Epic Season: The 1948 American League Pennant Race
by David Kaiser
University of Massachusetts Press, $55 hardcover, $18.95 paperback
Sadly enough, major league baseball's labyrinthine playoff formula has reduced the once classic pennant race to a relic. No more are fans treated to the stirring spectacle of teams charging down the stretch for that one shot at the World Series. Instead, we have division winners and wild cards.
So it remains for a historian, David Kaiser of the Naval War College in Newport, R.I., to re-create those thrilling days of yesteryear in his Epic Season: The 1948 American League Pennant Race. It is Kaiser's contention that the best pennant races were in the 1940s and that the greatest of these was in 1948, a truly banner postwar season.
He has a point. No fewer than four teams were in the running for the American League flag until September, when the surprising Philadelphia Athletics dropped back in the pack. With only seven games remaining, the New York Yankees, Cleveland Indians and Boston Red Sox were tied for first place. The Yankees weren't eliminated until the next-to-last game, and the Bosox and Indians ended the season in a dead heat. In a one-game playoff at Fenway Park, the Indians, behind the pitching of Gene Bearden (who was starting on one day's rest) and two homers by player-manager Lou Boudreau, defeated the Sox and Ted Williams, 8-3. Cleveland would go on to beat the Boston Braves, four games to two, in the World Series.
These were giants who bestrode the diamond that year: Williams, Boudreau, Joe DiMaggio, Bob Feller, Bob Lemon, Satchel Paige, Larry Doby. This was the wartime G.I. generation of players, men whose adult lives had taken place "amidst heroic undertakings," as Kaiser characterizes it, and who were "uniquely fitted to fight the most dramatic struggle in the history of baseball."
This is an important work about baseball, marred only by the author's occasional lapses into SABR-ish statistical mumbo jumbo, and it belongs in the library of any serious fan.