Memories From the Game’s Faded Pages

Before his later dominance, Sandy Koufax’s early exploits were chronicled in a scrapbook. (via Tullio Saba)

One of my favorite possessions is a scrapbook that I didn’t even make. In fact, I have no idea who made it. It’s old and falling apart; the maroon cover, and many of the browning pages, are detached from the binding. And yet, it is undeniably fascinating. It’s filled with baseball news clippings from the late 1950s and early 1960s — a highly transitional period for the game, and therefore one of its most intriguing eras. And my brother somehow managed to stumble upon this mysterious item in a thrift shop in his college town of Oberlin, Ohio.

There’s a six-and-a-half year age gap between my brother, now a freshman at Oberlin College, and me. When I graduated from college, Judd still had three years of high school left. As one might imagine, with an age difference like that, separated by years of school, it hasn’t always been easy for us to relate. One thing Judd and I have long had in common, though, is baseball.

Of the two of us, I’m the bigger fan, but Judd knows the game well enough. We’ve watched countless Dodgers games together over the years, both at home and at the ballpark. The Dodgers’ 2017 championship bid might have ended in heartbreak, but it proved to be a great bonding opportunity as well.

When I visited Judd at school for the first time this past December, he told me he had a gift for me, and handed me a large brown paper bag. I’d been traveling a fair amount, and until that moment, it had completely escaped my mind that it was the third night of Chanukah. And there I was, without anything to give him in return.

Sheepishly, I took the bag from him. Inside was the scrapbook. Seeing my confusion, Judd explained that he’d found it at a local thrift shop, and had managed to haggle down the price so he could get it for me.

As I began thumbing through the pages, familiar faces leapt out at me: Duke Snider, Joe DiMaggio, Willie Mays, to name a few. There were game recaps and box scores, news items, cartoons, and human interest stories, ranging in date from about 1958 through 1962.

I was struck by how perfectly this gift suited me. As a baseball fan, and as a historian with a particular interest in midcentury America, it couldn’t have been much better tailored to my interests. Essentially, what my brother had found was a time capsule of baseball of the late 1950’s and early 1960’s — hardly comprehensive or chronological, but highlighting many key events and characters from the era.

In the month that I’ve had the scrapbook, I’ve revisited it several times. It’s very easy to get lost in. Each page is jam-packed with stories from a wild era of a game in transition — one that had finally made its way westward, and one that was about to undergo its first major expansion.

There are clippings about events that ought to be familiar to anyone who loves baseball, like Harvey Haddix’s epic, tragic game in which he threw 12 perfect innings, only to lose in the 13th. There are also ones about more obscure history, like William Shea’s attempt to form a potential third major league, the Continental League. That plan forced MLB to consider expansion, and was abandoned before a single game was played; Shea would be better remembered as the namesake of the Mets’ longtime stadium.

To go through this scrapbook is to get an idea of what fans of the day would be reading, of their daily stories. I’d like to walk you through some of the scrapbook’s more compelling features.

The opening pages make it clear why Judd thought the scrapbook was such a good gift for me, as they focus almost entirely on the Dodgers’ early days in Los Angeles. The Dodgers’ (and Giants’) relocation to the West Coast was one of the most significant things to happen to American baseball: finally, the nation’s pastime actually spanned the whole lower 48.

A lot of baseball writing has been devoted to the “Boys of Summer” Dodgers teams of the ‘40s and ‘50s, and the heartbreak of Brooklyn fans at losing their beloved team. Perhaps less attention is paid to what it meant to Los Angeles to gain a major league team. As a nearly lifelong Angeleno, that interests me a bit more. Here, I found an opportunity to learn about it through firsthand reports from the era, both from writers I’d heard of and from people whose work was new to me.

The first thing you see when you open the scrapbook is a picture of the 1959 Dodgers team. This team, and the other Dodgers teams from the era, are full of characters worth knowing. One such character was second baseman Charlie (misspelled as “Charley”) Neal, illustrated above by Los Angeles Examiner cartoonist Karl Hubenthal. Neal was an offensive standout of the 1959 World Series, going 10-for-27 with two home runs.

Pretty is What Changes
Take notice, baseball. Few things endure just as they've always been, casual pursuits least of all.

Two other players, Pete Reiser and Larry Sherry, get the Hubenthal treatment in the following pages.

Reiser, who played for the Dodgers in the 1940s, joined the team as a coach in 1960, meaning he missed the 1959 championship but was around when they won again in 1963. Sherry, a right-handed reliever, was named the Most Valuable Player of the 1959 World Series after allowing just one run in 12.2 innings pitched.

