Wednesday, July 23, 2008

October 1964 - It's more about the season and less about October

I really didn't like writing this book review because I'm a big fan of David Halberstam and have enjoyed some of his other books.

I read and really enjoyed Halberstam's "Teammates" and thought "October 1964" would be another great read. Halberstam is one of the greatest author's of this generation, and I really looked forward to reading this book. Unfortunately, this book didn't deliver as I had hoped.

Reading this book was like watching a minor league baseball player develop into a 5-tool professional who only stays in the big leagues for a cup of coffee. He builds the story with plenty of background on the Cardinals, on the Yankees, on some of the players and you get the feeling that it will all come together with an edge-of-your-chair ending in October. Instead, this book provides great detail about the 1964 season, and rushes through the month of October. It ends in a whimper, instead of a bang.

"October 1964" takes just a few chapters... but the previous 27+ chapters deal with the build-up of that month. It's like the girl you wanted to date all through school, and when you finally take her dinner, you find out she's a vegetarian and isn't that interesting. I was hoping for more information on October, but this book never delivered.

Tim McCarver plays a large role in this book. Personally, I think there is a bit too much of Tim. McCarver's views and quotes are chronicled throughout the season. While I believe that Tim's on the field performances are over-shadowed by his announcer booth performances, I think Halberstam relied too much on McCarver's perspective. I would have preferred to have more Bill White, Curt Flood, and Lou Brock perspectives.

My problem with the end of the book is Halberstam's desire to dip his toe in the pool of politics. Look, I don't want politics in my baseball books. This country is divided enough along political lines that we don't need to discuss politics in sports books. If I wanted to read about politics I'd get a book by Ann Coulter or Paul Begala.

Halberstam blames the 1972 Supreme court Decision against Curt Flood (a 5-3 margin) on Richard Nixon. He implied that it was Nixon's appointments that caused the decision to be against Flood. Halberstam writes on page 366, ". . . the more conservative Nixon appointees tended to vote against him . . ." By pointing out that three judges voted against Flood were Nixon appointees, Halberstam implies that it was Nixon's fault. Look, I'm not here to defend Richard Nixon or JFK, I am here to read a sports book and David Halberstam crossed that line on page 366 of this book.

The justices that voted for Kuhn in Flood v. Kuhn, include:

  • Blackmum (Nixon) - Hardly considered to be conservative since he wrote the majority opinion in 1973's Roe v. Wade.
  • Stewart (Eisehnower) - Widely considered to be a centrist judge who also instrumental in Roe V. Wade and was instrumental in Furman v. Georgia which invalidated all death penalty laws.
  • Rehnquist (Nixon) - Future Chief Justice
  • Burger (Nixon) - Chief Justice who led the 8-0 vote against Richard Nixon in 1974 in the United States v. Nixon
  • White (JFK) - It was hard to find a definition for White. It seems most scholars have a hard time defining him, but he frequently supported a broad view of governmental powers ie. 1992's NY v. US.
The justices that voted for Flood include:
  • Douglas (JFK)
  • Marshall (LBJ)
  • Brennan (Eisenhower)

If Halberstam wanted to dive into Supreme Court records about the Flood v. Kuhn decision, he should have checked into the individuals who ruled on the case, and not who nominated them to the court. Looking into Justice White's career seems to be a good place to look since he seems to be all over the political map on decisions and is the one appointed by a Democrat that voted with Republican appointed judges.

Halberstam continued his political labeling in the following paragraph by describing Bobby Richardson as a "seriously religious Christian fundamentalist" and a "conservative Republican." Again, I don't care who people vote for or what party they prefer. Halberstam's injection of politics didn't have anything to do with "October 1964" and this bothers me because I want sports in my sports books... not the author's political views.

If you want a book about the 1964 season that details the rise and fall of the St. Louis Cardinals and NY Yankees, then this is a great one. You really get to see the game's culture change throughout that season and in the immediate seasons that follow. Halberstam does a great job of putting you in the game, in the press box, and in the fan's environment.

I loved the end of the book when he talked about how the Yankees seem to change with the firing of Yogi Berra and how the Cardnials continued their run.

I know Halberstam has plenty of other great sports books that have sold millions of copies and spent almost as long on best seller lists. David Halberstam was a fantastic writer and I'd recommend "The Teammates" to anyone. But after reading "October 1964," it might be a while before I take the chance on reading another one.

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