David Halberstam - The Teammates

Having previously read Halberstam's October 1964 (not reviewed on this site), I knew I would enjoy this book as well. I have had it since it came out, but it took until the doldrums of a winter (when I typically get the urge to read more baseball books since there are no real games to watch or play in) to finally delve into The Teammates. I was not disappointed.

Although the time period for this book is before my baseball era, it still brought back memories for me. When the subject of Yaz came up, I recalled an experience I had in the summer of 1983. I was just 14 at the time and an avid A's fan. I had a friend who would let me sit next to him in a seat that wasn't sold because it didn't have much leg room due to a railing. It was three rows back over the visiting dugout at the Oakland Coliseum and the closest to where the players came out of the clubhouse on their walk to the dugout (hence, the railing). To me, this location was heaven. I could meet the players, had the best view imaginable, and the security guard usually gave me the official lineup card out of the visiting dugout after the game.

Although I wasn't a Red Sox fan, this was a special game as it was Carl Yastrzemski's last in Oakland. He had announced his retirement previously in the year, and the Red Sox weren't going to be coming back to Oakland. When the Red Sox came to town, almost a third of the crowd were pulling for them in Oakland as there are many Boston transplants in the San Francisco Bay Area. So the crowd on this July evening was particularly large.

In Yaz's final at bat, he hit a home run that brought everyone to their feet. It isn't often that a player gets a curtain call on the road, but he did on this evening. And to top it off, the A's still won the game so I went home very happy.

Halberstam is a good author. In this one, he recounts a visit by Ted Williams's teammates to see him shortly before his death. During the trip we get to flashback in time to various stories from these individuals' glory days. In fact, we get biographies of all of them (John Pesky, Bobby Doerr, Dom DiMaggio, and Ted Williams). The biographies aren't exhaustive, but there is enough here that you do feel like you know each by the end. There are also mini biographies of Boo Ferriss and Dick Flavin.

Although the title and subtitle don't have Ted Williams's name in it, the stories all tend to revolve around him. I suppose that is fitting given that he seemed to be something of the center of the solar system that these teammates and the Red Sox orbited.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and highly recommend it, but it is not without its flaws. Perhaps it is just my first edition, first printing copy, but there are numerous typos--especially in the first half of the book. For instance, on page 94 it says, "She could have cared less..." instead of "She could not have cared less..." and on the same page it says, "Bobby would practice endlessly as boy" instead of "Bobby would practice endlessly as a boy." This makes for some choppy reading at times and is unusual for a book with two editors and a printing as large as I imagine this one received. Perhaps later printings fixed the errors. In any event, this is a fun book to read for any baseball fans. I'm not a Red Sox fan, by any stretch of the imagination, and yet I still enjoyed The Teammates.

from the publisher:
In early October 2001, Dominic DiMaggio and Johnny Pesky begin a 1,300-mile trip by car to visit their beloved teammate Ted Williams, knowing that he is dying. Bobby Doerr, the fourth member of this close group -- "my guys," Williams used to call them -- is unable to be with them because he is back in Oregon tending to his wife of sixty-three years, Monica, who has suffered her second stroke.

Thus begins David Halberstam's The Teammates, a profoundly human story of four great ballplayers who have made the passage from sports icons -- when they were young and seemingly indestructible -- to men dealing with the vulnerabilities of growing older. At the core of the book is the friendship of these four very different but extraordinary men, the key players in a remarkable Boston Red Sox team, who stayed close to each other for more than sixty years.

First among them was Ted Williams, not only a dominating player but a dominating personality as well. "It was like there was a star on top of his head, pulling everyone toward him like a beacon," recalls Johnny Pesky. Pesky met the others when he was still a clubhouse boy in Portland and they would tip him a quarter to shine their shoes. He would soon become one of the league's toughest hitters and something of a little brother to Williams. Dom DiMaggio, the center fielder, was an athlete carried as much by his remarkable intelligence as by his natural talent. Small and bespectacled, he grew up partially in the shadow of his older brother, but would end up a seven-time American League All-Star. It was to Dom that Ted would increasingly turn for support in later years. And then there was future Hall of Famer Bobby Doerr, a professional ballplayer at sixteen, who right from the start displayed a natural grace and maturity that made him the perfect buddy for the temperamental, ever-contentious Williams.

The Teammates is the story of two trips: the final one that DiMaggio and Pesky are taking to see Williams, and another, a flight back in time, as they and Bobby Doerr recall the wonders of their years together and reminisce about a magical era. What Halberstam has given us is a book about baseball, and something more, the richness of friendship.

David Halberstam, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for his reporting from Vietnam at the age of thirty, is one of America's best-known journalists and historians. His last thirteen books have all been national bestsellers. Both The Best and the Brightest, the story of how and why America went to war in Vietnam, and Summer of 49, about the Yankee-Red Sox pennant race, went to number one on the New York Times bestseller list. Halberstam is a member of the elective Society of American Historians.