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The Last Good Season: Brooklyn, the Dodgers and Their Final Pennant Race Together by Michael Shapiro - Copyright 2004 - Broadway Books

May 1, 2009

by William Szczepanek

Book Review:

1956 Topps 166 Dodgers Team The Last Good Season... relates well to The Golden Age of Baseball Cards in that it is more than just about baseball.  It is history, politics, and culture packed into a month by month description of the 1956 baseball season from the perspective of people associated with the Brooklyn Dodgers. Much has been written about this team made famous by their exploits and nicknamed The Boys of Summer by Roger Kahn.

Shapiro takes us back to Brooklyn and puts us in the neighborhoods, and allows us inside the lives of the players, their wives and the team executives, Walter O’Malley and Buzzy Bavasi. It reminds us of how the team was formed in the forties under Branch Rickey and carries us to the late fifties, ultimately with the team leaving Brooklyn for LA. It handles the race issues surrounding Jackie Robinson and the other Negro League players of the day from the alternative standpoints of players, owners and fans.

From my perspective as a child in the 50s, seeing the Dodgers leave Brooklyn at the same time the Giants left New York, would be like hearing that the Yankees and Mets would be moving to Shanghai and Beijing, respectively next year. Back then the westernmost city with a Major League Baseball team at the time was Kansas City, and just a few years prior to that it was St. Louis.  Baseball was dominated by big cities with 3 in New York, 2 in Chicago, 2 in Philadelphia and 2 in Boston --- more than half of the teams in only 5 cities.  For New York to lose 2/3 of its teams in one year must have been devastating to the fans. Shapiro does a great job of putting you into the city and making you aware of how uncertain life can be.

The book does not glorify the players as most historical baseball books do, but accents their flaws, making them vulnerable and tentative, despite their positive attitudes. The players lived simpler lives in neighborhoods where kids would ring their doorbells to get their autographs.

The book is a novel, but reads more like a play with extensive dialogue from players as scenes change from one city to the next throughout 1956. The book concludes with a day by day description of the final days of the pennant race between the Brooklyn Dodgers, Milwaukee Braves and Cincinnati Redlegs, and the subsequent World Series.

The regulars that year included:
C  Roy Campanella, 1B  Gil Hodges, 2B  Jim Gilliam, 3B  Randy Jackson, SS  Pee Wee Reese (136), LF  Sandy Amoros, CF  Duke Snider (150), RF  Carl Furillo.

Starting Pitchers: Roger Craig, Carl Erskine, Sal Maglie, Don Newcombe
Relief Pitchers Don Bessent, Ken Lehman, Ed Roebuck, Clem Labine

Manager: Walter Alston 

1956 Topps 042 Sandy Amoros1956 Topps 150 Duke Snider1956 Topps 190 Carl Furillo

1956 Topps 260 Pee Wee Reese1956 Topps 280 Jim Gilliam

1956 Topps 223 Randy Jackson1956 Topps 235 Don Newcombe1956 Topps 145 Gil Hodges

1956 Topps 101 Roy Campanella

1956 Topps 008 Walter Alston

Other notables on the team included Jackie Robinson in his last season, a wild Sandy Koufax and young Don Drysdale. Many others rounded out the group with the roles of hero and goat rotating throughout the year.

I won’t spoil the ending by telling you who won the pennant and World Series, but through the course of the book, it was easy to forget what really happened. That somehow the book would end differently than real life would be strange, but the ending is still surprising, particularly in how the lives of the players changed.

10 thumbs up.

 

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