“The memory of the heart is the longest.” With these words, Robert Sylvester ends “The Swede,” a story about the after-death apotheosis of a discredited football coach, modeled after Knute Rockne. The Teammates is a testament to the memory of the heart. It provides a tonic for disenchanted fans for whom professional baseball has become a game whose key plays are enacted off the field by owners, agents, and the moneymakers.
Although The Teammates qualifies as a baseball book and could be shelved with Roger Angell’sThe Summer Game (1972) and David Halberstam’s Summer of ’49 (1989) as classics of that genre, its true place is with Roger Kahn’s The Boys of Summer (1972) and Jane Leavy’s Koufax(2002), books that are about baseball but transcend it.
Of all sports, baseball is tops in anecdotes and memorabilia. This book resonates with lovers of both. There were at least two—perhaps three—sides to Ted Williams, and in any guise he could be difficult but never dull. Growing up in angler-friendly Oregon, Bobby Doerr tells of seeing Williams at his best and worst while fishing with the master. Fish stories best display Williams’s three-stage trademarks—pent-up displeasure, rage, and contrition.
The book is rich in baseball lore. Perhaps the worst moment in the history of the Red Sox was Enos Slaughter’s mad dash to score from first on a pop fly for the St. Louis Cardinals to beat Boston in the 1946 World Series. Characteristically, Johnny Pesky has always accepted the blame for his hesitant throw, but, as revealed by expert witnesses including his three teammates, the real culprit was a journeyman center fielder subbing for Dom DiMaggio, who was slow recovering Harry “the Hat” Walker’s hit.
The book is really about the enduring friendship of four friends over a half-century. Williams referred to Doerr, DiMaggio, and Pesky as “my guys,” but each of them could have applied the same affectionate tag to the other three. All four were men of a certain generation, born right at the end of the World War I. They had played together on Boston Red Sox teams of the 1940’s. Williams and Doerr went back even further: They were teenagers together in San Diego in the mid-1930’s, when the Padres were in the Pacific Coast League.
“Ted was dying,” Halberstam begins, “and the idea for the final trip, driving down to Florida to see him one last time, was Dominic’s.” The journey from DiMaggio’s place in Marion, Massachusetts, to Williams’s home in Hernando, Florida, would take three days. DiMaggio was accompanied by Pesky and a Boston admirer named Dick Flavin on the thirteen-hundred-mile journey. Sadly, Doerr’s wife of sixty-three years, Monica, had suffered two strokes; Doerr would not be able to join his friends on the trip.
Halberstam is skilled in exploiting stops along the way for transitions. Thus, approaching Philadelphia, DiMaggio recalls how nervous he was meeting the difficult Lefty Grove, perhaps the Athletics’ finest pitcher, in Boston in DiMaggio’s rookie season, Grove’s last, and...
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