Publish date:

Yesterday's Heroes

Epic Season: The 1948 American League Pennant Race
by David Kaiser
University of Massachusetts Press,
$55 hardcover, $18.95 paperback

Sadly enough, major league baseball's labyrinthine playoff
formula has reduced the once classic pennant race to a relic. No
more are fans treated to the stirring spectacle of teams
charging down the stretch for that one shot at the World Series.
Instead, we have division winners and wild cards.

So it remains for a historian, David Kaiser of the Naval War
College in Newport, R.I., to re-create those thrilling days of
yesteryear in his Epic Season: The 1948 American League Pennant
Race. It is Kaiser's contention that the best pennant races were
in the 1940s and that the greatest of these was in 1948, a truly
banner postwar season.

He has a point. No fewer than four teams were in the running for
the American League flag until September, when the surprising
Philadelphia Athletics dropped back in the pack. With only seven
games remaining, the New York Yankees, Cleveland Indians and
Boston Red Sox were tied for first place. The Yankees weren't
eliminated until the next-to-last game, and the Bosox and
Indians ended the season in a dead heat. In a one-game playoff
at Fenway Park, the Indians, behind the pitching of Gene Bearden
(who was starting on one day's rest) and two homers by
player-manager Lou Boudreau, defeated the Sox and Ted Williams,
8-3. Cleveland would go on to beat the Boston Braves, four games
to two, in the World Series.

These were giants who bestrode the diamond that year: Williams,
Boudreau, Joe DiMaggio, Bob Feller, Bob Lemon, Satchel Paige,
Larry Doby. This was the wartime G.I. generation of players, men
whose adult lives had taken place "amidst heroic undertakings,"
as Kaiser characterizes it, and who were "uniquely fitted to
fight the most dramatic struggle in the history of baseball."

This is an important work about baseball, marred only by the
author's occasional lapses into SABR-ish statistical mumbo
jumbo, and it belongs in the library of any serious fan.

--Ron Fimrite

COLOR PHOTO: UNIVERSITY OF MASSACHUSETTS PRESS [Cover of book Epic Season: The 1948 American League Pennant Race by David Kaiser]