The New York Times
Bottom of the Ninth: Branch Rickey, Casey Stengel, and the Daring Scheme to Save Baseball from Itselfby Michael Shapiro
"A fascinating look at an almost forgotten era . . . One of the best baseball books of recent seasons." Cleveland Plain Dealer
In Bottom of the Ninth, Michael Shapiro brings to life a watershed moment in baseball history, when baseball was under seige in the late 1950s. He reveals how the legendary executive Branch Rickey saw the game's/i>/b>/i>
"A fascinating look at an almost forgotten era . . . One of the best baseball books of recent seasons." Cleveland Plain Dealer
In Bottom of the Ninth, Michael Shapiro brings to life a watershed moment in baseball history, when baseball was under seige in the late 1950s. He reveals how the legendary executive Branch Rickey saw the game's salvation in two radical ideas: the creation of a third major leaguethe Continental Leagueand the pooling of television revenues for the benefit of all. And Shapiro captures the audacity of Casey Stengel, the manager of the Yankees, who believed that he could remake how baseball was played.
The story of their ingenious schemesand of the powerful men who tried to thwart themis interwoven with the on-field drama of pennant races and clutch performances, culminating in the stunning climax of the seventh game of the 1960 World Series, when one swing of the bat heralds baseball's eclipse as America's number-one sport.
The New York Times
In 1958, after the Dodgers and Giants had both left New York for California, a group of investors sought to bring the city a new baseball franchise, and their proposal was a bold one. Led by former Dodgers general manager Branch Rickey, they sought to create an entire new major league. Meanwhile, as the advocates for the would-be Continental League tried to make their case before the existing major league owners, New York Yankees manager Casey Stengel struggled to keep America's most popular team in championship form. Shapiro (The Last Good Season) parallels these two stories, arguing that they represent a hinge point when team owners could have taken radical steps to reclaim the sport's hold on the public imagination, but chose instead to cling tightly to their near-monopoly, paving the way for other sports, like football, to rise in popularity. The history, filled with colorful personalities, is told in a straightforward manner. While its two halves don't always fit together neatly, they offer a lively perspective on backstage dealings that almost changed the course of professional sports in America. 8 pages of b&w photos not seen by PW. (June)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Shapiro (Columbia Sch. of Journalism; The Last Good Season: Brooklyn, the Dodgers, and Their Final Pennant Race Together) artfully tells a story of backroom ambitions ultimately defeated by the front offices of the MLB. After the 1958 series, William Shea, Branch Rickey, and Casey Stengel announced their plan to build a third major league, the Continental League; it was fated never to field a team. Shapiro ties the arc of his story to the decline of baseball as America's favorite sport. As much a business history as a baseball story; recommended on both counts.
Margaret Heilbrun, Gilles Renaud
“Mr. Shapiro tells his tale with verve. . . . It's an enjoyable ride.” The Wall Street Journal
“Mr. Shapiro dramatically builds his tale to a walloping conclusion.” Sam Roberts, The New York Times
“A compelling and thoroughly enjoyable trip back in time to a turning point that never turned.” The Washington Times
“Sharply researched . . . Exactly how the Continental League gathered strength and then faltered, and exactly how its impact is felt today, are treasures to be unearthed in [Bottom of the Ninth].” Sports Illustrated
“Elegant and exhaustively researched . . . It's a testament to Shapiro's sharp eye for detail that he keeps the story zipping along. . . . He captures the sense of loss - not only for Rickey and Stengel, but for baseball and its fans.” The New York Times Book Review
“By far the best investigation of the failure of the Continental League. . . . A fascinating piece on a long neglected aspect of baseball's past.” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
“[An] engaging look at a significant, though often forgotten, chapter in the game's history.” The Boston Globe
“A must for Mets fans, who should know their roots. . . . Terrific.” Bill Madden, New York Daily News
“Shapiro. . . is a terrific writer. His accounts of Branch Rickey's struggle and eventual failure to create a third major league, the Continental, as well as the last Yankee season of baseball's most successful manager, Casey Stengel (whose team lost the 1960 Series on Bill Mazeroski's home run in the seventh game), makes for compelling reading.” Allen Barra, The San Francisco Chronicle
