Monday, March 21, 2011

The Unforgettable Season - book review

Bildner, Phil. 2011. The Unforgettable Season: The Story of Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams and the Record-Setting Summer of '41.  Ill. by S.D. Schindler. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons.

First, a little backstory -

My grandfather, though living in Connecticut when my mother and aunt were born, was born and raised in Massachusetts.  He never gave up his love for the Boston Red Sox; never adopted the team closer to his Connecticut home, the New York Yankees.  My aunt, the eldest and the apple of his eye, naturally became a Red Sox fan.  For my mother, well, what's a younger sister to do?  It was Yankees, of course.

Throughout the 1940s, these room-sharing sisters carried their love/hate of the Yankees/Red Sox to the extreme - even placing a tape line through the middle of the room, right through the bed they shared! - declaring one half to be Yankee territory and one side to be Red Sox country.  They listened to the games on the radio, went when they could, and idolized their favorite players - Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams.

And so it was that I grew up hearing stories of the famous rivalry between two of the greatest hitters to ever play the game of baseball.

Phil Bildner's, The Unforgettable Season: The Story of Joe DiMaggio and the Record-Setting Summer of '41, is, to paraphrase a favorite movie, like dipping myself in magic waters, transporting myself to the childhood of my mother and aunt - to the summer of 1941, when Joe DiMaggio hit "the streak," batting safely in fifty-six straight games, and Ted Williams finished the summer with a .406 batting average.  Neither record has ever been broken.

Bildner's prose carries readers back to 1941,
After the All-Star break, Joltin' Joe picked up where he left off.  his record-setting hitting streak rolled on. Radio broadcasts were interrupted for "DiMag Bulletins."  During long meetings at the Capitol, congressmen waited for the latest DiMaggio updates.  How long could he keep it going?
and when the streak ended at 56 games, all eyes turned to Ted Williams, the Splendid Splinter,
On the season's final day, heading into a doubleheader against the Athletics, his batting average had dipped to .39955.  
     "Do you want to sit today?" Red Sox manager Joe Cronin asked Ted before that Sunday's first game.  "If you do, you got your .400 average." A .39955 average would be rounded up to .400 for the record books.
     "No," Ted replied.  "I'm going to play.  If I'm going to be a .400 hitter, I'm not going to slip in through the back door. I'm not going to do it sitting on the bench. I'm playing both games."
Ted finished the season at .406.

The game of baseball hasn't changed that much in the years that have passed since 1941.  Yes, the uniforms were  baggier and the socks were higher, but the game itself remains much the same. Schindler's pen and watercolor illustrations subtly highlight the changes in our culture - well-dressed fans in hats and suits, families gathered around the radio, newspaper boys in caps - yelling out the headlines - all commonplace in the Unforgettable Season.

The final pages exhort the reader to keep an eye out, for the next unforgettable season might be this one.  You never know.  Ah, baseball - you gotta' love it!


Center fielder, Joseph (Joe) Paul DiMaggio was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1955.

Left fielder, Theodore (Ted) Samuel Williams, was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1966.

A footnote: My aunt has long since retired and moved to Florida - Ft. Myers, of course, spring training home of her beloved Sox.  My mother, upon moving to New Jersey in the 60's, joined her husband in cheering for the fledgling New York Mets, although she still has a soft spot for the Yankees.

Today's Nonfiction Monday host is The Children's War, a journal about books
 for children and teens set in WWII.

2 comments:

  1. Great post! I feel bad for your mom. It's not looking good for the Mets. Perfect timing for the post. Does the book talk about their service during WWII?

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  2. No, it doesn't. It has a very narrow focus - only the "unforgettable summer." Glad you enjoyed the post. As for me, I can't say that I ever feel badly for the Mets. As soon as baseball season starts, I will be hanging up my Cole Hammels READ poster at the library! Go Phils! :)

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