Say it ain’t so, Leo: an iconoclastic, most penetrating look at a famed 1951 clash between the New York Giants and the Brooklyn Dodgers.
Both teams long ago “deserted New York together,” remarks Wall Street Journal writer Prager, yielding existential trauma yet unhealed. Well before leaving, on Oct. 3, 1951, their storied rivalry played itself to perfection in a pennant race to end all pennant races, “deadlocked after 156 games, seven innings and six months.” It was, Prager writes, something that adults of a certain age would remember as surely as they did the death of JFK or FDR: Dodger Ralph Branca fires a fastball, Giant Bobby Thomson steps forward to swat it out of the park halfway to the moon, the Giants win. The moment is instantly celebrated as the greatest moment in baseball history, immortalized in novels by Philip Roth and Don DeLillo, in The Godfather and The Simpsons. Problem was, as Prager revealed on the 50th anniversary of the grand smack, Giants manager Leo Durocher, of fabulously foul mouth (“I never saw a fucking ball get out of a fucking ball park as fucking fast in my fucking life,” he said of one Willie Mays homer), had stolen signals, employing spies with a telescope to suss out what the opposition was planning next. Durocher wasn’t even the most masterful signal-stealer in the business, and it happened all the time, but he was also a gambler so profoundly compromised as to make Pete Rose look like a Brownie, and some writers have suggested that he be booted from the Hall of Fame for it. The whole affair was a black smudge on the game—and, as Prager patiently reveals, a dirty and tragic secret that would haunt both Thomson and Branca for decades to come.
A masterful blend of journalism, sports history, social history and even literature: one of the best baseball books to appear in a long time.