Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Book Review: 1954

1954: The Year Willie Mays and the First Generation of Black Superstars Changed Major League Baseball Forever by Bill Madden
Hardcover: 320 pages
Publisher: Da Capo Press (May 6, 2014)

The 1954 baseball season was historic for Major League Baseball.  This was the same year in which the Brown vs. Board of Education court case decided that segregation be outlawed in the public school systems.

The World Series pitted the Cleveland Indians against the New York Giants.  It was the first World Series that featured African-Americans on both teams: Willie Mays and Larry Doby.

This was seven years after Jackie Robinson had made his debut.  Doby was already a dominant player in the American League and Mays was just emerging in his own right as one of the best players in the game.  He played baseball with a flair and boyish innocence that all fans embraced.

Doby and Mays were already on their way to stardom but Hank Aaron and Ernie Banks were just getting started with the Braves and Cubs, respectively.

Bill Madden shows exactly why he is in the Writer's Wing of the Baseball Hall of Fame.  This book is the first to fully examine the 1954 season.  Madden draws on recent interviews with players themselves: Mays, Doby, Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford, Monte Irvin, Carl Erskine.  Madden transports readers across time, revisiting Spring Training in Florida and Arizona as the future baseball stars were entering the league.

Madden weaves the narrative with the racially charged events of 1954.  With exception of the New York Yankees, the national pastime was ahead of the curve when it came to accepting African-Americans at a time when the nation struggled with acceptance.

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