BY THE BOOK
Baseball Players of
...a run-in with young Maury
Book recalls a fabulous
era for baseball: The 1950s
By MAURY ALLEN
There are famous fighters among them like Billy Martin, Clint Courtney and Ruben Gomez and perfectionists like Don Larsen and assassination survivors like Eddie Waitkus.
There are victims of racism such as Larry Doby, Satchel Paige and even Willie Mays and victims of tragic deaths such as Roberto Clemente, Don Hoak and Dick Howser.
There are stand-up comedian types like Pete Whisenant and Moe Drabowsky and sit down comics like Jimmy Piersall and there are simply legendary figures of the time such as Stan Musial, Ted Williams and Sandy Koufax.
All of these icons, hangers-on and over the hill gang members are connected and collected in print in a breezy, funny, entertaining work called "Baseball Players of the 1950s: A Biographical Dictionary of All 1,560 Major Leaguers" (McFarland & Co., $55) by Rich Marazzi and Len Fiorito.
The coffee table book is filled with photos of the guys then and now and covers the lives and careers of 1,560 players whose names appeared in box scores in the big leagues in the 1950s.
It is 450 delightful pages of fun for anyone who ever put a bubble gum card of a ball player in his school notebook or stared at his radio when Bobby Thomson hit the Shot Heard Round The World.
This is not a book about the runs, hits and errors these players compiled. It is a book about the fun in the sun, when baseball was mostly a day game, and salary levels from $6-16,000 a year were considered big time bucks.
Maybe it is old age or nostalgia kicking in but this book really explains what a lot of us in advanced middle age have always believed about baseball. There was no time like the 1950s for the game.
World War II was fading into history. Everybody was entitled to a car. Girls wore short skirts. A skinny singer named Sinatra was becoming bigger than Bing.
Baseball was really all about New York in those days because the Yankees, Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants were the teams getting October attention. The country was at peace, the economy was strong and after Truman decided he wouldnt go again in 1952, everybody liked Ike.
Some of the tales are warm and wonderful, some are sad and depressing. The lives of these guys who happened to be good enough to get a big league day or more mirrored society, some good, some bad and most in between.
A bespectacled player named Earl Torgeson, a first baseman in Boston, triggered my first memory of a 1950s big leaguer in person. Marazzi used the tale in his book.
I had gone to a Brooklyn game against the Braves in the late 1940s as a teenager. I sat on my subway seat, looked up from my scorecard and noticed Torgeson, easily recognizable because of those thick glasses, sitting opposite me.
I was too nervous to ask for an autograph until my stop approached. I finally got up the courage to approach the big leaguer. Mr. Torgeson, I stammered, could you sign this?
Get the fuck out of here, kid, bellowed Torgeson, the leading hitter with a .389 average in the 1948 World Series.
I cried all the way home.
Twenty years later I attended a baseball promotion for spring training as a New York Post sportswriter. Opposite me that day was a gorgeous girl called Miss Tampa. We started talking about players who werent too friendly and I recalled the Torgeson story.
Yep, she said, that was my dad.
Her name was Ina Torgeson and she indicated that my scouting report on her feisty father was pretty accurate.
Marazzi and Fiorito have produced this wonderful book with about 25 years of effort.
This is the kind of stuff I always saved as a kid when I read about these guys in the papers, said Marazzi. When I became a writer and a broadcaster myself I got a lot of new stories. I also took pictures of all these guys when I met them.
There is a New York restaurateur named Jerry Casale. He pitched in the big leagues with Boston, Los Angeles and Detroit from 1958-1962. He was sent out by Boston to the minor leagues and screamed at his manager for that affront after proving his big league skills.
They sent me to their minor league club in San Francisco in 1956, recalled Casale. They told me they wanted me out there because I was Italian and they had a lot of Italians in San Francisco. I screamed at the manager, Pinky Higgins, who was drunk when he was telling me all this. Then the GM, Joe Cronin, said I had to go or would be out of the game. Are those Italians in San Francisco different than the ones in Boston?
It didnt help a bit. Casale won 19 games in the old Pacific Coast league but was drafted for the next two years. It cost him a full baseball pension because players had to have five years in the big leagues then to qualify. Now they need only one day.
Maybe it is just this book and these hysterical stories that make the difference now. Players today seem more interested in the million dollar salaries and dates with their business managers than they do in telling these great old tales that make up the heart of this book.
Marazzi and Fiorito have done a service for young readers as well as nostalgic old ones. This is a good look at what the game was like half a century ago. Its still three strikes youre out and four balls for a walk but so much of the fun is gone.
Barry Bonds doesnt sit around telling jokes to sportswriters now. His off time is spent with his managers, agents, investment counselors and body caretakers.
This book is good for a thousand laughs. We can all use more of that.
©2004 by Maury Allen. The Maury Allen caricature is ©2001 by Jim Hummel.
You can comment on this column online. Please address your message to either "The Editors" or Maury Allen. To send an email, click here: email@example.com
Home About Us Archives Talkback Shopping Mall