“Compelling.” Los Angeles Times
“[Shapiro] has once again hit it out of the literary park. . . . This retelling of a little-known chapter in baseball history is exemplary sports reporting.” Tucson Citizen
“This season brings a bumper crop of books about baseball in New York, the best of which concerns a team and a league that don't even exist. Michael Shapiro's Bottom of the Ninth . . . is one of the best tales of what might have been, how baseball might have harnessed the power of television and how the sport might have staved off the rise of football.” David M. Shribman, Bloomberg News
“A fascinating look at an almost forgotten era. . . . One of the best baseball books of recent seasons. Grade: A.” Cleveland Plain Dealer
“Michael Shapiro hits another one out of the park.” Richmond Times-Dispatch
“The fascinating, might-have-been story of the Continental League.” Tulsa World
“Filled with colorful personalities . . . A lively perspective on backstage dealings that almost changed the course of professional sports in America.” Publishers Weekly
“Shapiro expertly enlivens these two larger-than-life characters and captures in fine detail an important era in baseball history. A well-crafted story.” Kirkus Reviews
“If you like an untold story, and who of us does not, and if you are even a little bit of a sports junky than "Bottom of the Ninth" belongs on your reading list. . . .Shapiro, author of The Last Good Season, is in top form breaking new ground and providing new awarenesses of a little reported on chapter in American sports history. . . . A good read.” Harvey Frommer, author of New York City Baseball, 1947-1957
“Michael Shapiro shines a warm and penetrating light into the largely forgotten era of baseball in the late 1950s and early 1960s, when New York still had the Yankees, but the Dodgers and Giants had fled and the Mets were yet to be. Bottom of the Ninth is a treat for anyone who loves the game or suffers over its stumbles.” David Margolick, author of Beyond Glory: Joe Louis vs. Max Schmeling, and a World on the Brink
“Baseball is all about good stories. In this well-conceived and graceful book, Michael Shapiro wraps the superb story of the 1960 World Series within the intriguing tale of Branch Rickey's concurrent efforts to start a new league--the Continental League. Shapiro argues that baseball made a crucial and irreversible error by aborting that league. Not surprisingly, the on-field stuff outdoes the business stuff, but only barely. A good read.” Fay Vincent, former commissioner of baseball and author of The Only Game in Town and We Would Have Played for Nothing
“Romance (of a sort), betrayal (short of literal backstabbing), conniving potentates, territorial maneuverings, midsummer dreams. Shakespeare? Tolstoy? No, it's a wonderfully crafted nonfiction book by Michael Shapiro, Bottom of the Ninth, with baseball machinations and great baseball characters the central subject. Read it. You'll see what I mean.” Ira Berkow, author of Full Swing and The Corporal Was a Pitcher
Baseball is all about good stories. In this well-conceived and graceful book, Michael Shapiro wraps the superb story of the 1960 World Series within the intriguing tale of Branch Rickey's concurrent efforts to start a new league--the Continental League. Shapiro argues that baseball made a crucial and irreversible error by aborting that league. Not surprisingly, the on-field stuff outdoes the business stuff, but only barely. A good read.
Romance (of a sort), betrayal (short of literal backstabbing), conniving potentates, territorial maneuverings, midsummer dreams. Shakespeare? Tolstoy? No, it's a wonderfully crafted nonfiction book by Michael Shapiro, Bottom of the Ninth, with baseball machinations and great baseball characters the central subject. Read it. You'll see what I mean.
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Read an Excerpt
Bottom of the Ninth
Branch Rickey, Casey Stengel, and the Daring Scheme to Save Baseball from Itself
By Michael Shapiro
Henry Holt and CompanyCopyright © 2009 Michael Shapiro
All rights reserved.
Warren Spahn was shutting out the Yankees, and all Casey Stengel could do by the bottom of the eighth inning of Game Four of the World Series was march up and down his dugout barking, "Let's go. Let's go." He might just as well have saved himself the exertion. The Yankees were going quietly, as they had all afternoon — strikeout, pop to second, strikeout, the last by Norm Siebern, who had lost four fly balls in the sun in left field, making gifts of two of Milwaukee's three runs. Mickey Mantle's grounder to short an inning later brought the day to a close and the Braves to within a victory of repeating as world champions.
