Everything in Baseball comes full circle. This magical 2012 season coincides with the sacred fiftieth anniversary of Dodger Stadium. This year also marks the fiftieth anniversary of what is widely considered the greatest pennant race of all time between the Dodgers and the Giants. The 1962 National League Baseball season featured one of the most intense brutal dramatic battles for the NL pennant in the history of Baseball. That season’s pennant race was a dog fight, and David Plaut’s legendary book Chasing October meticulously describes the 1962 NL pennant race from start to finish in fascinating detail.
I recently had the honor of reviewing Chasing October. I also sat down and spoke to David about his book which was originally published in 1994.
David Plaut has been a producer for NFL films since 1976. He has won five Emmy Awards and directed three of the best selling home sports videos of all time. David has been a book critic with USA Today Sports Weekly, and he has authored five books, one of which he co-wrote with ESPN broadcaster Ron Jaworski.
David currently resides in New Jersey but grew up in Ohio, and he was an avid Baseball fan who collected Baseball cards and rooted for the Reds. I asked David what his inspiration was for writing a book about the 1962 NL pennant race between the Dodgers and the Giants. David explained about his love for the allure of the game and his childhood hero Sandy Koufax. Of course Koufax, perhaps the greatest left-handed pitcher in Dodger history is a major player among many characters in this epic battle between what is considered as sports greatest and oldest rivalry….The Dodgers and the Giants.
What makes David’s book so utterly fascinating, is the little details he describes throughout this amazing story. David doesn’t just cover the 1962 regular season and playoff, he sets the stage by telling us what was going on across the nation at the time, only a year before the JFK assassination. He describes some of the history of the Dodgers/Giants rivalry, analyzes both team’s rosters, and even goes into detail describing each team’s players, managers, coaches’ childhoods, and careers up to that point. The 1962 season also involves my family, as my Uncle Mark Lander’s first ever Dodger game was as a ten year old child, when him and my grandfather attended Sandy Koufax’s first no-hitter on June 30, 1962 against the Mets. One of four no-hitters Uncle Mark would attend in person at Dodger Stadium during his amazing 50 years as a lifelong Dodger fan.
As you know, that season didn’t end well for the Dodgers, but it wasn’t decided until the last inning of the last playoff game at Dodger Stadium.
David takes us through the entire regular season and the three game playoff series. Reading this book is like dipping yourself into magic waters. You are transformed to a different world. You feel like you are back in 1962. In what will be a three part series, I will review David’s amazing book titled Chasing October.
David had originally published the book in 1994, but the players’ strike that year wiped out momentum, and sales dwindled. This was understandable as interest in Baseball at that time was low. Once Baseball resumed the next spring, sales did not pick up according to David, and he moved on to other projects. Now with the fiftieth anniversary of this great 1962 season, Dodger Stadium, and another close playoff race brewing between the Dodgers and the Giants this year, David felt it would be a great time to renew interest.
Let me take you back, way back to 1962. JFK was still president, the counterculture movement had yet to explode onto the American scene as everyone was still in the era of sleepy innocence of the late 50’s early 60’s. As Americans all over the country were twisting and shouting to the Beatles, the Dodgers and Giants were doing battle during an epic pennant race considered the best of all time.
While the Dodgers were still reeling from their 1951 playoff loss as a result of the “shot heard round the world” from Bobby Thompson, both teams were coming off of dissapointing 1961 seasons.
The Giants however jumped out to an early season lead. The Giants had a power packed lineup and a roster filled with some of the greatest players of all time. Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Juan Marichal, Orlando Cepeda, Matty, and Felipe Alou, were some of the Giants main cogs. The Dodgers used speed as their primary weapon of attack. 1962 is the season where Dodger speedster Maury Wills broke Ty Cobb’s stolen base record. All total, the Dodgers stole 198 bases that year. The Dodgers were loaded with future hall of famers and all-stars as well. Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, Maury Wills, Frank Howard, Jim Gilliam, Duke Snider, Wally Moon, Tommy and Willie Davis, and others comprised the roster for the Boys in Blue. The Dodgers would battle back, with the two teams jockeying for the top spot throughout the summer months and into September.
David describes their managers as stark opposites. Dodgers skipper Walter Alston was cool and by the book. Giants manager Alvin Dark was unconventional.
Also opposite was the two cities. Los Angeles and it’s vast expansive interconnected counties and highways, while San Francisco has it’s close knit Coastal Bay center.
