You have to realize, up until recently I wasn't sure if the Mets were a baseball or a football team. I'm not much into sports, even though I've enjoyed a Superbowl or two in my day. And due to my wide variety of interests, even within the reading arena, it doesn't seem likely that I would pick up a book about -- of all things -- baseball, but I did. What is even more remarkable is that I enjoyed it.
Carl Furillo, Brooklyn Dodgers All-Star, by Ted Reed, was a Christmas present from a fellow Wesleyan graduate, one, who, undoubtedly remembers the Wesleyan proclivity for getting students to stray from their main focus of interest and learn something new. As a liberal arts student in Middletown a few years ago, I studied English and American Studies, and when the time came to "try something new," in other words, be "liberal," I went for -- of all things -- Symbolic Logic. What a nightmare.
Luckily, learning a bit about baseball and a lot about Furillo, did not turn out to be such a nightmare. Far from it. It is baseball after all and not football that is even to me the quintessential American game. Reed, a transportation reporter for TheStreet.com, who was formerly a Miami Herald business reporter, has done a beautiful job of researching his subject and has written about Furillo engagingly, so that even a novice like myself to the game might be entertained and enriched. The quotes Reed selects give voice to key men that helped shape the sport, their cultures and mindsets and brings to life a vital post-war era, when the country like the sport was growing in leaps and bounds. Most importantly, Reed deconstructs the myths about Furillo, one of which was that he was a racist. Until Reed wrote about him, Furillo was one of the few major members of the Brooklyn Dodgers who had not had a book done on him.
Furillo, for those who know little or nothing about him, was a World War II vet, a great right fielder with a wickedly powerful arm who played in six World Series and, in 1953, led the National League in hitting. More than once, Furillo would wind up in the middle of others' battles, but when his integrity was challenged, he would not back down, even early on, as a rookie:
"When I got the word that I was supposed to go and work out with the Brooklyn ballclub, the waiters and some of the ballplayers that were down there threw a little party. We had altogether about a dozen beers, and I think I had one or half of one. When it was over, they cleaned up the room and they put everything in a wastepaper basket. Well, Hopper was bucking for Durocher's job, and he was sneaking around there, and he figured this would be a good chance to smack Durocher right in the mouth. So he went and turned me into Mr. Ricky, saying that I was drinking and that he had caught me. Young Rickey saw me and I told him all about it and then, when I got to the ballpark, I told Durocher what happened. And Durocher told me, 'Don't worry about it, kid,' and it seemed like it was all over. But then on the following day he came up to me and said, 'Why didn't you tell me the truth?' I said 'I did tell you the truth.' And he said 'That's not the story I heard.' So I said 'I don't care what you heard, I'm telling you the truth.' So he was calling me a liar then, and I think from that day on I lost a little faith in Durocher." - Carl Furillo, Brooklyn Dodgers All-Star
Carl Furillo turned out to be a treasuretrove of rich stories and a fascinating read.