that we can’t let go: In writing about the no-hitter that the Angels’ Bo Belinsky threw “in front of 15,886 fans at Dodger Stadium — the Angels’ home field from 1961 to 1965 …” fails to realize the Angels’ inaugural ’61 season was at L.A.’s Wrigley Field.

The transitions between what’s going in the world, and then in baseball, come with many rough edges as well. We don’t see another of cause-and-effect happening as we expected, but just some interesting overlaps – specifically, the Cuban Missile Crisis starting in mid-October parallel to the World Series.

Does it all mesh during this unmethodical mix-and-match? The reader can decide if it brings back memories, or just muddles what you already may recall.

How it goes in the scorebook

A 1-9-6-2 output.

Which seems rather clumsy (but not all that impossible) if you can imagine a ball hit back at the pitcher ricocheting off his leg and rolling into right field (because of an exaggerated shift to the left side), the right fielder scooping it up and throwing to the cutoff man, who turns and goes home as a runner tries to score from second base. That also implies there was an out recorded at the end. But we’re still trying to discover that resolution.

You’ve seen those birthday cards that tell you all about things that happened in the year you landed on the planet? Take that, add about 300 pages, and you’re on your way.

Listen, if you’re selling this just as a title, it has merit. Otherwise, we’re just watching a ball slapped around the yard with little context.

And really, it’s a year too early to really land with some distinction. Why not have this come out in 2022 — the 60th anniversary of that season? Kinda sums up what we’re dealing with here.

Back cover reviews from others we respect include Mitch Nathanson, author of the Jim Bouton biography (“In Krell’s capable hands, everything old feels new again”) and from Peter Goldenbock (“Krell … prodigious research to bring you the events, the issues and the famous personalities of 1962”).

But even reading between the lines of those blurbs, it’s not a ringing endorsement.

Maybe instead track down Eric Thompson’s 2014 book: “Baseball’s LOST Tradition – The 1961-1962 Season: The Untold Story of Baseball’s First Self-imposed Expansion,” with a watered-down blurb by Bob Costas that is simply: “I found this book to be both interesting and well-considered.”

More to cover

== Krell talks to

More new books with years in the title to consider

==  “1930: The Story of a Baseball Season When Hitters Reigned Supreme” by Lew Freedman (Sports Publishing, $24.99, 224 pages, to be released June 8, 2021). The blurb: “The 1930 baseball season was the flip side of 1968, the hitter’s version when 78 players batted .300, when the entire National League averaged .300 and some of the greatest individual performances established all-time records. The 1930 season is a wild, sometimes unbelievable, often wacky baseball story.”

== “1996: A Biography: Reliving the Legend-Packed, Dynasty-Stacked, Most Iconic Sports Year Ever,” by Jon Finkel (Diverson Books, $17.99, 288 pages, released May 11). It was 25 years ago when “the big bang of modern sports” happened. From the baseball world, there was Derek Jeter and Ken Griffey Jr. … but with that was Jordan, Shaq, Iverson, Kobe, Gretzky, Tiger, Griffey, Jeter, Tyson, Deion, the Cowboys, the Yankees, the Bulls, The Rock, Stone Cold, Kentucky, Florida, Agassi, Graf, the Williams Sisters, Happy Gilmore, Space Jam, the Olympics in Atlanta, Muhammad Ali, the Magnificent Seven… From Si writer Steve Rushin: “Part time machine, part fax machine, this book brings the ’90s vividly back to life, with all the insight and hindsight of the athletes who made the era so memorable. Finkel makes a strong case that 1996, like 1776, was revolutionary.”

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