brooklyn dodgers

In another “I can’t believe this is real” moment here at Baseballisms.com, we get the chance to speak with Maury Allen, who previews his upcoming book titled Dixie Walker of the Dodgers: The People’s Choice on this edition of Cover the Bases.

Dixie Walker | Brooklyn Dodgers | Maury Allen | Baseballisms.comMaury wrote the biography of a major league ballplayer with deep roots back to his southern heritage.  Dixie Walker became a fan favorite through his play on the field, but carries the legacy of having been an opponent to the breaking of the color barrier in baseball.  When the Brooklyn Dodgers, and specifically Branch Rickey, decided to have Jackie Robinson on the roster for the 1947 season, it was said to have been Walker who generated a petition to team management in opposition of the move.

Seasons prior to the fateful events of spring training in 1947, Walker had been dubbed as the successor to Babe Ruth in the Yankees lineup but injuries and the arrival of a kid named Joe DiMaggio made him expendable.  After accumulating decent career numbers with the White Sox and Tigers, he was picked up by the Brooklyn Dodgers for the 1940 season.  With the Dodgers he not only continued to hit the baseball, but most importantly to fans, he always came through when it counted against the rival New York Giants!

As things can happen in baseball and in life, things are not always what the might seem at first.  According to this article written by Jack Cuddy and carried here by the Modesto Bee, things were looking up for Dixie Walker with a change at the top of the Dodgers from Larry McPhail to Branch Rickey.  According to Maury, McPhail was the “George Steinbrenner of his day” and had a lot of conflicts with Dixie because of the adulation the fans and the media heaped upon him.  After the put downs and struggles with McPhail, things had to look better with new management.  It was of course the efforts that Rickey made towards integration that would ultimately connect Walker and Robinson in the conflict that defined Walker’s legacy.

It takes some effort to put these historical situations in context from our current cultural point of view, but during Walker’s playing career it was The Negro Leagues where African Americans played the game, with a “separate but equal” type of mindset.  Rickey was motivated for a number of reasons to integrate the game, including experiences with a former teammate, stocking the farm system with high caliber players, and financial reward at the gate.

Walker’s perspective was of course very different, with pressures from business associates in his Alabama hometown of Birmingham, as well as a general sense throughout baseball that jobs were at stake.  Players on the margins had to be looking over their shoulders at this potential influx of quality ballplayers and wanted to make every effort to save their own positions.

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Branch Rickey is one of the immortals of baseball, one of the most influential people the game has ever known.  On this episode of Cover the Bases, we are pleased to present historian and biographer, Lee Lowenfish, author of Branch Rickey: Baseball’s Ferocious Gentleman.  The book is the winner of a coveted Seymour Medal award from SABR.

Branch Rickey | Lee Lowenfish | Baseballisms.comLee Lowenfish is a native of New York City who has a masters and doctoral degrees in American History from the University of Wisconsin in Madison. He grew up a Giants fans and only rooted for the Dodgers when they played the Yankees in the World Series.  However, he was compelled to write a definitive biography of the man most identified with the Brooklyn Dodgers, with an eye towards his historical pursuits in the area of race relations in the U.S.

Lee wrote a book about labor relations in Major League Baseball called The Imperfect Diamond: A History of Baseball’s Labor Wars (third edition due in April 2010) in which Branch Rickey was a foil, a staunch supporter of the reserve clause that tied players to ballclubs indefinitely.  Throughout all of Lee’s efforts, he felt a calling  to write a book that includes a view of Rickey’s upbringing as a poor farm boy, forming his moral and charitable character that ultimately integrates baseball.

Rickey was not only instrumental in advancing race relations by integrating the Major Leagues with racial minorities, but also helped to support the war effort and women’s rights by working along side P.K. Wrigley in the formation of The Girl’s All American Professional Baseball League, previously covered in a previous episode of Cover the Bases with baseball book author Sue Macy.

Lee recounts that Rickey even made attempts to recruit and evaluate Japanese citizens who were detained in internment camps during the Second World War as well.  It should be pointed out that Rickey did not advance these principals as just for the sake of the cause, but rather he was focused entirely on finding the “best man for the job”.

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Sal Maglie was the other pitcher in some of the most memorable games in baseball history.  On this episode of Cover the Bases we speak with biographer Judith Testa, who provides us with insights into the story of  Sal Maglie: Baseball’s Demon Barber and how his persona (and nickname) transcends his baseball legacy. We also discuss those baseball moments that every fan will recognize and highlight Sal’s role in the game.

Sal Maglie | Judith Testa | Baseballisms.comAs we do with all guests on Cover the Bases, we start off by asking Judy what compelled her to write a book about a New York Giants pitcher who was usually the opponent for a young Brooklyn Dodgers fan growing up in the suburbs of New York.  As she eloquently states, she learned baseball along with the English language.  There was something fascinating about the pitcher on the Giants that conveyed menace through an old black and white television, and as an adult she remembered her feelings for the game and the player.

Maglie presented himself as the perfect subject for Judy to write about in a biography.

There is something romantic about a city with three major league baseball teams. This was an era when baseball coverage was in depth via newspaper and radio, and to a later extent television, so that the conversation and buzz around town was all about the team’s fortunes and the favorite players who performed on a nightly basis.

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