Non-Fiction: Sports

Summer of '49

Author: David Halberstam

Published By: Harper Perennial Modern Classics

Reviewed by Melissa Minners

            It’s that time of the year again - baseball season, one of my favorite times of the year.  As soon as baseball season begins, I have a desire to play baseball, watch baseball, listen to baseball, play baseball video games and read a baseball book.  It doesn’t matter whether the book is about one player or a whole team, I have to read a baseball book at the start of the season.  This time around, it was Summer of 49 by David Halberstam.

            Summer of ’49 chronicles the rivalry between the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox, each vying for supremacy in the American League in 1949.  Both teams had tremendous players and managers.  The Yankees were managed by the eccentric, but effective Casey Stengel and sported a host of excellent players including Joe DiMaggio, Yogi Berra, Eddie Lopat, Jerry Coleman, Tom Henrich, Charlie Keller, Gene Woodling, Allie Reynolds, Hank Bauer, Vic Raschi and more.  The Red Sox were led by Joe McCarthy with superb players like Ted Wiliams, Dominic DiMaggio, Bobby Doerr, Walter Dropo, Matt Batts, Tex Hughson, Mel Parnell, Johnny Pesky, Birdie Tebbetts, Jack Kramer and more.

            Pound for pound, the teams seemed quite evenly matched in coaching, fielding, pitching and hitting.  The Red Sox may have started slow that season, but they caught up quickly and soon, there was a pennant race to remember, one that rivaled the race the year before, making Boston fans believe that this might just be their year.  It was such a close race that it wouldn’t be decided until the final games of the season and when the smoke cleared, there would be only one team left standing.  Of course, those who have followed baseball for years know just which team that was, but what a fun ride getting there.

            Having begun his life a Yankee fan in the Bronx, author David Halberstam found himself transplanted in Connecticut after the war, New England - and therefore Boston Red Sox - territory.  Thus, when the 1949 baseball season took place, Halberstam was in a unique position - he had grown up enjoying both teams.  He passes on this unique perspective to his readers as he describes the pennant race of ‘49 in full, from the very start of the year.  Supplying in-depth looks at managers, coaches, players and announcers, Halbertsam supplies the reader with a fully informed account of what took place during the summer of 1949.

            Yes, I know, Summer of ‘49 is about two teams that I am not a fan of.  I can stomach the Yankees and follow them because they are a New York team, but I will always be a Mets fan.  I rooted for the Red Sox when they finally won the World Series in 2004 (hey, every team deserves a shot), but I will never forget the rivalry of the Mets and the Red Sox of 1986 and therefore have very little respect for the team.  However, I love reading about baseball history and the giants of the game that made it so great.  Thus, I found Summer of ‘49 to be incredibly informative.  David Halberstam’s writing style is entertaining and the book was an incredibly fast read, despite the plethora of information supplied within its pages. 

            Summer of ‘49 is a must read for both fans of the early days of baseball and fans of the game it has become.  Fans of the early days will enjoy reminiscing along with the author about the baseball days of yore.  Fans of today’s baseball will enjoy reading about one of the hugest rivalries in baseball that has lasted decades and still persists today.  I loved it for both reasons.


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