There are a few clippings about what would come to be known as Roy Campanella Night, an exhibition game between the Dodgers and Yankees in 1959 to honor the Dodgers’ paralyzed former catcher and to raise money for his medical expenses.

There’s a page with some clippings about a young pitcher named Sandy Koufax, who set a National League record when he struck out 18 batters in one game in August of 1959. It is so striking to see him here, so young, not yet great but hinting so strongly that he could be.

There’s also an article about Dizzy Dean’s 17-strikeout game, an NL record before Koufax broke it. The NL single-game strikeout record has, of course, since been broken several times over; it now sits at 20, a tie between Kerry Wood and Max Scherzer.

One of the most notable characters associated with the Dodgers of the early ‘60s was Leo “the Lip” Durocher, who spent four seasons with them as a coach in Los Angeles. There are a couple of clippings from 1961 about Durocher getting into a kicking match with umpire Jocko Conlan, which is as hilarious and absurd as it sounds.

The impetus for the scuffle is described thusly: “The incident occurred after Conlan ruled that a ball hit by [Dodger first baseman] Norm Larker was foul. The Dodgers insisted that the ball had been touched by Catcher Hal Smith of the Pirates before bouncing into foul territory.” After getting tossed for arguing, Durocher kicked Conlan in the shin, and Conlan responded in kind. It’s certainly on brand for the firebrand Durocher, who received a three-game suspension for his role in the brawl.

About 14 pages in, there’s an article by Dick Young, a Hall of Fame sports writer who worked for the New York Daily News for 45 years. He covered the Dodgers for about a month into their move to Los Angeles, and on his way back to New York, he provided his thoughts on the state of the team for The Sporting News.

Young (fairly) described them as “pretty bad,” but states that he expected them to improve in the near future, once the pressure of being in a new city wore off. Young also criticized the bizarre dimensions of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, a stadium designed for football, not baseball. In any event, the article serves as a reminder that the Dodgers moving from Brooklyn to Los Angeles was hardly a clean break. Some Brooklynites still cared, and it’s not as though the Dodgers felt at home immediately.

Following that is an assortment of clippings from the 1961 World Series, in which the New York Yankees defeated the Cincinnati Reds, four games to one.

Above, there are pictures of the two previous World Champion Reds, from 1919 and 1940. (They would not win another World Series until 1975.) The following pages include series facts and figures about the two teams and their respective playoff histories, with one’s obviously being much more extensive than the other’s.

That 1961 Yankees team was one of the best, which is saying a lot for a franchise with 27 World Series titles. The home run race between Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle captured the nation’s attention, with Maris eventually breaking Babe Ruth’s single-season record with 61* shots.

It’s unsurprising that there are clippings on the home run chase, but interestingly, there are also some dispatches on Maris from 1959, when he was with the Kansas City Athletics. That was a breakout season for him, one that was derailed by an emergency appendectomy, and further impeded by a rushed return from the procedure. When we talk about Maris, we tend to focus on his time with the Yankees, yet here he is, in a Kansas City cap.

With the section on Maris, a new pattern seems to emerge in the scrapbook, with the creator opting to highlight certain individual players. This includes a couple of big stars who were on their way out of the game, like Stan Musial, who played his final season in 1963.

As seen above, there is an assortment of photos from Musial’s 3,000th-hit game, which came on May 13, 1958. There’s also a clipping on Musial breaking the N.L. career doubles record, a record previously held by Honus Wagner and since broken by Pete Rose.

Ted Williams, who played his final season in 1960, gets a few pages of his own.

The subjects are wide ranging, from Williams’ pursuit of records to his push for umpire inclusion in the Hall of Fame. There’s also an article about the only game Williams ever played against a Yankees team that featured Lou Gehrig: April 20, 1939, Williams’s career debut and Gehrig’s final season opener.

I wonder what to make of stories on Maris and Mantle placed side-by-side with stories on Musial and Williams. This may have been a particular era of transition for baseball, but truly, it’s a sport always in transition, from one generation of heroes to the next.

This scrapbook is not entirely dedicated to the big names of its time. There are plenty of random news items, like this letter from the Orioles’ public relations director, Jack Dunn, to Sporting News editor J.G. Taylor Spink.

The purpose of Dunn’s letter is to defend the team from accusations of rigging voting for the (first) 1960 All-Star Game to get its rookie shortstop, Ron Hansen. Major League Baseball seems to have been on Dunn’s side, as there was never an investigation into the matter; in any event, Hansen went 1-for-2 in the game, certainly holding his own on one of baseball’s biggest stages. It’s funny how some things remain so consistent through the years; one wonders if the All-Star Game will ever avoid being the source of unnecessary drama.

