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The Only Game in Town: Baseball Stars of the 1930s and 1940s Talk About the Game They Loved

The Only Game in Town: Baseball Stars of the 1930s and 1940s Talk About the Game They Loved

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by Fay Vincent

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In this delightful book that every baseball fan will cherish, ten outstanding ballplayers remember the heyday of the game in the 1930s and 1940s. It was the era of Gehrig and DiMaggio; of Foxx, Greenberg, and Williams; of Grove and Feller. Elden Auker, Tommy Henrich, Dom DiMaggio, Johnny Pesky, and Bob Feller recall some great rivalries: Auker pitched to Ruth and


In this delightful book that every baseball fan will cherish, ten outstanding ballplayers remember the heyday of the game in the 1930s and 1940s. It was the era of Gehrig and DiMaggio; of Foxx, Greenberg, and Williams; of Grove and Feller. Elden Auker, Tommy Henrich, Dom DiMaggio, Johnny Pesky, and Bob Feller recall some great rivalries: Auker pitched to Ruth and Gehrig, then faced Dizzy Dean in an unforgettable World Series; Henrich was a clutch player for the Yankees who alertly turned a passed-ball third strike into a World Series victory; Dom DiMaggio was a superb center fielder who batted .298 lifetime and nearly ended his brother Joe's hitting streak; Pesky, a Red Sox mainstay, was blamed for Enos Slaughter's dash home that was the most memorable play of the 1946 Red Sox-Cardinals World Series; and Feller was a teenager when he faced -- among others -- Foxx, Greenberg, and Joe DiMaggio.

But this was also the era of great Negro Leagues stars who never had the opportunity to play in the major leagues. Buck O'Neil remembers the outstanding players of his day who never got their chance or whose turn came too late -- Oscar Charleston, Cool Papa Bell, Josh Gibson, and Satchel Paige among them.

Two great events happened in the 1940s, and one of them would change the game forever. World War II took some of these great players off the diamond and put them into a different kind of uniform. Warren Spahn pitched his first game in 1942 and didn't pitch again until the war ended, getting his first victory in 1946 (nonetheless he won more games than any other left-hander in history). As he recalls here, he served his country memorably in the war. Then in 1947 Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier, followed only a few months later by Larry Doby, the first African-American in the American League, who vividly describes what it felt like to be the only black ballplayer in the clubhouse -- and the league. The game began to change after integration, and home run king Ralph Kiner remembers how some clubs were quick to sign African-American players and thrive. Meanwhile, some Negro Leagues stars, such as Monte Irvin, itched for the opportunity to face the major leaguers and prove that, like Robinson and Doby, they could compete with the best.

All of these ballplayers recall their favorite memories: the games that mattered most, the players they all admired, the childhood experiences that shaped their lives, and the deep affection for the game that has always remained with them.

Illustrated throughout, The Only Game in Town is a fascinating trip through two decades when baseball changed profoundly. Like The Glory of Their Times, it is a book that will find a permanent place on every fan's bookshelf.

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Simon & Schuster
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Some ten years ago a friend gave me a copy of the audiotapes that were the basis of Lawrence Ritter's book The Glory of Their Times. I was enthralled to listen to those old-time ballplayers talk about their experiences in our game around the turn of the twentieth century. Ritter made such a wonderful contribution to my understanding of the game in those days that I thought about emulating him with players from the 1930s and 1940s, who came along after those whom Ritter featured. One day I idly mentioned my idea to my good friend the estimable investment banker and great baseball fan Herbert Allen, who instantly encouraged me and pledged financial support if I would go out and do the interviewing. This book was born of that conversation.

In checking with the National Baseball Hall of Fame, I learned there was no systematic oral history project being supported by that superb organization and so I undertook to fill that void. I was keenly aware that some important figures in the history of the integration of baseball, such as Larry Doby, were growing older and their stories would soon be lost forever. With that as motivation, I began this project. Herbert and I set up a tax-exempt foundation to provide some structure for our work, and we each gave money to support the interviewing and the necessary archival work at the Hall of Fame. (My thanks go to Steve Greenberg, treasurer of the foundation, for handling these financial matters.) We were joined by a third major contributor, George Cooney, whose video company, EUE Screen Gems, has provided gratis the camera crews and technical support to videotape every interview we have done. His help has been extraordinary and our gratitude is every bit as enormous as his generosity.