The 1962 pennant race was a dog fight, and it had everything. Drama, clubhouse fights, MLB records being threatened, tactical blunders, comebacks, collapses, and it saw both teams finish tied with 100 wins at the end of the season. It took a three-game playoff to determine the winner. Even the groundskeepers were involved in the rivalry. The Giants soaked their infield at Candlestick Park to deter the Dodgers speed, while the Dodgers packed their infield at Chavez Ravine like a track field.
Just like America, Major League Baseball was on the brink of change. That season featured two more expansion teams (New York Mets and Houston Colt 45’s), two ten team leagues, and an expanded 162-game schedule complicated things further for both teams throughout the season.
How much did the expanded regular season play a part in the pennant race?
"Everybody had to deal with it and it was eight more games. The season was longer for the first time. Rookies had to play a longer schedule. The two expansion teams were like a JV team, and easy opponents to beat up on. Sure you had longer schedules to play, but when you were playing one of those three teams, normally you didn’t have much trouble, so I guess maybe it all evened out. Fatigue played a big factor of course. The combination of feeling the heat, losing Koufax to injury, the bullpen was gassed, may have played a part of the collapse for the Dodgers."
This pennant race had it all, and David takes you through everything. There are the clubhouse feuds between Maury Wills and Jim Gilliam. The relationship between Wills and actress Doris Day, and the Dodgers intertwined relationship to Hollywood was apparent.
When I asked David if he had originally intended to go into such precise detail about each player’s lives, he explained to me why it was a must
"When you do research for a book like this, you go with the direction it leads you into. Some of the feature stories about these guys were fascinating. It was important to tell the story with the correct background and context. You couldn’t tell the story for example without telling the story of the Giants big Latin background. The people’s backgrounds and stories were more compelling than just game recaps. They had very interesting lives. Things were different back then. Not as much media scrutiny."
I asked David if the 62’ race was the best ever. Here’s what he thought.
"Great yes, but not sure if it was the best. The 1951 race could be considered one of the best. The 1967 race was very exciting as well. Neither of those races had some of the elements the 62 race had. Sociological elements, and geographical rivalries. The first modern stadiums. Race issues with Latin payers, and Alvin Dark some of the issues he had growing up in the south. NY being angry with Dodgers and Giants for leaving. The New York Mets first season. The Dodger’s ties with the Hollywood community, etc, etc."
I invite you all to join me in this three-part review, where I take a look at this legendary book. The second part I will go into the stark contrasts between the two managers and the regular season. Part three will feature the three-game playoff series for the pennant. All throughout I will sprinkle in parts of my interview with David. You will know some inside tidbits about the book and the great 1962 pennant race.
David Plaut has his website up here chasingoctoberbook.com , and you can purchase a copy of the book at this link here http://www.amazon.com/Chasing-October-ebook/dp/B008BG5AGY/ref=sr_1_9?ie=UTF8&qid=1339702754&sr=8-9
You can also find David and his book Chasing October on Facebook here www.facebook.com/chasingoctoberbook
The Dodgers and Giants hate each other. The storied rivalry began in the 1930’s with a legendary quote from Bill Terry. David backgrounds the beginnings of the rivalry as well, while taking you on a trip down memory lane into Baseball’s golden era. Those Dodger/Giant games were larger than life in those days, and a reason for each player to sharpen their spikes or play a little harder than they normally would. Take a trip back with me as I review this wonderful book.
Everything comes full circle this year. The great 1962 pennant race. The 50-year anniversary of Dodger Stadium. The anniversary of Maury Wills breaking the stolen base record previously set by Ty Cobb. The 50-year anniversary of my Uncle Mark Lander’s first Dodger game which was Sandy Koufax’s first no-hitter against the Mets. The 50-year anniversary of the New York Mets. All of this while the present day Giants chase the present day Dodgers for first place. I only hope that my words do this wonderful book justice.
"The Dodger Giant rivalry has existed since the nineteenth century Not simply because of geographic proximity, but also because their mutual dislike for each other has been leavened with mutual respect. The 1962 season was a prime example of these two conditions coalescing to create as exciting a Baseball battle as California has ever witnessed. My hope is that now in 2012, the golden anniversary of this golden pennant race told on the pages of Chasing October, will help today’s fans apply a perspective from yesteryear to gain a better understanding of what makes this rivalry so special. Many of the names, places, personalities of 1962 are long gone. But the qualities and human frailties they displayed in their marathon journey to a championship are as alive and enduring as ever."