I’ve mentioned before that I’m lucky enough to be on the University of Nebraska Press’s mailing list to review the books that they publish. Since I’ve not found a place that does more baseball books, this is an arrangement that works extremely well for me. What they get out of it is the occasional words here in cyberspace that hopefully encourage people to check the book out. (Don’t tell them just how much I get the better end of this bargain, because it’s so lopsided it’s not even funny.)
Last year, they started publishing books based on some of the great teams in history. Each player on the team was profiled by members of SABR and you got a real feel for the team and the season. They started with the 1970 Baltimore Orioles and then went to the 1947 Brooklyn Dodgers. Both were outstanding books to read, even if I had no personal connection to the squads.
So you can imagine my excitement when the third book in the series had a red tinge to it. Drama and Pride in the Gateway City takes a look at the 1964 St. Louis Cardinals. It’s a team we know a good bit about as Cardinal fans, given the rally that team made to make the World Series and then the fact that they took out the mighty Yankees to do it, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t a lot of good nuggets in this one to unearth.
Our friend Mr. Netherton can probably recite the entire roster and might not find quite as much new stuff in this as some of the rest of us do, but that’s because he’s Mr. Cardinal History. For those that have a more passing interest in a team from 50 years ago (almost), there are writeups of every player that got any time with the Cardinals at all that season, from the stars like Bob Gibson and Ken Boyer, to those traded like Lou Brock and Ernie Broglio, to those that only got a handful of innings or at-bats and have names lost to history, such as Dave Bakenhaster (two games, three innings), Dave Dowling (one game, one inning), and Joe Morgan (the manager-to-be, not the HOF second baseman, three games, three at-bats).
Not only is every player detailed, with their full history and what happened to them after their playing days, but you also get a game-by-game synopsis of the season. Broken down into chunks throughout the book, you can see how the season unfolded and get key information about each game. One of the things that they did in the Orioles book that they’ve not repeated in subsequent volumes was heading up each game’s recap paragraph with the headline from the major paper about that game. That is something I wish they’d go back to, as you got just a little more feel for what it was like to open up the paper the next day and read about the game. (Perhaps when they get around to doing the 2011 Cardinals in 30 years or so, they’ll use blog posts titles instead!)
Besides each player, there are also sections on the broadcasters of that season, Jack Buck and Harry Carey, the coaching staff (including Red Schoendienst), plus the front office folks of Branch Rickey, Bob Howsam and, of course, Bing Devine. There is also a writeup on Gussie Busch and even one on Stan Musial, who was just a Cardinal vice-president in the first year after his retirement.
There’s also a short wrapup of the World Series and an explanation of what would have happened had there been a three (or four!) way tie at the end of the 1964 season. Suffice it to say the World Series would have been a bit later that year (though still much earlier than it is today).
Is this book going to replace October 1964 as the definitive work on that season? I don’t think so, nor do I think it is endeavoring to do so. David Halberstam’s classic was a literary work, a story weaving in and out through the season. This book is the reference material you have at hand when you are reading that one, looking up more details on the players mentioned or finding out just whatever happened to that pinch-hitter or long relief man. However you use this book, the important thing is this: it belongs in a place of honor on your shelf of Cardinal literature.
To paraphrase Mr. Buck, “It’s a winner!”