In the years since we began this project, we have done close to forty interviews, and we have dozens more planned. For this book, we have selected players who were among the oldest of those we interviewed. The focus of this volume is on the integration of the major leagues. We chose interviews with Buck O'Neil and Elden Auker, two remarkable men who played their careers prior to integration, and we include Larry Doby and Monte Irvin to capture the coming of players of color to their rightful place in the game.

The stories of Bob Feller, Dom DiMaggio, and Warren Spahn cover the World War II years and remind us of the amount of time those men and other ballplayers lost in their baseball careers by serving their country. Tommy Henrich is one of the few ballplayers alive from those great Yankee teams of the 1930s and 1940s, while Johnny Pesky recalls his years with the Boston Red Sox, playing alongside Ted Williams among others. Ralph Kiner tells of baseball in the glory days right after the war, when integration took hold.

In conducting many of the interviews, including our first one with Larry Doby, I was the partner of the gifted baseball writer Claire Smith, whose contribution to this oral history project cannot be overstated. She has been a thoughtful and wise counselor and I thank her with all my heart. Others have done some interviewing and I thank them as well. They include the late Leonard Koppett, Ed Randall, John Pessah, Mark Hyman, Dick Crago, and James Salisbury.

To put together this book -- which I hope will be the first of several volumes of baseball history -- I was ably assisted by my Simon & Schuster editor, Bob Bender, who combed the transcripts of the interviews I conducted and arranged the ballplayers' comments into a narrative that I then edited. The Hall of Fame generously provided the photographs in this book, for which I thank Hall of Fame president, Dale Petroskey, and his colleagues Bill Burdick and Pat Kelly. Additional thanks to Jim Gates at the Hall of Fame. We paid a modest fee to each of the ballplayers whom we interviewed, and by agreement with them, any royalties earned from this book will go to the Hall of Fame, in recognition of its fine work in preserving and disseminating the history of baseball.

In many ways this endeavor has been a labor of love for me. I have enjoyed hearing these great players describe their lives in baseball. In each interview, my first question was always the same: "Who got you interested in baseball? Who gave you your first ball and glove?" Inevitably, the next twenty or so minutes were filled by a delicious conversation. As the interviews grew, I was fascinated to discover that certain key events of the 1930s and 1940s were told -- sometimes with small but significant differences -- by more than one ballplayer. For example, both Elden Auker and Tommy Henrich tell the story of what happened when Hank Greenberg walked into the Chicago White Sox locker room after a game in which Greenberg had been insulted by anti-Semitic slurs from the White Sox bench. Because Auker was Greenberg's teammate at the time, his is the longer version of this story, but Henrich's account agrees in the key details. Compare Dom DiMaggio's and Johnny Pesky's accounts of Enos Slaughter's famous "dash to home" in Game 7 of the 1946 World Series. Each of them played a key role in that famous event, as you'll see. Warren Spahn tells the story of giving up Willie Mays's first hit on a pitch he was told Mays couldn't hit -- but did, for a home run. Monte Irvin, Mays's teammate, tells the story from his vantage point. Everyone, it seems, has at least one Satchel Paige story (or one about Ted Williams or Joe DiMaggio), all of them colorful.

It is my hope that you will enjoy these stories as I do because I am convinced that it is these stories that keep the history of baseball alive.

-- Fay Vincent

Copyright © 2006 by The Baseball Oral History Project Foundation

Meet the Author

Fay Vincent is a former entertainment and business executive who served as the commissioner of baseball from 1989 to 1992.  This volume is the third in a series drawn from his Baseball Oral History Project. The previous two volumes, The Only Game in Town and We Would Have Played for Nothing, include ballplayers’ reminiscences of the 1930s and 1940s, and the 1950s and 1960s, respectively.

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Only Game in Town: Baseball Stars of the 1930s and 1940s Talk about the Game They Loved (The Baseball Oral History Project Series, Volume 1) 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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