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The Teammates: A Portrait of a Friendship by David Halberstam

 

Rating: (Recommended)

 

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Friends Forever

Baseball fans will love David Halberstam’s new book, The Teammates. Those readers who pay no attention to baseball will find The Teammates to present that amazing phenomenon called friendship in a way that resonates with the range of human nature most of us experience. Halberstam describes how Ted Williams, Johnny Pesky, Bobby Doerr and Dominic DiMaggio met, how they worked together on a team, and how they spent their entire lives as friends. Here’s an excerpt from the end of the book (pp. 198-200):

A few months after Ted died, I found myself in Johnny Peskv's house in Swamoscott, starting work on this book. When I had first called his home to set up the meeting, Ruth

Pesky told me that he was already at the ballpark working. "He's eighty-two,” she said. “He promised me he’d quit when he reaches eighty-five."

It's a lovely home. A painting by Leroy Neiman of Ted Williams and that marvelous swing hangs in the living room, and the air is scented by Pesky’s ever-present cigars. He and Ruth Hickev Peskv have lived in this house for 35 years, and they built it to their specifications. It's a bit modern, with a good deal of light coming in, and it has a warm feeling of being lived in. It took 22 years to pay off" the mortgage, which amuses Pesky because he coaches now in an age when young ballplayers can pay off their mortgages in one year, thanks to their awesome salaries.

Some of the difference in attitude is, I suppose, generational. Pesky, like the other three, grew up in an America of dramatically lower expectations and came of age during the Depression. A great deal less was assumed in terms of lifestyle. But no small part of it was the nature of the man himself. He had always understood his limitations and his strengths, both on and off the field, and thus the sum of his good fortune. Besides, if his head had swelled even slightly, Ruth Pesky was always there to bring him back down. His fame, he enjoyed pointing out, mattered not at all to her.

Pesky was in no way disappointed with what had not taken place during the rest of his life. Instead he seemed somewhat in awe of how long it had all lasted, how rich his life had been, how many friends he had made, how many people actually liked him, and how many people still remembered him and his glory days, and were pleased to be in his company. It was never about money, he said. The money was okay, less surely than it should have been because of labor laws of the time. Still it was more than anything he might have made doing another job—no one was beating a rush to their door to offer someone named John Paveskovich a job. Johnny Pesky was another matter. Perhaps the alternative might have been working for the sawmill like his father.

But baseball had provided a wonderful, rich life. The pleasure had always been in the doing, the sheer delight in going out there every day and playing, being paid to do the thing you loved to do. And the richness had come from the friendships, he said. How many people in other professions have friendships that last so long—unusual friendships because when you see each other, you were instantly taken back to another time, when you were all young, and some big game was on the line.   

If there was one thing that surprised Pesky, it was how long it had all lasted—how much resonance there was to his fame, even now, 60 years after he broke in. People still knew who he was and still cared about him and his teammates. There was a special richness, he thought, to the kind of life he had lived that went well beyond any material rewards.

The other three, I thought, all agreed. "My guys," Ted had called them, and they were that, always very much their own men, but his guys as well, forever linked to him as well as to each other. When Bobby Doerr and Dominic DiMaggio talked about their lives, it was with the same tone as John, with an appreciation—indeed a gratitude—for their good fortune, and a sense that although they had prospered, the best part, the richest part, of their lives had little to do with material things, and that they had lived their lives with very few regrets.

The Teammates is s story about baseball, personalities, choices, friendship, love and caring. Especially if today’s sports stars make you gag with their super-egos, read about four men who dealt with those egos, with competition, with love and loss, and come away feeling pretty good.

Steve Hopkins, June 21, 2003

 

ă 2003 Hopkins and Company, LLC

 

The recommendation rating for this book appeared in the July 2003 issue of Executive Times

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