Nothing had gone right for Stengel all week, with the exception of Game Three at Yankee Stadium, his team's only victory, when all the cruel things that had happened in Games One and Two in Milwaukee seemed forgotten, and Stengel was back in chatty form. "Now let me ask ya why I shouldn't be glad," he said. He spoke as he studied himself in front of a mirror, adjusting his ten-gallon hat. "We win a game and I'm glad, which is what I'd rather be than nervous, which is what I was after they win the first two games."
He had not helped himself strategically, and his players knew it — and for once said so. Hank Bauer had opened Game One by singling against Spahn, and Stengel, never one to leave things solely to the discretion and talents of his men, promptly called for a hit-and-run. Spahn possessed one of the finest pickoff moves in the game and caught Bauer leaning. "When they gave me the sign I had to go," Bauer later said, "even though I didn't agree with the old man." The writers picked up where Bauer left off, questioning Stengel's decision in the eighth to pitch to a power hitter, Wes Covington, with a man on third and one out, rather than walking him and setting up a potential double play. Covington's fly ball scored Eddie Matthews, tying the game, which Milwaukee won in the tenth. Game Two was a 13–5 drubbing in which Stengel's primary function was to make six trips to the mound to change pitchers. "This could be a shambles," said the former Dodgers and Giants manager Leo Durocher, who stopped by the press box after the rout to offer his views. Durocher may have been between teams but was never shy about his opinions. "You can see the signs."
What do you see, Leo? someone asked.
"It's not just the two defeats," he replied. "The Yankees are playing lousy baseball."
A writer shared Durocher's diagnosis with Stengel, who snapped, "Hell, you're telling me? Ain't I been saying that for a month and a half?"
He'd been saying that, and more. He had berated his players publicly. After losing three out of four at Fenway Park in mid-August he first locked his men in their clubhouse for a heated forty-five-minute lecture and then docked them a rare off-day by holding a two-hour practice, even though they were in first place by eleven and a half games. He was seeing too many mistakes and insisted that his men needed drilling on the fundamentals rather than a day of rest after playing thirty games in twenty-eight days. His players rebelled, cautiously, grousing to the beat reporters but insisting that their names not appear: "He just wants to flaunt his authority" and "Is he going to give his brain a workout, too?" and "I never seen him get on guys as bad as he's been lately." Stengel did not much care. "If they don't like it they can read their contracts," he said. "I'm the manager and as long as I'm here they'll do what I tell them to do."
But Stengel had been unable to roust the Yankees from their torpor; they finished the season by going 17–18 in their last thirty-five games, and their rowdiness off the field had prompted management to hire private detectives to tail them. Even clinching the American League pennant came with a cloud: on the train back from Kansas City, Ralph Houk, a coach, and reliever Ryne Duren got into a nasty fistfight. The game had gone late and the players had already begun to celebrate by the time they arrived at the station. Duren, who could be a mean drunk, smashed Houk's unlit cigar into his mouth and ended up kicking another pitcher, Don Larsen, in the mouth when his teammates tried to get him into his berth. "You get whiskey drunk and then you fight with your own," snapped Stengel as he stormed into the car. Houk, ten years Duren's senior, was judged the winner, leaving Duren with a gash over his right eye.
Still, the oddsmakers favored the Yankees to win the World Series against the Braves, a choice that reflected the powerful tug of nostalgia rather than a cool assessment of the prospects: never mind that Milwaukee had dethroned the Yankees in the 1957 series; New York owned so many other Octobers. Then came the first two games, which brought a change of heart among the bookmakers. The Yankees returned to the Bronx from Milwaukee talking comeback, as they had done in 1956, when they dropped the first two games in Brooklyn, only to win in seven. But Stengel seemed oblivious to good omens and silver linings. A television crew approached as the Yankees took their warm-ups, and the reporter, apparently unschooled in the lexicon of the game, made the grievous mistake of asking Stengel to assess his players' mettle by invoking the word most damning to an athlete's soul.
