Baseball Toaster Bronx Banter
Yankee Panky #6: Yankees, Red Sox, and Halberstam
2007-04-24 09:06
by Will Weiss
Note: The Bronx Banter blog has moved to

I had intended to follow up on last week’s poll with observations and details of the weekend’s coverage of the Yanks-Sox series, but the sudden death of Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, historian, and author David Halberstam has rendered that idea moot. There will be plenty of opportunities to discuss Alex Rodriguez’s ridiculous video-game pace, the continuing wussification of Carl Pavano (Pavano told ESPN’s Rick Sutcliffe Monday that he was unsure if he’d pitch again this season – Pavano and the Yankees, despite there being a transcript of the interview, are denying the report and planning a throwing session Wednesday), the pantsing Yankee pitchers have received in the early going, and whether or not Dice-K is overrated.

Halberstam was killed in a car accident near Menlo Park, California, following a speech at UC Berkeley. He was 73.

In a strange, cosmic way, Halberstam’s death coming one day after the Yankees and Red Sox played their initial series of the season makes sense. He was a native New Yorker who grew up with Joe DiMaggio’s Yankees. He later became a Bostonian, graduating from Harvard and later residing in Nantucket as well as owning an apartment in New York City.

Furthermore, of the seven sports-specific books Halberstam completed – he published 20 non-fiction works in his career and was working on a book about the 1958 NFL Championship Game at the time of his death – the Yankees or the Red Sox were prominently featured in three. Summer of ’49, to me, is the definitive work about one of the most thrilling pennant races of all-time. The Teammates, which details Dom DiMaggio, Bobby Doerr, and Johnny Pesky’s trip to Florida to visit Ted Williams before his death, has much of the same biographical information as Summer of ’49, yet through the four Red Sox all-time greats, gives that pennant race a different sense of closure. Halberstam highlights the end of the Yankees’ dynasty some 40 years before Buster Olney in October 1964, chronicling that year’s seven-game World Series and the rise of the St. Louis Cardinals.

Many writers come to mind when thinking of the Yankees, the Red Sox, and their respective cities: Dick Young, Ring Lardner, Jimmy Cannon, Dave Anderson, Phil Pepe, Maury Allen, Bill Madden, Murray Chass, Mike Lupica (he was awesome once, and still can be when he wants to show he still has game), Leigh Montville, Peter Gammons, Bob Ryan, Dan Shaughnessy, Gordon Edes, and more recently, Tom Verducci, Sean McAdam, John Harper, and Joel Sherman. Halberstam, although he never covered baseball as a newspaper reporter, deserves mention among those names. His work didn’t become part of the vernacular or a convenient way to describe 86 years of ineptitude, but it is lasting, and will continue to last because of the historic figures he highlighted, and the way he portrayed them.

I got to meet Halberstam twice: the first time was eight years ago when I interned at the defunct ESPN show “Up Close”; the second was a year and a half ago when he appeared on “CenterStage.” He was tall, quiet, very much the stern, intellectual, professorial type. Yet, for someone so reserved and measured in his speech and gait, he had an energy that belied his demeanor. I spent maybe a total of two minutes with him over the course of those meetings, but I came away with one thought both times: He’s a man that commands respect when he walks into a room.

I didn’t intend to participate in the eulogy, although I unintentionally have in this space. This is a place of intelligent discourse, so why not pay homage to an intelligent man and a giant in the writing field? Halberstam, along with Dick Schaap, made it acceptable for newsies to be sportswriters. They had different styles, but were similarly effective and entertaining in their storytelling. They educated their readers.

With both of them gone now, there's a great void.

Back to baseball next week, at which time A-Rod’s season totals will probably be in the range of a .400 average, 20 home runs, 50 RBIs, .475 OBP, and 1.500 OPS . . .

2007-04-24 09:53:00
1.   seamus
not to just talk about arod, but what is most stunning is his ground ball percentage:

2004: 45.3%
2005: 44.8%
2006: 42.3%
2007: 24.1%

maybe this point has been made, but that says a lot.

