Sunday, May 12, 2013

The Only Game in Town (volume 1): Baseball stars of the 1930s and 1940s talk about the game they loved by Fay Vincent

Former Major League Baseball commissioner Fay Vincent collects the memories of some of the great players of the bygone era before and after WWII, making a very readable history of baseball.  What stands out about this book are the testimonies of some of the players of events that have already been told before.  One gains a different perspective from listening to different voices.

For example, Eldon Auker tells of his Baseball 'all star' trip to Japan after the season in 1939 that included Moe Berg.  Now Moe Berg had a reputation of being very smart, and Auker tells how he did not fit in because he was so mysterious.  A Princeton graduate, Berg surprised everyone by being fluent in Japanese and became the interpreter.  Auker tells how Berg was very popular among the Japanese because he could speak their language.  Berg would slip away from the team and take pictures all over the country.  He even stays longer in the country so he could travel the country side.  Auker tells how nobody on the American team suspected that Berg was gathering intelligence for the US government.  As it turned out Moe Berg took pictures of almost the entire War complex of Japan that proved to be very useful after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.  The catcher was a spy!

Bob Feller, Cleveland pitcher who pitched with velocity approaching 100 mph, tells how famed black home run hitter, Josh Gibson could not hit a curve ball!  Feller tells of the days of barnstorming (exhibition games) with the Negro Leagues and pitching against the great Black players.  He questions the claim that Josh Gibson would have made it to the Major Leagues.  Feller says adamantly that Gibson hit nothing off of him because he served up Gibson "with that big, what we called elliptical snake", a tough curve ball. Feller was close to some of the Negro players and claims that the racial rivalry only took place in the stands among fans and not among players.  Buck O'Neil's claim of the blacks winning their fair share against Feller's teams is questioned by Bob.  Claiming to have the score books as proof, Feller submits that the claim was more publicity to gain more attendance for a bigger share of money than the truth.

John "Buck" O'Neil explains the difference between Jackie Robinson and other Black players and he claims that is the reason Robinson was chosen to break the color barrier.  Robinson was a cut above the rest.  O'Neil explains the difference when his team was traveling in the South barnstorming to make money.  The bus came to a filling station for refueling.  After putting the hose in the gas tank, Robinson goes toward the restroom that is marked "Whites Only".  The attendant calls out to Jackie, "Where are you goin', boy!" and Robinson replies, "to use the restroom."  The attendant says sternly, "you can't go there" and Robinson without missing a beat tells his teammates to take the gasoline hose out of the bus.  The attendant immediately realizes that he will lose a big sale of close to a hundred gallons of gasoline!  With due consideration of seconds the attendant concedes and stops the hose from coming out of the tank and permits Mr. Robinson in using the facilities by saying "but don't be long!" O'Neil interprets this scene as a manifestation of the difference between Robinson and the rest of his team: While his teammates including Buck O'Neil are resigned to prejudice, Robinson is not willing to accept the status quo.  Jackie Robinson is seen as a fighter of prejudice.

The scene of Hank Greenberg going into the Chicago White sox locker room in his underwear with a baseball bat to confront the people who hurled anti-semitic barbs against him during the game, met with frozen Sox players is mentioned twice from different people.

Ralph Kiner credits Greenberg with his success as a Home run hitter.  Greenberg was willing to tutor Kiner when Greenberg was traded to Pittsburgh.

This is an excellent example of an oral history project.

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