I did a library search for books with the subject “baseball” and this one popped up. It’s titled “Bottom Of The Ninth – Branch Rickey, Casey Stengel, And The Daring Scheme To Save Baseball From Itself”. It is written by Michael Shapiro, author of “The Last Good Season”, and it was published in 2009.
The action described herein takes place from Fall, 1958, through October, 1960, with occasional glimpses into the future and the past. Those activities occur both on the field and behind closed doors. I was surprised how familiar I was with the on field activities, and how in the dark I was about the more covert activities.
We are treated to a front row seat during the attempted creation of a third major league, the Continental League, along with an attempt to pool television revenues for the benefit of all.
The book opens with a look at the 1957 and 1958 World Series between the New York Yankees and Milwaukee Braves. What amazed me was how familiar all of the names are to me over fifty years later: Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford, Casey Stengel, Warren Spahn, Lew Burdette, Hank Aaron, Eddie Matthews, etc. It was like I had just watched the games yesterday.
Some other familiar names which play a role include: Ford Frick, Branch Rickey, Warren Giles, Leo Durocher, Connie Mack, Charles Comiskey, Joe Cronin and William A. Shea.
Early on in the book similarities are presented between the Continental League’s relationship to organized baseball in the late 1950s and early 1960s, and that of the American Association, founded in 1882 as a rival to the National League.
Casey Stengel discussed how injuries “had been especially useful in helping him see how best to use his men.” “Every time one of my front players got hurt I noticed the feller I stuck in his place would bust out with hits all over the place. Then just about the time he started to peter out he’d obligingly step in a hole or something and another guy, rarin’ to go, would take over. From then on I decided I never again would count on one player taking care of one position for an entire season.”
Years later Stengel said John McGraw, his manager with the New York Giants, “played him in center field, or in left or in right and sometimes not at all. ‘He put me in when and where he thought I could do him the most good’. No statement better captured Stengel’s approach to the game and his sense of himself in it.”
The ideal N.Y. Yankee is described as being “not unrestrained in his habits, dignified in his bearing, and private in his emotions.” Sounds to me like “Old Money”.
Major power guys in baseball at that time (behind the scenes) were Delbert E. (Del) Webb and Dan Topping of the Yankees in the American League, and Walter O’Malley of the Dodgers in the National League.
How teams were positioning themselves in the ‘50s to benefit from future pay TV revenues is described in some detail.
On August 2, 1960, at a meeting in Chicago, the National League agreed to expand by “four of your cities and later add the rest”. Branch Rickey was asked if this meant the Continental League “was dead. ‘Obviously’ he replied.”
The World Series of 1960 between the Yankees and the Pittsburgh Pirates is presented game by game, inning by inning, play by play, even pitch by pitch. I enjoyed every moment of the retelling. I remember watching the seventh game of that series on the black and white TV in my grandparent’s tavern. A forerunner of the sports bars of today. Like it was yesterday.
In retrospect, the Continental League was “ridiculed as a sham, but on the contrary it was an enormous success because it ran what became the biggest bluff in the history of professional sports.”
I enjoyed reading “Bottom Of The Ninth”. The author, Michael Shapiro, has an engaging writing style which makes the book eminently readable. Also the weaving together of on field action (nostalgic for me) with behind closed doors maneuvering held my interest throughout. I recommend it highly.