2007-04-24 10:00:53
2.   Bob B
Terrible loss to the literate sports reader. I was looking forward to his book on the 1958 NFL Championship game between the Giants and Colts. I think I've read "Summer of '49" three or four times and mine is a personal, hand signed copy from when I met him in San Francisco. "The Teammates" was touching in a nostalgic way. "Breaks of the game" was also very good. I never liked "October 1964" as much (probably because it was the start of the great Yankee demise). I hear he had a couple of books nearly finished. Maybe his editor can get them polished enough to publish. It's really a shame. He was a terrific guy.
2007-04-24 10:14:51
3.   Jim Rice
Was Halberstam, like Roger Angell, one of those one-time New York (baseball) Giants fans who were adrift after that team moved to California? I seem to remember Halberstam, like Angell, being weirdly agnostic about the Sox/Yankees divide, only to finally understand it (more or less) when I realized that his original allegiance had been nullified by that westward move.

But I may be remembering things incorrectly.

2007-04-24 10:27:29
4.   EB in LA
My favorite of Halberstam's sports books was "October 1964" because I remembered the events.
He made a pretty compelling case that the end of the Yankee dynasty was really a corporate culture thing. The Yankees player acquistion networks just stopped working. The Yankees didn't take advantage of the newly available talent pool while the Cardinals did. He made it clear that the demise of the Yankee dynasty preceded the institution of the free agent draft.

My favorites among his other books, ironically weren't the ones about war. I really enjoyed "The Reckoning" about the rise and fall of the American and Japanese auto industries. The similarities with "October 1964" are pretty obvious. "The Powers that Be" put the media, Newspapers, radio, TV, into a perspective thats still useful today.

2007-04-24 11:13:15
5.   Yankee Fan In Boston
Working full time combined with being enrolled in night classes (also full time)leaves precious little time for recreational reading. When the opportunity does arise (summer... that's it), I make the books count.

I have made it a point to read one of Mr. Halberstam's books over each of the past several summers. It's a shame there won't be any more to read.

I didn't even know that this had happened until I swung by here.


2007-04-24 11:38:40
6.   jayd
The Reckoning was one of the best Japanese books I read during my 20+ years in Japan. It combined a couple of Halberstam gifts -- one of having a great ear for a good anecdote: I still remember the Japanese VP in California who was astonished when his Tokyo brethren had sent over the first 240Z cars with the intent to market it under its Japanese name "The Fairlady." Unable to communicate his Vision of Wimpiness to his superiors back in Japan, he was able to use the production label "240Z" and saved Nissan from one of those great Edsel type marketing flops.

The second was the ear for the killer stat. If I have this wrong my apologies, but prior to Nissan and Toyota kicking Detroit's butt, the Ford Mustang produced somewhere in the neighborhood of a couple hundred thousand different models and packages for the Mustang. This is all the possibilities of different interiors, colors, stereo options etc. The Toyota Camry was something like 221: "Oh, can I get the black with the plaid interior? No, all we have is gray."

As one who bought several cars in Japan, I was constantly bothering salesman with demands for my own "unique" car that would express my "individual style" and my "personality." I was such a complete asshole, a child of gonzo consumerism run amuck. In my defense I will say that I have never worn anything with a Red Sox logo, so there is a line there I never crossed.

All the while Detroit was serving up this industry breaking mindless variety, the Japanese were sitting in the kitchen of William Edwards Deming, soaking up his common sense approach to industrial managment and leading Detroit to reverse import many of his ideas, an American who has "had more impact upon Japanese manufacturing and business than any other individual not of Japanese heritage."

A great story from a great storyteller and a book I can recall as vividly as when I read it 20 some odd years ago. That's saying something.

And on his way to interview Y.A. Tittle for a book about the 1958 Championship game. What a loss.

2007-04-24 14:09:45
7.   jayd
couldn't have been 200,000 must have been 20,000...
2007-04-24 19:52:46
8.   Will Weiss
"Terrible loss to the literate sports reader." ... Tremendous observation, Bob B. Mike Francesa called it "tragic" while taking over Imus's time slot Tuesday morning. It is. ... Per Jim Rice's question, Halberstam was a Yankee fan -- not diehard -- but that was the team where his allegiances lied. I think his agnosticism toward the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry comes from years of honing his journalistic skill, so when it came to the point of portraying the rivalry, he could do so as objectively and credibly as possible.

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