Dixie Walker: A Life in Baseball Book Review

Dixie Walker: A Life in Baseball book review by Rick “Shaq” Goldstein. Shaq says Dixie Walker was known in Brooklyn as The People’s Cherce, but his legacy will always have an “asterisk” on it… as big as Barry Bonds!

Dixie Walker: A Life in Baseball

This biography of Brooklyn Dodger fan favorite… Dixie Walker… who is destined to have racial hatred attached to him like an albatross on his back… for all eternity… is a literary extra base hit. The author Lyle Spatz… has written an unbelievably researched… and tremendously detailed… story… that despite the time and space… engulfs the reader… as if it is… here and now. I must start my review… with the immediacy and sequence that the author presents “his-feelings”… as well as the facts. Dixie was without a question… one of the two or three most popular players in Brooklyn Bum history. But he also… started a petition to try to stop the Brooklyn Dodgers from allowing Jackie Robinson to become the first black player in modern Major League history. He actually wrote a handwritten letter to Branch Rickey… saying he’d rather be traded than play on the same team as a black man. The author throughout the book… repeatedly tries to plead the case on how much Walker changed over the years… how decades later he said it was “the dumbest thing I did in all my life”… but that doesn’t change that he did it.

Fortunately… for long periods of time… this subject… is put aside to different sections throughout…. And beautiful… pure… exciting… late 1930’s and 1940’s baseball is highlighted… especially for my beloved Brooklyn “Bums”… in such a glorious fashion… it was like I was living a dream. The reader will learn that Dixie’s Dad was a mediocre big league player… his Uncle was a major leaguer… his brother Harry “The Hat” Walker… was a big leaguer… and Dixie and “The Hat”… were the only two brothers to win batting titles. You’ll also learn that Dixie was the only player to play on the same team actively with Babe Ruth AND Jackie Robinson. If you’re a true old school fan… you will have so much fun reading and reliving one TRUE brawl after another… on one baseball field after another. And I don’t mean like today… where everybody practices jogging in from the bullpens and dugouts… to push one or two people and make a few mean faces. These are real… spikings… bean balls… hard punches being thrown… in dugouts on the bases… everywhere… and almost every week! The Dodgers hated the Giants… the Cubs hated the Dodgers… the Dodgers hated the Cards and the Cubs… the Giants hated all the other combinations… and they all hated the living hell out of each other… and they did something about it… and it wasn’t just spineless yapping!

In the midst of this… you’ll learn what a great clutch hitter Dixie was… a great fielder… and base runner… and why… when he eventually became a Brooklyn Dodger… after a few stops on the way… how he became known as the “People’s-Cherce” (for you foreigners… that’s Brooklynese for “Choice”). Dixie always… I mean always had time for the fans. He talked to them on the field… he went to dinners and banquets at churches… temples… hotels… everywhere… and signed autographs for everybody. Yet somehow…. Even after hitting 300 season after season… he had to fight to win his job… and hear all types of negative comments from Larry MacPhail… Branch Rickey… and even player-manager Leo “The Lip” Durocher. Now… just like the author… I temporarily interrupt the baseball on the field portion… to get back to Dixie’s most repetitive racist excuse for not wanting to play on the same team as a black man. He said it would affect his businesses in Alabama… that customers would stop buying from him. Well… to me that’s a lack of integrity… deep down where it really counts! And when the author hints (especially at the end) that times were different then… I don’t accept that. There’s no wrong time to do the right thing… and in my opinion… one of my favorite Abraham Lincoln quotes… is perfect right here!!

“ONE MAN IN THE RIGHT CONSTITUTES A MAJORITY.”
ABRAHAM LINCOLN (The next day he issued the Emancipation Proclamation)

Additionally… Dixie’s best friend from his teenage years… and through his entire lifetime… was perhaps the biggest… worst racist… and anti-Semite in baseball history… Ben Chapman… who was spotlighted with his disgusting racist diatribe in the movie *42*… and as sickening as the movie reenactment was… it was only a pale of what his actual vitriol was. So in addition to his stance against Jackie Robinson… a person also has to be judged by the company he not only keeps… but keeps close to his side for a lifetime.

Now back to more of the beautiful baseball writing in this book. What I absolutely loved in addition to all the detail on Dixie… was stupendous detail on perhaps one of the greatest players ever… to almost be forgotten today… and the that’s the player who many INCLUDING Leo “The LipDurocher… said was as good as Willie Mays… in everything **BUT-LUCK*… and that was “Pistol” Pete Reiser. Reiser was the fastest runner… best hitter… the youngest National League Batting Champion.. On the 1941 pennant winning Bums… and near the end of his damaged career stole home seven times in one season… BUT… HE NEVER MET A WALL HE DIDN’T LIKE! He was carried off on a stretcher innumerable time… he lay unconscious on the field… or a stretcher… innumerable times… had numerous fractured sculls and concussions… and once… as he lay on the field… a priest came out and performed last rites! All he wanted to do was to play… to win… and compete. And then there is tantalizing day in… day out… detail of LeoThe Lip” managing mayhem and the Dodgers. Some loved him… some hated him… but the highest percentage swore nobody knew and managed a game and a team like this. So though this is Dixie’s story… “Pistol Pete”… and Leo… will steal part of this game from you. (By the way… if the Dodgers didn’t lose the 1941 World Series they might have been known as one of the greatest teams in Major League history. They had a 300 hitting outfield with future Hall of Famer Ducky Medwick… “Pistol Pete” who not only led the league in hitting… but led in triples… led in runs scored… led in total bases… led in slugging percentage… and tied for the league lead in doubles… Dixie in right… they had the league MVP at first base in Dolph Camilli… future Hall of Famer… Billy Herman at second… future Hall of Famer Pee Wee Reese at short… Cookie Lavagetto at third… Mickey Owen catching…. Two twenty-game winning pitchers… Wyatt and Higbe… and Hugh Casey… one of the original great relievers in the pen… and a future Hall of Fame manager… Durocher.

In closing… Dixie without a doubt along with Carl Furillo… are the two best right fielders in Dodger history… but along with the petition… the letter… the lifelong friendship with Ben Chapman… you can’t discount the words of an all-time great player… and great gentleman… the late Don Newcombe who said… “Newcombe, a black pitcher who joined the Dodgers in 1949, called Walker a cracker from the South who hated everything black. In Newcombe’s opinion, Dixie changed because Robinson helped get him into the World Series and make some extra money.”

An absolutely great book… and I could only wonder how much more Jackie could have accomplished if “Leo The Lip” wasn’t suspended in 1947… and could have been out there in front of… and side by side with the great Jackie Robinson!

Amazon: Dixie Walker: A Life in baseball

Reviewer: Rick “Shaq” Goldstein

Five Stars

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