May 15, 2014

Book review: 1954 by Bill Madden

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Bill Madden’s 1954 intrigued me based on the tag on front of the book: “The Year Willie Mays and the First Generation of Black Superstars Changed Major League Baseball Forever.”

Yep, immediately hooked. It was still a year away from Elston Howard making his Yankees debut – as the Yankees were one of the least teams to integrate, but there was information included on Howard, which I found compelling. There were good tidbits on players here and there with Madden having an occasionally insightful quote.

Yet the biggest problem is that 1954 was just a big recap of the season in which the New York Giants swept the Cleveland Indians in the World Series.

I hoped 1954 would go deeper into the race relations and issues in baseball. We all know Jackie Robinson was the first black baseball player in 1947. He was recently celebrated with a movie that depicted many of the hardships. But it seems as though Madden glossed over many of these issues, and when he did write about them, he only briefly touched on it. He didn’t spend more than a page at a time going through what minority baseball players contended with.

Most couldn’t stay in the same hotels as their white teammates. There wasn’t much talk as to how this caused problems within the team or how teammates felt about this.

The book was all about baseball – and it’s a baseball book – but the feeling was that it was going to touch on something deeper and it just never went there.

Madden writes in his introduction that more than 10 years ago Larry Doby had contacted him to write his autobiography. That is a book I would have loved to read. Unfortunately, Doby died a short time after that and the book was never written.

I didn’t dislike Madden’s 1954, I just wanted more from it.


  1. Thanks for the review. Probably not as enlightening to you as it was to me but I did like John Feinstein's book about life in the minor leagues, "Where Nobody Knows Your Name".

  2. I saw that book in B&N the other day. I covered minor leaguers for years, so I have some perspective. Would definitely be interested in checking that out.