Saturday, May 24, 2008

We Would Have Played for Nothing: Baseball Stars of the 1950s and 1960s Talk About the Game They Loved (Baseball Oral History Poject)

Former Major League Baseball commissioner Fay Vincent brings together a stellar roster of ballplayers from the 1950s and 1960s in this wonderful new history of the game. These were the decades when baseball expanded across the country and truly became the national pastime. The era opened, though, with the domination of the New York teams: the Yankees, Dodgers, or Giants were in every World Series of the 1950s -- but by the end of the decade the two National League teams had moved to California.

Representing those great teams in this volume are Whitey Ford, Ralph Branca, Carl Erskine, Duke Snider, and Bill Rigney. They recall the great 1951 Dodgers-Giants playoff that ended with Bobby Thomson's famous home run (served up by Branca). They remember the mighty Yankees, defeated at last in 1955 by the Dodgers, only to recover the World Series crown from their Brooklyn rivals a year later. They talk about their most feared opponents and most valued teammates, from Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle to Jackie Robinson and Roy Campanella to Willie Mays.

But there were great teams and great ballplayers elsewhere in the 1950s and 1960s. Hall of Fame pitcher Robin Roberts recalls the famous Whiz Kids Phillies of 1950 and his epic duels with Don Newcombe and other leading National League pitchers. Lew Burdette remembers his years as one-half of the dominating pitching duo (with Warren Spahn) that propelled the Braves to the World Series in 1957 and 1958.

Harmon Killebrew recalls belting home runs for the hapless Washington Senators, then discovering a new world of enthusiastic fans in Minnesota when the Senators joined the westward migration and became the Twins. Brooks Robinson, on the other hand, played his entire twenty-three-year career for the Baltimore Orioles, never moving anywhere except all around third base, where he earned a record sixteen consecutive Gold Gloves. When Frank Robinson left Cincinnati to join Brooks on the Orioles in 1966, that team became a powerhouse. Frank Robinson won the MVP award that year, the first player to do so in each league. He remembers taking the momentous step to become the first African-American manager in the big leagues, the final step that Jackie Robinson had wanted to take. Like Frank Robinson, Billy Williams was one of the first African-American stars not to come out of the old Negro Leagues. He spent his greatest years with the Chicago Cubs, playing alongside Mr. Cub, Ernie Banks, and later Ron Santo, but here he recalls how he nearly gave up on the game in the minor leagues.

We Would Have Played for Nothing is full of fascinating stories about how these great ballplayers broke into baseball, about the inevitable frustrations of trying to negotiate a contract with owners who always had the upper hand, and about great games and great stars-teammates and opponents-whose influence shaped these ballplayers' lives forever.

Illustrated throughout, this book is a wonderful reminiscence of two great decades in the history of baseball.
Customer Review: Perfect Book for the Baseball Fan!
"Life doesn't get better than this. Grown men getting to play a game and getting paid for it - getting paid lots! The story of Mantle, Berra, Campanella, Mays, and DiMaggio is vivid and powerful in their love for a game that the nation loves. The perfect book for the baseball fan."
Customer Review: Not much new
If you are a fan of baseball in the 1950s and 1960s, it's doubtful you'll learn much new from Fay Vincent's "We Would Have Played the Game for Nothing." Vincent rounds up many of the usual suspects from this era to interview for his oral history series. The players include three Brooklyn Dodgers--Carl Erskine, Ralph Branca and Duke Snider--plus Robin Roberts, Frank Robinson, Brooks Robinson, Harmon Killebrew, Billy Williams, Whitey Ford, Lew Burdette and Bill Rigney. The presence of three Dodgers is two too many since they tend to recount the same events. Most of the players interviewed by Vincent, with the exception of Rigney, have received plenty of previous exposure. Vincent doesn't seem to have done much homework for the interviews. It seems as if he asked very general questions like "What were your most memorable moments?" "Who were the toughest players you played against?" Many of the anecdotes have appeared before. Vincent doesn't dig beyond the surface. Interestingly, Jackie Robinson has a strong presence in the book. Just about every player mentioned him in one context or another. It's clear he commanded respect and admiration from who played with him, against him, or those influenced by him. The title for Vincent's book is somewhat overstated. Sure, the players loved the game, but they wouldn't have played for nothing. They knew they were underpaid and the owners were taking advantage of them.

Derek Jeter is sidelined by injury, and Alex Rodriguez may be jumping over to play Shortstop. Jeter will always be Yankees, but A-Rod wants to be Yankees too.

Alex Rodriguez taking over for Derek Jeter perhaps at Shortstop, in and of itself, is no big deal. Jeter will heal up, and be back at his rightful position soon enough. However, there is an eerie symbolism to it all.

Alex Rodriguez will never be a true Yankee, especially in the heart of Yankees fans. It is something that Rodriguez misses, like a World Series ring, or anything else worthwhile that his gigantic contract cannot buy.

Alex Rodriguez wants to be The Man, and if stats speak, he is. But I am sure, deep in his heart, A-Rod wants what Derek Jeter has, namely, the respect of the Yankees faithful, and a handful of championship rings. A-Rod has the money and the stats, but not what real gamers value.

Jeter too has the money, and great stats to go along with the cash. Real stats. World Series MVP stats. Jeter, big-game hunting in more pressure situations than anyone maybe in the past 40 years in MLB. For a comparison, you may have to look outside of baseball, to Michael Jordan, to find someone who relishes the challenge of the big stage like Jeter.

A-Rod may slip over to his left and 10 steps back on the Yankees defense, over to where Derek Jeter has been patrolling things for the Yankees since the mid-90's. A few feet over, but a world away in how he, A-Rod, and Derek Jeter are known, and how they will be remembered.

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