A sweeping saga of baseball during World War II: of the players who enlisted and fought overseas, of the ones who replaced them and of the significant changes in the culture.
Most fans know that the war deprived Hall of Famers such as Hank Greenberg, Bob Feller and Ted Williams of what could have been prime seasons and that the motley crew who replaced them was a ragtag assemblage. Former Los Angeles Daily News baseball columnist Klima (Bushville Wins!: The Wild Saga of the 1957 Milwaukee Braves and the Screwballs, Sluggers, and Beer Swiggers Who Canned the New York Yankees and Changed Baseball, 2012, etc.) has a broader scope: “The war created who we are and it created modern baseball, and from that came the evolution of modern professional sports today, because the games we play change because of the battles we fought.” Florid prose accompanies such big claims, as the author attempts to get inside the heads of players he never met, indulges in sportswriter sentiment (“He was generously listed at five foot nine, but he had a smile wider than his height”), and jumps around a little too much from character to character. Yet he makes a persuasive case that the war ushered baseball into the modern era, that night baseball, integration, TV, planes replacing trains, the hint of free agency and the proliferation of baseball wherever the soldiers went all have at least some connection with the war and that baseball helped boost morale among soldiers fighting overseas as well as the fans back home. The author delivers some compelling narrative threads: the enlistments and returns of Greenberg, Feller and the others; the battle to the majors of one-armed Pete Gray, and, most movingly, the death of pilot Billy Southworth Jr., who sacrificed his baseball aspirations and life for his country, and the devastation of his father, manager of the St. Louis Cardinals.
The book would have benefitted from a stronger edit, for length as well as overwriting, but the story is worth telling.