What I’m Reading: “October 1964” by David Halberstam

With October 1964, David Halberstam put his considerable skills to good use in telling the story of the 1964 baseball season and the seven-game World Series between the Cardinals and Yankees.

Halberstam, who unfortunately passed away in 2007, won the Pulitzer Prize for International Reporting in 1964 and earned his fame for his reporting on the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights Movement, politics, and culture. Later in his career, he also wrote a number of books about basketball, baseball, and football, including Summer of ’49, about the pennant race between the Yankees and Red Sox, and The Teammates: A Portrait of a Friendship about the relationships between several of the 1940s Red Sox.

Halberstam’s attention to detail and comprehensive reporting mean that his books go beyond the field. As a result, October 1964 really fleshes out the personalities of the Cardinals’ Bob Gibson, Lou Brock, Tim McCarver, Bill White, Ken Boyer, Curt Flood, Mike Shannon, Curt Simmons, Ray Sadecki, and Johnny Keane, and the Yankees’ Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, Whitey Ford, Jim Bouton, Mel Stottlemyre, Tony Kubek, Joe Pepitone, Elston Howard, and Bobby Richardson.

Inevitably, the book discusses race relations and compares the Yankees, for whom Howard was their first Black player, and the Cardinals, who clubhouse culture was ahead of the times. The heart of that Cardinals team included a number of Black players, including Gibson, Brock, White, and Flood, and Halberstam details the struggles they faced and the ways in which they had to work harder and play better than their white counterparts.

That determination led those players to great heights in 1964, and Halberstam does a great job of illustrating the players’ personalities as he describes the course of the season. There are a number of terrific stories in the book, some of which took place in 1964 and others that are used to illustrate the personalities of those in and around the games. One of my favorite stories was about Gussie Busch’s attempt to buy Ernie Banks from the Cubs. Busch authorized the Cardinals’ general manager, Frank Lane, to buy Banks for as much as $500,000 and was stunned when Lane came back empty-handed. When he asked why, Lane explained, “Mr. Busch, I was politely reminded that Mr. Wrigley needs half a million just about as much as you do.”

In another funny story, when Brock was traded from the Cubs to the Cardinals, Banks told him he could still get to the World Series – he would be happy to send Brock a ticket when the Cubs were playing. Instead, after the Cardinals won the title that year, Brock sent Banks the box his World Series ring came in.

Those small stories really brought the teams and the players to life. Through in-depth research and reporting, Halberstam placed the 1964 baseball season in a broader historical context and helped me understand not only that season, but the world these players lived in. It was a joy to read and a great example of sports journalism with a real sense of history.

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