Thursday, May 14, 2009

Book Review: Black & Blue

If you've been reading this blog the past couple of weeks, you may have noticed lots of posts featuring these 2 guys.

Well, the main reason for that, aside from the fact that they are both Hall of Fame players, and Orioles, is the fantastic book Black & Blue by Tom Adelman. It chronicles the 1966 seasons of the 2 teams that would eventually meet in the World Series, the Los Angeles Dodgers and Baltimore Orioles. The Orioles pulled what was considered a major upset by sweeping the Dodgers to become World Champions. The '66 Orioles are referred to as "forgotten champions" and honestly, I had no idea they had won the World Series that season. I knew about losing to the Mets in '69, and beating the Big Red Machine to win it all in '70 before losing to the Pittsburgh Pirates in the '71 Series, but never knew that the Orioles won it all in 1966. Not only did they improbably win the World Series, but beat 2 of the best pitchers in baseball history in the process, Don Drysdale and Sandy Koufax.

The first quarter of this book is devoted to Frank Robinson, and his '66 season. Having just been traded from Cincinnati to Baltimore, Frank had a chip on his shoulder. Management in Cincy said that Frank was too old (he was only 30!) and had bad knees. What did Frank do to prove them wrong? Well, he won the triple crown, and led Baltimore to it's first World Championship ever. Not too shabby for a guy the Reds practically traded for peanuts. Where Brooks enters the picture, aside from being one of the other major reasons the Orioles won it all, is his relationship with Frank, and how he used his leadership to help ease Frank's transition to his new home. As I've written about in earlier posts, the 60's were a very racially charged time for America, and baseball was no exception. Brooks Robinson, already the team's leader, took the reins and welcomed Baltimore's new star outfielder the day Frank Robinson arrived at spring training.

The second quarter of the book is devoted to Sandy Koufax, and his swan song song '66 season. Talk about guts! Koufax pitched practically every game of the season in excruciating pain, and would have his arm rubbed down with capsaicin prior to each start, in hopes of dulling the pain. Despite his agony, Koufax went on to win a personal best 27 games in '66, a feat that is unheard of in this day and age. Prior to the '66 season, Koufax and Don Drysdale also staged one of the first holdouts by professional athletes, when Koufax and Don Drysdale refused to report to spring training, or sign their contracts until they received hefty raises. You have to remember, in 1966, the players union was only a couple of years old, and certainly didn't pull the weight they do today, so what they managed to accomplish was pretty remarkable at the time. Another member of that Dodger squad was a 22 year old rookie named Don Sutton, who unfortunately got injured late in the regular season and did not pitch in the Series.

The entire second half of the book breaks down each of the 4 World Series games in extraordinary detail. The Dodger went on to set a world record for most innings played without scoring a single run, and the young Orioles pitching staff, featuring 20 year old Jim Palmer and Dave McNally, would end the Series with a team ERA of 0.50. Frank and Brooks both homered in the Series, as did young center fielder Paul Blair, and after 4 games, Orioles magic was born.

Adelman's writing is both informative and engaging. I managed to finish this book in less than 2 weeks, but had a hard time putting it down. If it weren't for the fact that I have to sleep and work, it would've only taken a couple of days to get through. I highly recommend this book to any baseball buff, even Dodgers fans. It is truly a must read.


  1. Thanks for being reading it and sharing. Black and Blue is available via Abebooks for less than $5 delivered.

    Have you read The Long Ball: The Summer of '75--Spaceman, Catfish, Charlie Hustle, and the Greatest World Series Ever Played ?

    It is also by Tom Adelman. I haven't, I'm just curious if they are similar in style.

  2. Nope, haven't read it, but I would assume that they're probably similar in style, since it's Adelman who wrote them both. He's a fine writer, and perhaps I'll check out his other books.