The Magazine

Safe at Home

The rebirth of the national pastime after World War II.

May 6, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 32 • By COLIN FLEMING
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Conversely, Weintraub writes up Ted Williams as a loner, a sort of Paganini of the batter’s box, the virtuoso whose legerdemain is beyond the bounds of comprehension of mere baseball mortals. Williams gets it in the neck a lot, mostly from the press. He won Most Valuable Player in 1946, his first, but no matter: Cleveland Indians player-manager Lou Boudreau opted to overturn baseball’s traditional geometry and created the infamous Williams shift, in which the left side of his infield joined the first and second basemen on the right. Williams, a left-handed batter, believed (rightly, as it turned out) in this approach and acted as though no new strategy had been deployed against him at all. 

His harshest critic, Dave “the Colonel” Egan, wrote in the Boston Record that the shift wasn’t “a compliment to the hitting greatness of Williams. It is a sneer at his inability to hit successfully, except to one particular part of the lawn.” 

Stan Musial, like Williams, slumped in the World Series; but Weintraub makes the case that there may be no more underrated superstar and all-around good bloke in the game’s history.

Weintraub excels at digging up quotes that capture the idiosyncratic vernacular of midcentury baseball. When an Irish player fails, leprechauns were said to “give him a bad steer.” Fastballs are no more sneaked past fastball hitters than sun rays manage to get clear of roosters. But what gives The Victory Season just that right touch of roguish merriment is its oddball characters, guys that you tend to meet only in locker rooms, as though they could exist in no other sector of society. A case in point is Leo Durocher, the manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers, who, when not getting ejected from the latest ballgame or beating a man in a back corridor of Ebbets Field, hung out with actors, mobsters, and all manner of comely females. Durocher excelled at what we’ll call baseball “saltiness,” but his was a gruff, quasi-Romantic poetry that would tickle the likes of Ring Lardner. His admiration for Jackie Robinson is voiced in a metaphor involving a baseball bat and a posterior orifice. 

Attendance boomed throughout that 1946 season, and the campaign essentially assured the sport’s future—if not forevermore as America’s pastime, then as the game that most easily moves about, free as you please, through time, literature, and our collective and personal memories: “The incredible twists and turns of the season and the Series, coming so soon after the end of the war and the subpar baseball on display, galvanized the next wave of fans,” Weintraub concludes. 

What he could just as easily have said was that a return to the events of that 1946 season could well galvanize the mind of someone who has no knowledge, let alone recollection, of Stan’s Red Birds taking down Ted’s Red Sox. For, while all of this is about that, it’s also about everything else but.

Colin Fleming is the author of the forthcoming Between Cloud and Horizon: A Relationship Casebook in Stories.