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Growing Pains

A new look at the dawn of MLB's expansion era

Today the notion that the world needs another baseball league seems absurd—what, would teams play half of each game with a DH? But in the late 1950s, with the majors consisting of just 16 teams and the westward migration of the Giants and the Dodgers opening eyes to untapped markets, a new circuit seemed to some a fine idea. Chief among the believers was Branch Rickey, the former Dodgers G.M., who in 1959 was named president of the proposed Continental League. As Michael Shapiro relates in his sharply researched Bottom of the Ninth, Rickey knew that his success depended on having a franchise for New York, now a one-team town inhabited by the omnipotent Yankees and their inimitable manager, Casey Stengel. While Rickey courts would-be investors, a parallel and delightfully entertaining narrative follows the aging Stengel as he battles to keep his job in 1959 (the Yanks were awful) and '60 (better, until the very end, after which Stengel was fired).

Although the league never came to be, Rickey's gambit spurred the majors to add four teams in 1961 and '62, including the Mets, who hired the 71-year-old Stengel. Exactly how the Continental League gathered strength and then faltered, and exactly how its impact is felt today, are treasures to be unearthed in Ninth. There are others, many in Stengelese.

Bottom of the Ninth
By Michael Shapiro
Times Books