Book Review: The Teammates: A Portrait of Friendship
- Updated: April 18, 2009
David Halberstam has become well known for his works about the sport of baseball that add a new perspective to the game which many fans never get a chance to see. Teammates, The: A Portrait of a Friendship is no exception to this rule as it illustrates once again why Halberstam is one of the best at what he does. At the end of the book, Halberstam explains that the undertaking of this specific work was more like playing than actually going to work every day as not only did he get to speak with some of the best baseball players of all time, but he was able to learn about parts of their lives that had never been publicly spoken of in the past.
The work is mainly about the friendship of four Boston Red Sox teammates: Ted Williams, Bobby Doerr, John Pesky and Dominic DiMaggio. Halberstam pieces together all four of their stories about early life, their time in the majors and how they stayed connected to one another after they had all retired from the game they loved.
As one might imagine, much of the relationships between these players revolved around Williams, who was a much larger figure in the public eye than any of the other three could ever dream of being. Even so, the book isn’t forced around the man who many consider to be the greatest hitter of all time; it just sort of conveniently happens surrounding his circumstances, which readers will learn is exactly how he would have wanted it.
The book really centers on Williams because he is the reason that three of the four are getting together one last time. Williams is in the declining stages of his life and it becomes important for the three others to try to travel to see him one last time. Unfortunately, Doerr is unable to make the trip, but it is as if he is with them in spirit when they do finally get to see Williams once again. Although their last visits with their beloved teammates are just four short stints over two days due to his need for naps, they set up a situation that Halberstam saw as great for a book.
Readers will soon learn when they pick up this book that even though these four players were so close to one another, none of them took remotely the same journey to get to the Major Leagues. In fact, there really couldn’t be four different stories of ball players who end up on the same team.
DiMaggio, as some may know, wasn’t even the best baseball player in his family as his brother Joe played many outstanding years for the New York Yankees. Due to his brother’s success, Dominic (or Dom as most have come to call him) was often overlooked even in the early stages of life due to the fact that his brother was so gifted and he was not. Not only was Dom set back because his brother so much better than he was early on in life, he was also deemed not professional baseball quality due to his lack of height and the fact that he was forced to wear glasses due to poor vision, which was something very few players did back then. Dom was able to overcome all of these setbacks and have a very prosperous career in the majors. Even though he was never able to win the big one, along with his three teammates (or anyone else who played for the Red Sox for about 80 years), he surpassed even his greatest of goals.
It is no surprise that Williams’ road to the Majors was different, and perhaps easier than all of the others. Some thought that he would never be a good ball player because he was so tall and lanky, but they were quickly silenced when Williams stepped to the plate and they became witness to one of the most perfect swings known to man. Because of this, Williams made it to the big leagues with much more ease than his three friends and would actually almost not become a member of the Red Sox because the owner was fed up with spending lots of money and not getting any results.
Pesky and Doerr’s stories are also chronicled in Halberstam’s work and they are both equally as interesting as the two shared above. There is no doubt that both Pesky and Doerr had to overcome some very difficult tasks to make it to the majors and even though they were from very different family backgrounds, where one had the full support of his parents to be a ball player and the other did not, their paths inevitably crossed and they will be forever linked with both Williams and DiMaggio.
Despite the fact that all four of the players were the best of friends while with the Red Sox, DiMaggio and Williams drew closer than any of the four had ever been actually due to the fact that Dom’s brother Joe was in declining health. While Williams and Joe DiMaggio were never the best of friends while they played, Williams found himself calling Dom everyday when he found that Joe may be on his last legs to see how he was doing. It was through these calls that their relationship grew to new heights.
Halberstam does an exceptional job of telling four separate stories, but at the same time, still bringing them together in various ways throughout the book. Many may consider these friendships to be unlikely, but what is truly unlikely is for friendships like this to occur in the game today due to the fact that players are switching teams so frequently. While a few of the four did play for other teams, they didn’t do so until the tail end of their careers, and Pesky doesn’t even really count that as part of his.
The Grade: 4.75/5
Bill Jordan is a contributor to BaseballReflections.com. He can be reached by e-mail at BillJordaniv@yahoo.com.