The best book I've read so far in 2021. A firm must-read for baseball fans.Buy on Amazon
Confession: before reading this book, I had never heard of Larry Doby. At this point I’m hardly even an amateur-level baseball historian, so much like fathers across the world, I’m not mad at me, just disappointed.
Doby was the second black player to break the color barrier in Major League Baseball, after Jackie Robinson more famously paved the way as the first. He faced many of the same backlash, pressures, and challenges thrown Robinson’s way, though he certainly hasn’t been granted the same notoriety. The same way you might have never heard of Harrison Schmitt or Charles Duke.
Doby takes center stage in Luke Epplin’s Our Team, sharing the narrative with three other key figures in the Indians’ 1948 World Series champion season: Bill Veeck, Bob Feller, and Satchel Paige.
I’d argue Doby and Veeck steal the show and really shoulder the load the deliver the momentum in this book. But the curious relationship between Feller and Paige provides its own intrigue, highlighting how oddly different baseball worked back in the mid-20th century.
"As the backbone of a team that epitomized the postwar American spirit in all its hopes and contradictions, Veeck, Feller, Paige, and Doby would captivate the nation during their thrilling run to the World Series in 1948, all the while shining a light forward for a country on the verge of a civil rights revolution."
This book could have easily collapsed under its own weight given its ambition. Epplin’s challenge was to balance borderline ineffable personalities, seismic cultural and political themes, miscellaneous historical exposition, and a good ‘ol fashioned World Series champion ascendance. There were many points at which I paused to think man, there could be a whole book about that last section.
But Epplin absolutely pulls it off, and it never feels forced. There is a lot happening in this story, but Epplin manages to keep it from ever feeling to accelerated or overwhelming.
Very readable. Epplin treats the source material respectfully, refraining from excessive melodramatics, expertly weaving multiple narratives to construct a story that moves effortlessly from beat to beat. I read the whole thing in one sitting (with a few bathroom breaks) on a lazy Sunday.
Just as I’d never heard of Larry Doby, I’d never heard of “barnstorming.” One of the subplots behind the 1948 Indians’ is Bob Feller’s ambition, essentially freelancing in the offseason to make extra money outside of his regular MLB duties. Feller regularly dueled Satchel Paige in barnstorming games pitting all-white teams vs. all-black teams. Epplin sheds light on Feller’s business side, which provided natural reason to involve Satchel Paige and his magnetic personality. He jumps out of the pages of this book.
It’s hard to imagine someone like Clayton Kershaw in 2021 deciding to hit the road over the offseason pitching exhibition games on the side to supplement his MLB income. It’s not the same industry anymore.
This is the best book I’ve read so far this year. Our Team is creative [reportorial] fiction executed perfectly. Buy this book and read it.