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Book review: Opening Day by Jonathan Eig
2007-06-07 23:20
by Bob Timmermann

Jonathan Eig’s Opening Day: The Story of Jackie Robinson’s First Season is the latest in a series of books about the most iconic figure in post-WWII baseball. The book is not as much a biography of Robinson, but mostly an examination of Robinson’s first season in the majors and how the Brooklyn Dodgers and the rest of baseball and its fans reacted to Robinson’s arrival on the scene.

Even though many of the principals in the events of 1947 are still living, such as Rachel Robinson and Joe Garagiola, the reality of what happened is still subject to debate. Eig’s book attempts to look at many of the stories that have arisen from Robinson’s debut year and tries to give them an objective review.

Did the St. Louis Cardinals try to boycott their first game in Brooklyn in 1947? (Probably not.) Did Pee Wee Reese walk across the field in Cincinnati and put his arm across Robinson in a sign of solidarity ? (Maybe, but it might not have been in 1947 or even in Cincinnati or it even could have been Eddie Stanky.) Did Garagiola try to bait Robinson with racial epithets? (Garagiola says no.)

But what do we know about Robinson and the 1947 season? We know that Robinson drew black fans to stadiums throughout the National League. We know that Robinson, after a slow start, turned in a stellar season that propelled the Dodgers to an unlikely NL pennant. We know that Robinson was quickly accepted as a member of the Dodgers, but not fully embraced as a teammate until he had proven himself both on and off the field.

I didn’t quite know what to make of the book. Eig’s research on the subject seems thorough. His interviews are interesting reading. There are good details about how new Dodger manager Burt Shotton handled the difficult situation he inherited after Leo Durocher was suspended at the beginning of the season.

But perhaps the focus is a little too narrow for a figure as big as Jackie Robinson. There was much more to his career than just 1947. For a bigger picture, I would suggest Jules Tygiel’s Baseball’s Great Experiment, and for information about Robinson’s post-baseball career, you can try Arnold Rampersad’s authorized Jackie Robinson: A Biography.

However, Opening Day is a worthwhile addition to the ever-increasing canon of books about Jackie Robinson. Not accounting for revised editions, I count over 400 titles about Jackie Robinson in OCLC Worldcat.

2007-06-08 10:48:45
1.   Eric Stephen
You read a lot!

I just bought this book, but haven't read it yet. Based on your review (and my enjoyment of Posnanski's writing), I will definitely purchase his book on Buck O'Neill.

Thanks for doing these reviews. They are very informative.

2007-06-08 11:13:33
2.   Eric Stephen
By "his", I meant "Joe Posnanski".

I only read books; I don't write 'em!

2007-06-08 11:26:05
3.   Bob Timmermann

I have another one for next week. I had a lot of time to read recently.

The Branch Rickey bio just arrived at the library. That's going to take a while. It's close to 700 pages.

2007-06-08 12:14:05
4.   Kevin Lewis

I have never really picked up a baseball centered book (non-fictional at least). What would be your best recommendation for starting a possible new love affair with this type of reading?


2007-06-08 12:18:37
5.   Bob Timmermann
I would try "The Glory of Their Times" by Lawrence Ritter if you want to start out with a nonfiction book.
2007-06-08 22:03:12
6.   grandcosmo
Bob, I felt the same way you did about Eig's last book which was a bio of Lou Gerhig. It was great reporting but in the end it wasn't as compelling as I had hoped.

Still I am a sucker for a good KOBS anecdote so I'll put "Opening Day" on my list.

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