WE'RE TALKING BASEBALL FANS OF THE NATIONAL PASTIME HAVE FIVE NEW VOLUMES TO ADD TO THEIR COLLECTIONS

April 06, 1997

In a baseball season that commemorates the 50th anniversary of
Jackie Robinson's historic breakthrough, readers may expect a
deluge of books on the great man's ordeal and his ultimate
triumph over bigotry. Although Robinson's widow and daughter
have already stolen a march on competing authors with separate
memoirs published last year, a fine sampling of what's yet to
come can be found in The Jackie Robinson Reader (Dutton,
$23.95), edited by Jules Tygiel, a San Francisco State
University historian. Tygiel, himself a Robinson biographer
(Baseball's Great Experiment: Jackie Robinson and His Legacy,
published in 1983), has assembled an all-star lineup of
chroniclers, each with his or her own perspective on the events
of that emancipating 1947 season.

Red Barber, the Brooklyn Dodgers' famous broadcaster, writes
movingly (with former SI senior editor Robert Creamer) of his
inner struggle as a Southerner over Robinson's signing. He
concludes that Robinson "did far more for me than I did for
him." And Tygiel expands on his own biography to detail the
racism that nearly got Robinson court-martialed out of the Army
near the end of World War II for refusing to move to the back of
a military bus.

"His Army experiences, which graphically illustrated the black
man's lot in America, also demonstrated Jackie Robinson's
courage and pride," wrote Tygiel. "These were the very qualities
that would prove essential in making the assault on baseball's
color line."

Tygiel's compilation also includes entries by Clyde Sukeforth,
the scout who was Dodgers president and general manager Branch
Rickey's emissary to Robinson; Woody Strode, the actor who had
been Robinson's football teammate at UCLA; the influential
African-American journalists Wendell Smith and Sam Lacy; and
writers Roger Kahn, Maury Allen, Nan Birmingham, Harold Parrott
and Arthur Mann.

Robin Roberts, the Hall of Fame pitcher, entered the National
League a year after Robinson but with a much less accomplished
team, the Philadelphia Phillies, who finished sixth in 1948. In
fact, between 1919 and 1947 the Phillies had finished dead last
17 times, including five seasons in succession from 1938 through
1942. This would hardly seem a promising venue for a
strong-armed graduate of Michigan State, but as Roberts soon
realized, the Phillies were on the upswing under munificent
president Bob Carpenter and scholarly new manager Eddie Sawyer.
The team reached the zenith two years later when it won its
first pennant in 35 years. This signal event is recaptured by
Roberts and co-author C. Paul Rogers III, dean of the law school
at Southern Methodist University, in The Whiz Kids and the 1950
Pennant (Temple University Press, $29.95).

The 1950 Phillies were not the first sports team to be called
the Whiz Kids, having been preceded most recently by the 1942
University of Illinois basketball team and the 1945 St. Mary's
(Calif.) College football team. The nickname, the book suggests,
may have derived from a popular radio program, The Quiz Kids, on
which precocious youngsters answered questions on a multitude of
subjects. The Phillies themselves were precocious youths. Not
one of the starters was over 30, and the two star pitchers,
Roberts and Curt Simmons, were just 23 and 20, respectively, at
the start of the season. The team gleefully romped through its
schedule, led by beardless wonders Del Ennis, Dick Sisler,
Willie (Puddin' Head) Jones, Richie Ashburn and Andy Seminick,
and by Eddie Waitkus, who at a relatively mature 30 was
returning to baseball after having been shot in the stomach the
year before by a crazed female fan. The team's
geezer-in-residence was the sterling reliever Jim Konstanty, who
was all of 33.

Sawyer himself didn't turn 40 until September of 1950. A former
biology professor at Ithaca (N.Y.) College, he was a disciple of
the laissez-faire school of managing. Once, on one of his rare
trips to the mound, he asked Roberts if he would rather walk
Robinson and pitch to Roy Campanella, or vice versa. Roberts
pondered this Hobson's choice for a moment, then replied, "It
doesn't matter to me, Skip." Sawyer promptly headed back to the
dugout, declaring, "It doesn't matter to me either."

