Carl Furillo, Brooklyn Dodgers All-Star Book review by Rick “Shaq” Goldstein: Carl Furillo… one of The Glorious Boys of Summer.. The one most UNDER-APPRECIATED by History!
As a lifetime Brooklyn and Los Angeles Dodger fan… I can say unequivocally in my opinion… Carl Furillo was the greatest right fielder in Dodger history! What the author Ted Reed has done here… is not only provide a long… long… overdue… detailed biography… on a star and valued component of the great Dodger Teams of 1946-1960… but he has… like a surgeon… opened up the patient… examined every possible angle and element to truly dust off… and layout for the public to see… what made Carl tick… and also tried with great honesty… to show both sides of major issues that affected the way that Furillo’s career should truly be judged through the annals of time.
The author has literally invested what could easily be considered a lifetime to bring this much needed… and delightful biography… of an overlooked… and in my opinion… as well as the author’s… mistreated by baseball history… AND… longtime Brooklyn hero to the public eye… with no punches being pulled.
The author worked on this book for forty-one years! He started writing it as an honors thesis in American Studies at Wesleyan University. After writing this he had trouble getting anyone to publish it. In the meantime… all of Brooklyn’s/Los Angeles’ other Boys of Summer such as “The Duke”… Jackie… Pee Wee… Big D… Campy… Sandy… Big Newk… Junior… and others… were always being remembered and shined bright… in the adoring light… that is the poetry of old-time-old-school-baseball- history.
I will first bring out… what seems to be the most inflammatory… and perhaps truly misunderstood situations in Carl’s career that seem to be what has tainted his otherwise… near Hall of Fame career. And both of these “incidents” were off the field… not between the lines. The first… is history has tried to attach to Furillo (who was a young man that had served in combat in World War II… and was just starting his second year with the Dodgers) to the ringleaders… mainly Dodger fan favorite and Georgian… Dixie “The People’s Choice” Walker… who were against playing on the same team as Jackie Robinson when the color line in baseball was being broken.
Furillo at that stage of his career certainly hadn’t earned “his bones” enough to be any type of leader… and in the days of no political correctness… when Carl was asked what he would do if Robinson came after his job… and he said… “I’d break his legs”… Furillo’s son during the creation of this book said: “Then I said to Dad, Did you ever say, “I’d break his legs?” and dad said to me, “All of us competed for the spots we had. Dad said… It didn’t matter if he was a white guy, a Chinese guy or whatever, I’d have said the same thing. What he meant was… Nobody was going to take my spot. It had nothing to do with ethnic groups.”
Think of how out of context that was… and how it was blown up completely out of proportion. If someone at work keeps borrowing your stapler… and doesn’t bring it back… and you shout… “if that guy touches my stapler again… I’ll kill him!”… Should you be considered a murderer. Furillo was known as always speaking his mind without the niceties of an Ivy League School education. He never got past the eighth grade. Yet everyone that knew him… said he never told a lie.
Roger Kahn… the actual author of BOYS OF SUMMER said: “IMPORTANTLY KAHN NOTED, FURILLO DID NOT LIE. HE WAS PROUD OF WHO HE WAS, AND COMFORTABLE WITH HIMSELF, AND HE SAW NO REASON TO SAY SOMETHING UNTRUE. I KNEW FURILLO FOR 37 YEARS,” KAHN WROTE, “I DO NOT BELIEVE HE WAS CAPABLE OF TELLING A LIE.”
Jackie… Campy… and Newk became great friends… and Furillo would play catch with Campy in full view of hostile crowds before games. In another book I read on former Brooklyn Dodger pitcher Joe Black… it went out of its way to state how Carl would make sure to play catch before games with Joe Black when the racist crowds were the worst.
The other major issue that the author investigates and lays out in detail… is the way Furillo’s career ended with a testy legal fight with the Dodgers and baseball… where Carl loudly claimed he was being blackballed. Once again the author precisely lays out both sides… and the mistakes made by all. I have to tip my hat once again to the author… for pulling off a literary style triumph… where so many before him have failed. And that’s in combining a biography on long ago subjects… and smoothly and spectacularly combining both actual quotes from his personal interviews… along with interweaving historical quotes culled from other sources. This story… NEVER… seems like it’s just rehashing box scores of long ago contests.
Front and center… the reader will have the joy of reliving how baseball used to be. The beanball wars… the fights at the mound… and many of them… wouldn’t even lead to a player being thrown out of the game. As an avid lifetime old-school fan… let alone Brooklyn fan… I already knew quite well… about the hatred between Furillo and former Brooklyn manager… turned traitorous New York Giant skipper… Leo “The Lip” Durocher… but I never was privy… to such detailed behind the scenes hatred and reasons for this loathing… that festered for years… that led to among other things the famous 1953 brawl where Carl literally left first base and charged Durocher in the Giant dugout… that led to Furillo breaking a finger on his hand… and though Furillo won the National League batting title that year hitting 344… he missed the last month of the season… and his playing was effected and may have kept “The Bums” from winning the World Series that year. And then there’s Sal “The Barber” Maglie who had beaned and thrown at Furillo innumerable times as a pitcher on the hated Giants… and then he walks into the Dodger’s clubhouse after being traded to them in 1956… and guess who’s sitting there in the clubhouse??!!
I’ve saved some of Furillo’s stats for last. After 15 years in the Big’s his lifetime batting average was 299… he was literally ONE HIT AWAY FROM A 300 LIFETIME AVERAGE! He had 192 home-runs … 1,058 RBI’s… 1,910 hits… (as mentioned the 1953 National League Batting Champion)… played in 7 World Series… 2 World Championships… and as his nickname “THE READING RIFLE”… indicated… he probably had the greatest arm in the National League for over a decade. He threw out so many runners his first few years… opponents stopped trying to advance on balls hit to him. There were hundreds of angles on the walls and fences in right field at Ebbets Field… and Furillo played them all as if he was Beethoven playing the piano… he was also known as a clutch hitter extraordinaire. And he is one of the few players… who had more career walks… than strikeouts.
As longtime teammate… and lifetime friend Carl “Oisk” Erskine… said at Furillo’s funeral… “Carl was a worker, he came to work, and he didn’t come to play. I said I saw him do something I never saw anybody else do at any level. I saw him, in Ebbets Field, throw runners out at all four bases: home, third base and second base, and twice I saw him throw runners out at first base. That was a unique thing about Carl, “THE READING RIFLE”, his throwing arm was strong.”
Strong… is also how I would rate the author’s work on this book. This truly is one of the best baseball biographies I’ve read in years!
Reviewer: Rick “Shaq” Goldstein