October 1964: A Book Review

Ironically the time period with the least amount of time spent on it in David Halberstam’s book October 1964 would be October 1964. Don’t let this come as a deterrent to reading Halberstam’s work, because even if you aren’t interested in baseball, but enjoy learning about how different people act in life, this is certainly a book of interest.

On the surface, October 1964 appears to be about the World Series in 1964 between the St. Louis Cardinals and the New York Yankees. The reader quickly finds out, however, that there is much more to this book than its title.

This World Series had a lot of characters even the casual baseball fan would have heard of. On the Yankees there were Roger Maris, Mickey Mantle, Whitey Ford being managed by the ever popular Yogi Berra. The Cardinals were full of famous names as well like Lou Brock, Curt Flood, Bob Gibson, Bob Uecker and Tim McCarver. Just looking at the make-up of these names, it is clear that there was something different about the Cardinal stars than there were with the Yankees.

The Cardinals being one of the first teams to fully accept the role of African American players, their stars had much more to face than those with the Yankees who many at that time thought to be privileged.  Because of this, the stories of how these two franchises reached the 1964 Series greatly differ.

Halberstam presents the Yankees as a team who is just ending a run of dominance against not only the American League, but also dismantling their National League opponent in the World Series as well. The author tells stories of how scouts would entice players away from playing for other teams to play for the Yankees for less money because of the pride that came with being a Yankee, and the chance for what they almost guaranteed was a World Series bonus check at the end of every season.

The team picture is quite different when looking at how the Cardinals were put together. From the description of their owner Gussie Busch, the owner of Anheuser-Busch Brewing, to the explanation of why he hired famed scout Branch Rickey to take over baseball operations, to how their championship team was assembled, it is clear that the Cardinals are a very different breed of organization than their opponents from the Big Apple.

The difference between the two teams can be easily seen by Halberstam’s stories regarding the two biggest star players on each squad. Most are familiar with the story of Mantle as being a freak athlete who made spectacular plays at the plate and in the field as soon as he signed for the Yankees. It is also somewhat common knowledge that Mantle was a fan of the night life and that had he taken care of himself, he may have hit 600 homeruns and certainly would have finished with a career average above .300. Even so, Mantle was adored by fans across the nation.

This is much different from the story of pitcher Bob Gibson of the Cardinals. Halberstam tells the story of how when Gibson was in the Minor Leagues, he played for the Harlem Globetrotters in the off season to make ends meet until the Cardinals organization gave in and awarded him a salary large enough to prevent him from that possible injury. No Yankee would ever dream of doing this.

Those are just two of the more than a dozen men profiled in great detail by Halberstam in October 1964. This work is one of the most in depth looks at the behind the scenes make-up of a World Series match-up that has ever been written. While certainly not a quick read, it is extremely informative and is a must for anyone who considers themselves a fan of the history of the game. The book reads like a story and not once loses the attention of its reader.

Overall Rating: 4.25/5

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  1. Bill Jordan

    July 22, 2011 at 6:42 pm

    Thanks for linking back to our article.

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