"Is your team choking?" he asked.
"Do you choke on the fucking microphone?" said Stengel. He turned and scratched his behind for the camera.
Game Three's 4–0 Yankees victory brought a day's respite. But Spahn held the Yankees to two hits in Game Four, and afterward Jimmy Cannon of the New York Post wrote as if he were preparing the earth to receive the remains for the team he used to know: "They have lost what they once had alone and they won't be the Yankees until they get it back. It will take a long time because this team has to be torn apart and put together again."
Cannon had known and admired the Yankees of Charlie Keller, Tommy Henrich, Bill Dickey, and above all, Joe DiMaggio. "They were the greatest hitting teams in all the seasons of baseball," he wrote. And then he offered his grim conclusion. "This is the end of something all right. And you have the feeling it isn't temporary."
It was fitting that the first drafting of the Yankees' obituary should fall to Cannon; of all the men then writing sports columns in New York, he was the most romantic, especially about his town and the way it used to be. The world, he suggested none too subtly, had been a better place when it was defined by certain immutable truths: the best song ever recorded was Bing Crosby's rendition of "Stardust"; the best strawberry cake could be found at Sid Allen's; and the best baseball in the world was played in the Bronx.
Cannon had been a protégé of Damon Runyon, though the two parted on the question of drink — Runyon was a legendary boozer and Cannon saw the wisdom in not trying to keep up; he drank coffee to excess. Nor did Cannon subscribe to Runyon's ordering of the universe: greatest fighter, Jack Dempsey; greatest ballplayer, Christy Mathewson. He had found his own favorites — Joe Louis in the prize ring and, on the ball field, his pal DiMaggio. But now Louis had been bludgeoned into retirement by Rocky Marciano, and DiMaggio, divorced and lonely, was no longer available to spend his nights driving around town with Cannon and the gossip columnist Walter Winchell. Runyon was gone, and Ring Lardner, too, and, as if overnight, the press box was filling up with young men whom Cannon dismissed as "the chipmunks" for all their annoying chatter. Everywhere Cannon looked he saw a New York filled ever more with cynics and clever men who did not appreciate his city as it had been when he was young.
"People in this town seemed to be enjoying what happened to the Yankees in the first two games of the World Series," Cannon wrote before Game Three. "Their embarrassment of the Yankees in the second game entertained them. ... It is as if nothing can impress them anymore and they have lost their faith in the old traditions. ... Their snide comments followed me across town as though they had collaborated to declaim a nasty monologue."
He was angry at the Yankees, too, for taking their pennant for granted. The players now found themselves in a hole from which there was, in his view, only one escape that mattered. "The prize this year isn't only the winner's end of the take," Cannon concluded. "They must fight to get their town back. ... It is not enough for the Yankees to win a pennant. They must also be champions of baseball if they hope to perpetuate their myth. This is expected of them."
What was unexpected was what came next. Milwaukee's Lew Burdette, hero of the '57 series — three victories, two by shutouts — would be on the mound to pitch the clincher in Game Five. The Yankees were underdogs. They were about to become something even Jimmy Cannon had never witnessed: lovable.
It started with pity, for the team and for Casey. It appeared in, of all places, the New York Times and under the byline of its august Washington correspondent James Reston. It came in the form of parody, "a plea for the relief of poor Casey," addressed to Dag Hammarskjöld, the secretary-general of the United Nations. Dreadful acts, Reston wrote, had been perpetrated upon the New Yorkers by the cruel legions from the west. "I have been instructed by the leader of the defenders, Prime Minister Charles Dillon Stengel, to bring these alarming events to the attention of the United Nations." And so on, for laughs, for everyone but Casey, who alone understood that it was not merely the series at stake, but perhaps his job as well.
