In The Only Game in Town, the first in a multivolume oral history
project conducted by former baseball commissioner Fay Vincent, 10
former players recall their playing days in the 1930s and '40s. Much
like watching a baseball game on a lazy summer evening, this
leisurely stroll down memory lane is a mostly pleasant outing, with
lengthy stretches of little action interrupted occasionally by
moments of genuine excitement.
Some of the legendary players of that era - including Lou Gehrig,
Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio, Jimmy Foxx, and Lefty Grove - figure
prominently in these recollections, which are as varied as the
personalities they involve.
Both Tommy Henrich, all-star outfielder for the New York Yankees,
and pitcher Elden Auker recount the story of Detroit Tiger great
Hank Greenberg storming into the White Sox locker room after a game
to confront the source of anti-Semitic remarks. (Nobody fessed up,
but Greenberg made an impression). Most of the players also have at
least one story to tell about pitcher Satchel Paige, one of the most
storied figures in all of baseball.
The book covers a momentous period in American history. The
players interviewed grew up during the Depression and all served in
the military during World War II. It was a very different era from
ours and a very different war that they fought.
Pitcher Bob Feller, who made it to the major leagues at age 17,
spent four of his prime years in the Navy. Hall-of-Famer Warren
Spahn pitched his first game in 1942, then spent three years in the
Army before getting his first major league win in 1946 at the age of
25. Despite the interruption, he still holds the record for the most
wins (363) by a left-handed pitcher.
None of the players complained about time spent in service to
their country. Indeed, for all of them, there was no question that
the war effort took precedence over their baseball careers.
Dom DiMaggio (brother of Joe) didn't wait for the off season, but
enlisted in the Navy while the 1942 season was under way (though he
wasn't finally called up until later that fall).
That same year, Auker surprised the baseball world by leaving
baseball in order to support the war effort by taking a job in the
engineering department of a manufacturing company.
The integration of the major leagues in 1947 was a watershed
event, and "The Only Game in Town" includes interviews with three
African-American players, all of whom played in the Negro Leagues.
Not surprisingly, their experiences are among the most interesting
and most weighty of the group. …