I am a huge baseball fan. Basketball will always remain the sport I loved playing the most, playing it fifteen hours a day with my friends when we were young, but baseball has always been the sport I loved watching and listening to on the radio, and especially following the box scores. Growing up in the Bronx, I was originally a Red Sox fan, which stemmed from the fact that my father was from Boston and a Red Sox fan. The Mets were my favorite National League team, and as I got older I eventually went with my ‘roots’ and became a Yankee fan.
I have read numerous books on baseball, and I actually wrote one that I was very proud of, even if no one else was. The three baseball books that stand out to me are 1) Field of Dreams (Shoeless Joe), 2) The Natural (I thought the movie sucked) and 3) The Summer of 49 by David Halberstam.
And Now, another David Halberstam book, “The Teammates,” tops my list as the best baseball book I have ever read. It left me crying at the end. It is a profoundly human story, about four teammates… The great Ted Williams, Dominic DiMaggio, Johnny Pesky and Bobby Doerr… Who played together on the great Red Sox teams of the 40’s and remained close friends for over sixty years. Williams and Doerr are in the Hall of Fame, and it is a mystery why DiMaggio and Pesky are not. But, as duly noted, Joe DiMaggio was the better player, but his brother Dominic (who was a hell of a player) was one of the best human beings one could ever hope to meet.
The story starts out with Dominic DiMaggio and Johnny Pesky and a friend, David Flavin, driving down to Florida to see their dying friend Ted Williams. Bobby Doerr is unable to come because he is in Oregon tending to his wife of over sixty years who has suffered a second stroke. During the entire three day trip the radio is never turned on and Dominic and Johnny recall plays, at bats, a certain pitcher from sixty years ago as though it was yesterday. They relive the devastating defeat to the St. Louis Cardinals in the 46 World Series on a bloop base hit in game seven that would have been caught had DiMaggio not got injured the inning before and his replacement was an incompetent center fielder who misplayed the ball. And they recall, the crushing defeat to the Yankees in ’49’ on the last game of the season that would have sent them to the World Series.
But what makes this book so great is what took place off the baseball field and a friendship that lasted over sixty years between the four men. Williams’ generosity, and his love to preach and debate, and always looking out for his friends and the fishing trips. The way they were always at the bedside if one of them was sick or injured, and they were always in contact when one of their wives or children fell ill. Williams, who never missed a charity event that Dominic’s wife Emily was sponsoring, and she sponsored quite a few. They were all in their eighties at the time this book was written and they remained in contact to the very end.
Dominic’s phone calls to a dying Williams will leave you breathless. He sings opera to the greatest hitter of all time and in between songs they talk baseball, box scores, and naturally about their cherished friendships.
This is a gem of a book, and one does not have to like baseball to love this amazing portrayal of friendship and love.