Stengel called on Bob Turley to face Burdette in Game Five. Turley had enjoyed his best season in the big leagues, winning twenty-one games and losing only seven. He typically threw very hard and with little artistry, and so it was especially surprising for the Milwaukee batters to watch him work. He struck out eight through the first six innings, punching most of them out on his big sweeping curve. Gil McDougald, the Yankees' second baseman, staked Turley to a 1–0 lead with a homer in the third, a cheap one, 301 feet down the right-field line, where it caught the foul-pole netting. Hardly an omen for what was about to happen in the bottom of the sixth.
With the top of the order up for the Yankees, Hank Bauer opened with a single. Jerry Lumpe muffed on his first two attempts to sacrifice and Stengel, eager to score any way he could, ordered him to try again. Lumpe bunted foul — one out. But Mickey Mantle was up, and he promptly singled. Yogi Berra doubled, scoring Bauer, and Braves manager Fred Haney ordered Elston Howard walked, loading the bases for Bill Skowron, who singled in the second run. The bases were still loaded when Haney emerged from the dugout to inform Burdette that his day was over. Juan Pizzaro came on to face McDougald, who lofted a drive to left.
It was generally acknowledged that there was no worse place to play left field in the major leagues than at Yankee Stadium on a sunny afternoon. The "sun field," as it was known, had made a goat of poor Norm Siebern in Game Four, and was now playing havoc on the eyesight and self-esteem of the Braves' Wes Covington, who was trying very hard to locate the ball in the bright sky. He turned. And then he turned again. He appeared to spot it, only to lose it. The ball, meanwhile, was sinking fast and caught the earth at Covington's feet with enough bounce to send it hopping over the bullpen fence, a ground-rule double that scored two. Turley, a feeble hitter even by pitchers' standards, completed the scoring with a single to left.
Turley would strike out ten that afternoon and would limit the Braves to five singles. The Yankees were alive, barely.
Stengel could not decide on a pitcher for Game Six in Milwaukee and shared his ruminations with the press. He could go with Don Larsen but suspected that he needed more rest given the parlous state of his arm. Art Ditmar was a possibility, and so was Johnny Kucks. And then there was Whitey Ford, who had been Stengel's best and most reliable pitcher and who had started Games One and Four. But Ford had spent much of the season nursing a sore arm, and Stengel was not inclined to use him on a mere two days' rest. But Ford wanted in, and Stengel, operating without a net, had no man better in a big game.
Haney had no such worries. He would go with Spahn, the great lefthander. It did not much matter that Spahn was thirty-seven years old and had had only two days to recover from the nine innings he had thrown in Game Four. Haney, unlike Stengel, did not like playing an unfamiliar hand. He had Burdette and he had Spahn and he was a game away from another championship.
Spahn spent the afternoon making his manager look like a sage. Bauer nicked him for a run on a homer in the first, but Milwaukee evened things in the bottom of the inning on a run-scoring single by Henry Aaron. Spahn was not as sharp as he had been in Game Four, but even when he missed he didn't miss by much. Ford, meanwhile, was not nearly so fortunate. In the bottom of the second he was facing the sixth-, seventh-, and eighth-place hitters, quick work for Ford on a good day. But with one out, Covington singled, as did Andy Pafko. Spahn was next, and Ford lost his chance to escape untouched when he surrendered yet another single and a run. He walked Johnny Logan to load the bases, and Stengel called for Ditmar.
Johnny Logan drove Ditmar's first pitch to left, and as the ball sailed over the infield it appeared that two more runs would score, which could well give the Braves the series. Elston Howard, a catcher by trade but playing left field today, drew a quick bead on the ball and set off in a sprint. Still, it was unclear whether he would arrive before the ball hit the turf. He made the catch at full extension, and the Braves' third-base coach, Billy Herman, sent Pafko home.
The prudent call would have been to have Pafko tag up, then hold up and return to third, drawing the throw and leaving matters to the next batter, Eddie Matthews. But Matthews was having a dreadful series, striking out with alarming frequency. Besides, Howard had had a similar chance to throw a man out at home in Game Two and had lofted a throw so off the mark it appeared headed for Green Bay.
Off went Pafko. Berra waited for him at home. He took Howard's throw and could have had a coffee and a Danish, given all the time he had to station himself in front of the plate, ball in hand. Pafko arrived headfirst, a dead duck. Double play, side retired, and the bases-loaded threat a memory.
