Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Teammates: A Portrait of a Friendship by David Halberstam

Why I read it: Baseball history, Red Sox history, and I'm from Boston.

Summary: Johnny Pesky and Dominic DiMaggio take one final ride from Massachusetts to Florida together by car, to see their old teammate, Ted Williams, before he passes on.

My Thoughts: I'm glad that David Halberstam stuck with it. He could have given up on the Red Sox of the 1940s after finishing Summer of '49, but stayed in contact with the subjects of that book, and came back around to tell this tale.

I have no idea what it is that makes me a fan of old-time baseball. I read Summer of '49 with reverence - probably a measure of how good a writer Halberstam was - and felt when I finished like I did at the end of James Clavell's Shogun. I didn't want the story to end. I wanted to continue following the lives of the people involved. Somehow, I became nostalgic for an age I never knew.

Perhaps there's genetic memory involved. Perhaps the stories my dad told me when I was a kid had seeped into my psyche. He watched Ted Williams. Johnny Pesky sat on the Red Sox bench for most of my baseball-watching life. Perhaps that has something to do with it. I don't know.

Halberstam's "little book," as her termed it, is a beautiful one, reaching beyond the foul lines and bleacher seats and into the friendship shared by the three ballplayers mentioned above and their teammate Bobby Doerr, who, living on the opposite coast, could not make the trip. It's a classic tale of aging, of losing faculties and abilities in ways that seem impossible. Ted Williams was always strong and quick - how did he end up in a wheelchair, unable to stay awake for long periods of time? But if the physical was gone, the mental lived on. He could still recall his home runs, which pitches he had hit and off whom. He always had the final word, even until he said his final words. The spirit of Ted Williams was still strong even when his wrists and biceps had given out.

Baseball fans are married to their laundry, as Jerry Seinfeld once suggested. This book affected me more deeply than it would, say, a Seattle Mariners fan, simply because of the settings, the names, the uniforms. It's Red Sox lore. It's my team. And life's too short not to have innocent passions, or to try to fully understand why you do.

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