View Full Version : Totally Biased Book Review: Twilight Teams

Baby Fisk
03-09-2004, 08:45 AM
Twilight Teams - by Jeffrey Saint John Stewart (2000, 314 pp.)

The last game in the history of the Washington Senators was never finished.

It was September 30, 1971, and the lame duck Senators -- whose move to Texas had already been announced -- were playing the Yankees. With two out in the top of the ninth, a fan ran onto the field at RFK Stadium and uprooted first base before security could nab him. Within minutes, hundreds of fans swarmed the field, looting it for souvenirs of their departing team. Order could not be restored, and the Senators forfeited the game.

This was the final sad moment in a transitional era for baseball. From the early 50's to the early 70's, 10 different clubs packed up and moved away from 8 different major league cities. Sometimes a second, stronger club was there to become a city's sole outfit; sometimes a city was abandoned altogether. To put this period into context, major league baseball began the 1952 season with the exact same teams that had begun the 1903 season. For five decades, MLB was made up of the same 16 teams playing out of just 10 different cities, none of them west of the Mississippi.

Twilight Teams by Jeffrey Saint John Stuart is a nostalgic account of the era when clubs moved into and sometimes back out of cities with alarming regularity. Stuart's book is presented as a sort of time capsule, covering the final seasons of six teams that were destined to move elsewhere at season's end.

The teams covered are the 1952 Boston Braves (who moved to Milwaukee), 1953 St. Louis Browns (Baltimore), 1954 Philadelphia Athletics (Kansas City), 1957 New York Giants (San Francisco), 1957 Brooklyn Dodgers (Los Angeles), and 1971 Senators (Arlington).

During and since that time, a dozen expansion franchises have been awarded. But back in the 50's, baseball executives felt that the best way to satisfy other cities that wanted a major league franchise was to move an existing club out of a two-team city. That way, baseball would continue in the first city and a new city could join the major league fraternity without diluting the talent pool with a flood of new players.

In each chapter, Stuart reviews the history of a team that moved, the reasons behind its owners selling or moving the team, and a detailed account of the team's final season in its city of origin. The cases of the Braves, Browns and Athletics were simple: they were the poor cousin in a two-team town. They were struggling financially, had a weak fan base and could start fresh in a new town.

It was actually Bill Veeck who started the dominoes in motion. He had wanted to move his St. Louis Browns to Milwaukee after the 1952 season, but the American League blocked the move. Instead, the Braves bolted Beantown in the middle of Spring Training 1953 with the blessing of the National League. The following year, Veeck convinced his fellow owners to let him sell the Browns to interests in Baltimore, where the team became the Orioles for 1954.

The most romanticized club moves in baseball are those of the New York Giants and Brooklyn Dodgers. They both left the Big Apple for sunny California at the end of 1957 to the dismay of their heartbroken fans. Moving a struggling, debt-riddled team is one thing, but both the Giants and Dodgers were recent World Series winners, popular in the community and financially secure. Surprise! Ownership greed propelled both teams towards the unthinkable. Giants owner Horace Stoneham and Dodgers owner Walter O'Malley both wanted new stadiums with spacious parking lots and succumbed to the temptation of the west coast, which offered all that and more. New Yorkers were devastated by the double whammy, and the National League sought penance by establishing the expansion Mets in 1962. For many though, the loss of their beloved Giants or Dodgers could never be overcome.

As for the Senators, they are the only team that failed twice in the same city. The first Senators club existed from 1903 to 1960, then moved to Minnesota. A second Senators franchise was awarded to DC for the very next season. It lasted from 1961 to 1971, before the American League gave up on the capital for good, and the second Senators became the Texas Rangers. It's interesting to read this chapter and learn about the failures that caused Washington to lose its baseball club twice, especially since the city is on the list of prospective new homes for the struggling Montreal Expos.

I was also drawn to this book because Sox fans have not been free from the threat of losing their club to another city. There have been numerous times in Sox history when ownership has turned an ear to the siren song of a Seattle, a Denver, or a Tampa Bay. Reading what other fans went through makes me hope that the present and future owners of our team never think about going down that road again.

Now here's why I cannot in good conscience recommend this book. For all its interesting content, Twilight Teams reads like a very poor high school report. The author's crimes against the word "it's" drove me wild. Forgiveable? Perhaps, but is it forgiveable when Stuart declares that the 1921 Giants-Yankees World Series was the first ever played by two teams from the same city? The book is marred by over a hundred typos (yes, I kept a tally out of morbid fascination!). This author, clearly, has no grasp of commas, or, how to use them, properly. Either that or he's just sorely in need of a good editor. Hell, even a decent proofreader could have rescued this effort.

--Baby Fisk

03-09-2004, 09:29 AM
Nice job, Fisk.

03-11-2004, 09:09 AM
Interesting thing about Tampa Bay: they tried to get the Sox or the Twins at one time or another, yet the Devil rays play before mostly empty seats.

03-11-2004, 10:00 AM
Originally posted by Baby Fisk
For five decades, MLB was made up of the same 16 teams playing out of just 10 different cities, none of them west of the Mississippi.

Not to be a stickler, but St. Louis is west of the river.