Ditmar kept Milwaukee at bay through the sixth inning, when the Yankees tied things at two apiece on a couple of singles and a sacrifice fly. Duren relieved him and was flawless but for a single by Covington. The teams remained tied at the end of nine, and though Spahn's pitch count was rising, Haney sent him back out for the tenth. McDougald led off, and Spahn threw him a fastball that looked like a good pitch when it left his hand, only to become something altogether different as it approached the plate. McDougald caught it flush and drove it over the wall in left center, and the crowd at County Stadium suddenly got very quiet. Spahn dispatched Bauer on a fly to center and Mantle on a grounder to second, but he surrendered singles to Howard and Berra. Haney, feeling terrible for what he was about to do, finally came to fetch him. Don McMahon arrived from the bullpen to surrender another run on a single by Skowron. New York now led 4–2.
Milwaukee would bat last, and Duren applied his foot to the Braves' throats, retiring Red Schoendienst and Eddie Matthews. But in between he sandwiched a walk to Logan, who took second and then scored on a single by Aaron. Joe Adcock followed with another single, putting the Braves a base hit away from tying the game. Stengel trudged to the mound and, in his customary defiance of conventional wisdom, called for Bob Turley, who had pitched a complete game two days before. Haney countered by sending Frank Torre in to bat for Del Crandell. He appeared to be the wiser man when Torre looped a soft liner over second base. But as the ball drifted over the infield it assumed the sorry aspect of a deflating balloon, losing altitude and speed and falling not to the ground but into the outstretched mitt of Gil McDougald. The series was tied.
Excerpted from Bottom of the Ninth by Michael Shapiro. Copyright © 2009 Michael Shapiro. Excerpted by permission of Henry Holt and Company.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
Michael Shapiro is the author of The Last Good Season: Brooklyn, the Dodgers, and Their Final Pennant Race Together. A professor at the Columbia School of Journalism, he is the author of five previous books, and his articles have appeared in The New York Times, Sports Illustrated, Esquire, The Wall Street Journal, and The New Yorker. He lives in New York City with his wife and two children.
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Homerun! My husband always tells me that he loves sports for the stories they tell, and it's with that lens that I have finally come to appreciae baseball, soccer, basketball, and even football. This book was very satisying to my point of view. It explores the politics, sociology, and economics of a major turning point in major league sports in America.. Readers steeped in baseball history, or not, should enjoy this book. It is interesting and educational, although sometimes overwhelming. I was excited to learn about the later years of Branch Rickey's career, who I first became acquainted with by reading Jackie Robinson's memoir My Own Story. In his last years of baseball influence he developed the Continental League to expand Major League Baseball to new metropolitan areas in the country and challenge the power of the Yankees. It is fascinating to learn how thi got wrangled up into political battles not only with New York but US Congress (over anti-trust taxation), and inevitably led a decline to baseball popularity and rise in football fans!
An interesting story aboout how a third major league almsost materialized in the late 50's and early 60's, the principal characters involved, the cities of interest and the behind the scenes maneuvering. In my mind, however the book became confusing when ther were detailed stories of way too many people whose influence in the process was questionable. Adding to the confused plot was that the book moved back and forth chronologically within chapters. Stories of certain players of the era were interesting, but not really relevant. The bottom line- most of those cities that were proposed for the new league eventually got their team.
I bought this book to find out more about how the Continental League lead to major league expansion. The book had a lot of good infomaton but I don't understand why there were sections on the Casey Stengel, the Yankees, and the 1960 world series with the Pirates. It seemed like a lot of research was done on that world series and it should have been used in a separate book, not here where it seemed like padding. Those pages could have been better used discussing the Buffalo, Dallas, and Atlanta proposed franchises and how and when they were added to the initially proposed five. Also there was no real follow up on the collapse of the proposed league after expansion was announced. Since 6 different ownership groups (and 6 cities) from the Continental League were rejected when expansion occurred, there should have been some strong reactions from those left out. Those feeling could have been explored, if possible.