Thursday, July 4, 2024

Review: 1962 (2021)

By David Krell

It doesn't take long for readers of "1962" to realize that David Krell's book goes into unusual territory. 

As in, the first paragraph of the book, in the acknowledgments, on page ix - right after the table of contents.

Krell, who has a book about the Brooklyn Dodgers to his credit, at first wanted to write a book about baseball's two expansion teams in the National League in 1962: the Houston Colt 45s (later the Astros) and the New York Mets. But Krell's writing teacher proposed making the book all about America in 1962, and not just about baseball. I guess the teacher wasn't a big baseball fan. 

Therefore, this book covers a lot of ground. Let's put it this way - you don't read many publications that mention Dean Rusk, the Secretary of State, and Roman Mejias, the Colt 45s outfielder, within the same covers. 

Krell picked a reasonably good year to look at baseball in an historical sense. The 1962 expansion followed the 1961 action by the American League of putting teams in Los Angeles and Washington. Baseball was starting to catch up with the idea that the sport needed to land in new cities in order to grow as well as fight off attempts from rival leagues from providing expensive competition. This particular round of expansion put the proposed Continental League out of business. 

Houston and New York were attractive as membership candidates for different reasons. Houston was a growing Sun Belt city, thirsting for big league status. Until 1962, there were no major league teams in the South; St. Louis was the closest thing to it. Houston became the region's team, at least until other franchises ended up in such places as Atlanta and Dallas. New York had lost both of its National League teams after the 1957 season, but was clearly big enough to have another team join the Yankees of the American League. 

Of course, baseball owners being baseball owners at the time, they thought that the new teams would be happy with crumbs in their first few years. As a result, Houston had a bad team for some time, while the Mets were quite terrible until their memorable turnaround in 1969. 

In the meantime, it was almost business as usual at the top of the business. The Yankees returned to the World Series, as they did like clockwork. The Giants edged out the Dodgers (who had just moved into a new stadium) in a playoff to earn the right to compete for a championship, and the final game went down to the final pitch in memorable fashion.

That would seem to be the good start to a baseball book, even if it would need a good summary at what happened from there. But it's merely one of the points covered in a very diverse story. It is roughly done in chronological order, as each month receives a chapter and covers a couple of highlights. 

There was a lot going on in 1962. The obvious start was the American space program, which saw some of the original astronauts head into space. There was the Cuban Missile Crisis in October, which almost led to a nuclear exchange. Three women receive mini-biographies in August. You may have heard of Marilyn Monroe, but the story about a woman who became the host of TV's "Romper Room" - only to lose her job in Arizona because of her request for an abortion - will be unknown to most and quite fascinating in many ways. An African American woman who graduated from the University of Georgia also is quite enlightening. Books, television shows and movies are also covered. (By the way, no other sports besides baseball come up, which overlooks the rise of the National Football League in those years.)

As you may have guessed, there's a problem with all of this. There's no unifying theme. The anecdotes are well researched, and Krell is obviously a smart guy who makes some good points along the way. But what does it all mean? That's tough to say. 

Come to think of it, it's difficult to figure out where to put this book on my bookcase, which is arranged by subject. Baseball? Nonfiction? "1962" will be of interest to those who remember the year. I'm simply not convinced that Krell wouldn't have been better off sticking to his original idea.

Three stars

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