The Phillies led the league by 7 1/2 games on September 21 but
then drifted into a tailspin induced by the loss of three
pitchers: Simmons, who was called up by the National Guard; and
Bubba Church and Bob Miller, who were injured. The Phillies
needed a win over the Dodgers at Ebbets Field on the last day of
the season to avoid a playoff for the pennant. Roberts gave it
to them with considerable help from Ashburn, who threw out the
potential winning run at the plate in the bottom of the ninth,
and from Sisler, whose three-run homer in the 10th was the
game-winner. The Phillies were swept by the New York Yankees in
the World Series, but the Kids looked upon that as a temporary
setback, for they believed the team's best years were yet to
come. Alas, it would be another 30 seasons before the Phillies
appeared in a World Series.

Lefty O'Doul was a Phillie of another time, and one of the
franchise's most prodigious hitters, with averages of .398 in
1929 and .383 in 1930. In fact, during the late 1920s and early
'30s he was one of the best hitters in baseball, winning two
batting championships while competing with Hall of Famers Rogers
Hornsby, Bill Terry, Chuck Klein and Paul Waner. O'Doul's 254
hits in '29 remain a National League record. And that season he
scored 152 runs and drove in 122 (batting second in the order),
hit 32 homers and struck out a measly 19 times--about as often
as a modern slugger strikes out in a month.

So why isn't this man in the Hall of Fame? That's the question
eloquently addressed by Society for American Baseball Research
member Richard Leutzinger in Lefty O'Doul--The Legend That
Baseball Nearly Forgot (Carmel Bay Publishing Group, $19.95).
Leutzinger is familiar with the reasons given for O'Doul's
exclusion: He played only 11 years, four as a mediocre pitcher.
He was a liability in the outfield. (Longtime San Francisco
Chronicle baseball writer Bob Stevens, a close friend of
O'Doul's, once said of him, "He could run like a deer.
Unfortunately, he threw like one too.")

Leutzinger also thinks O'Doul may have sabotaged his Hall of
Fame opportunities by spending his postplaying career as a
manager in the Pacific Coast League mostly in his native San
Francisco, where, 28 years after his death, he remains a legend.
Had he accepted any of numerous offers to manage in the big
leagues, writes Leutzinger, he would have kept his name before
Hall voters and increased his chances of election. But O'Doul
was still big in the Coast League, where he developed, among
other players, Joe and Dom DiMaggio and two-time American League
batting champion Ferris Fain. O'Doul also dealt sage counsel to
another young Coast Leaguer. "Don't let anybody change you,
kid," he told Ted Williams.

Perhaps even more significant, considering the international
bent the game has taken, were O'Doul's contributions to the
emergence of Japanese professional baseball. Beginning in the
mid-1930s he made frequent trips to Japan, where before and
after World War II he held instructional clinics and charmed the
fans. "O'Doul," writes Leutzinger, "was quite possibly
baseball's greatest ambassador.... Few men were ever better for
the game." Hall of Fame qualifications, it would seem.

There are few better players today than Ken Griffey Jr., who is
the subject of a handsome coffee-table book, Junior (Collins
Publishers, $45), edited by Mark Vancil with photographs by
Walter Iooss Jr. In these slick pages Griffey reinforces his
public image as a blithe spirit. "I don't jump on people if they
make a mistake," he informs, "because I don't want them doing
that to me." And of his father and former teammate, he says:
"I'm not as good a player as my dad." These pensees aside, the
virtue of this book is in the sublime photographs by the
ever-talented Iooss.

The well-known greed of Major League Baseball owners--along with
that of magnates in other sports--is given a rough going-over in
Major League Losers: The Real Cost of Sports and Who's Paying
for It, by Mark S. Rosentraub (Basic Books, $27.50). Rosentraub,
a professor and associate dean of the School of Public and
Environmental Affairs at Indiana University at Indianapolis,
contends that when team owners demand taxpayers' money for new
stadiums and threaten to leave if they don't get it, they are
simply holding cities hostage. And when cities pony up hundreds
of millions for such playing fields, they are contributing to a
system of welfare for the wealthy that "inflates the salaries
paid to athletes and the profits earned by owners." Besides,
Rosentraub writes, a fair-sized university has a much broader
impact on an urban economy than a sports team.

Rosentraub maintains that most sports franchises are far richer
than they pretend to be and that they can damn well afford to
build their own ballparks. He makes this point in 478 pages,
complete with explanatory charts and graphs. It's a point well
taken.

B/W PHOTO: NATIONAL BASEBALL LIBRARY & ARCHIVE, COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. Tygiel's anthology revisits Robinson's breakthrough.[Jackie Robinson in game] COLOR PHOTO: WALTER IOOSS JR. The photos in Junior make this coffee-table book on the Mariners' Ken Griffey a thing of beauty. [Ken Griffey Jr.]

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