Other news items address more consequential matters, like the Red Sox signing of Elijah “Pumpsie” Green in 1959.

Green’s signing meant that every major league team was integrated. This came a full 12 years after Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s color barrier. It’s also a sobering reminder that we have not had even six full decades of all teams being integrated.

The game itself and its featured players are what we care about most when we study baseball history. But one cannot fully understand the baseball culture of a given time without knowing about the fans as well, and what a window the scrapbook provides. We meet Herman Kent, an Angeleno who brought a fishnet to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum to catch foul balls.

“‘My fielding average may not be up to Charley Neal’s, but he doesn’t have to lean over a six-foot wall to scoop up a hot grounder,’ grins Herman Kent when he’s ribbed about foul balls that escape his fishnet.”

There’s also Clara Schmitt, an Illinois woman who made a quilt featuring images of 44 of her favorite ballplayers.

Notice the totally necessary description of her as “attractive and tall.”

Schmitt’s quilt was an impressive undertaking, in part because it featured real autographs from the featured players. While she got 44 back, 17 players evidently never responded to her. “My favorite player — I won’t mention his name — was among these,” Schmitt said, “and I’ve never forgiven him.” It’s hard not to wonder who it was.

Schmitt, a baseball fan and the daughter of former Pirates minor leaguer William J. Schmitt, made other quilts to express her love of the game, although this one was her magnum opus, an accomplishment that was, at one point, featured at the Baseball Hall of Fame. Schmitt is one of the few women present in the scrapbook, which may say more about the stories being written at the time than it does the scrapbook’s creator. How could one be expected to chronicle clippings that do not exist?

In the scrapbook’s final pages comes one of its most peculiar features. The second-to-last page includes a clipping about the 1959 NBA All-Star Game. The final page is a collage of up-and-coming NFL quarterbacks, a Sporting News cover from 1961.

Nowhere else in the scrapbook are there stories about anything besides baseball. Maybe this is symbolic in a way: a sign of things to come, as other sports rose in popularity to challenge baseball’s title as the national pastime.

I have many questions about the scrapbook, nearly all of which I’ll never get answered. How did this artifact end up in a thrift shop in Oberlin, Ohio? How did its creator choose what to include? And perhaps the thing I’m most curious about: Who was the creator? How old a person?  From where? A rooter for what team? Who were the creator’s favorite players? Was this someone who went to games often, or just followed from afar, relying on Vin Scully’s ’s smooth, slow voice to animate the action?

The one thing I know for certain is that is someone who loved baseball. At the very least, I know we could’ve had some good conversations about that.

Whoever this person was, he or she created a unique document that has enabled me to learn even more about one of the periods in baseball history I find most riveting, that rendered the time in pictures and the familiar language of full column inches. I hope creating it brought the this person as much joy as reading through it did for me. Given the care so obviously imbued in its pages, perhaps that’s another thing of which I can be sure.

References and Resources

Sarah Wexler is a contributor to Dodgers Digest. She recently earned her master's degree in Sports Management from Cal State Long Beach. She graduated from New York University in 2014 with a bachelor's in History and a minor in American Studies. Follow her on Twitter @SarahWexler32.
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Dennis Bedard
Dennis Bedard

I would guess this was bought at a garage sale or estate sale along with hundreds of other pieces of memorabilia whose value was unknown to the seller. Scrapbooks of this sort were common in the 50’s and 60’s. Most were used to collect family pictures. Creating them was very easy. All you needed was a newspaper, glue, and time. Their value is that they are old and provide a retrospective of a bygone era that is now priceless. The most historically significant piece is the list of teams’ first African American ballplayers. I never realized that Larry Doby made… Read more »

tramps like us
tramps like us

To piggyback on your comment….Bill Veeck, the owner of the Indians who brought Doby to the majors, tried to buy the Phillies in 1942 with the intention of integrating Major League Baseball then (there was no actual written rule against black players). However commissioner Judge Landis, an avowed racist, blocked it by facilitating the sale to another buyer. Happy Chandler took Landis’ place in late 1945 (Landis died) and is somewhat of an unsung hero in integration, as only he and Branch Rickey backed it. Every other owner was in opposition-15 to 1, against, but Chandler’s vote counted for more.… Read more »

Marc Schneider
Marc Schneider

Looks like one of the coolest Chanukah presents ever. I share your interest in mid-century American political and social history (and baseball). Enjoy!