1962: Baseball, Hollywood, JFK, and the Beginning of America’s Future
University of Nebraska Press, 2018
1962 was the year of the future.
NASA launched three astronaut missions in its Mercury project, the Telstar satellite opened new vistas for global telecommunications, and the Mariner 2 spacecraft sent the first signals from another planet during its voyage to Venus. Meanwhile, America dreamed of life in the 21st century through the debuts of futuristic designs at the Seattle World’s Fair, adventures in the new comic book series Space Family Robinson, and episodes of the Saturday morning cartoon show The Jetsons—complete with robot maids, aero cars, and Googie-style architecture.
Anything seemed possible.
Timed for a publication date in 2017 to coincide with John F. Kennedy’s 100th birthday, 1962: Baseball, Hollywood, JFK, and the Beginning of America’s Future is the first book to focus on 1962 in its entirety. From NASA to no-hitters to nostalgia, 1962 describes a new era of political, societal, and cultural touchstones with novelistic detail.
Publishers, for example, erased the boundaries of acceptable topics in 1962. Helen Gurley Brown’s Sex and the Single Girl created a new sexual paradigm for women, Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring ignited environmental activism, and Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest exposed the challenges of mental illness. Literature inspired Hollywood to rattle the souls of movie audiences with stories about racism in To Kill A Mockingbird, Communist brainwashing in The Manchurian Candidate, and a love affair between a middle-aged man and a teenaged girl in Lolita.
Using the seven games of the ’62 World Series as its narrative arc with alternating chapters recounting pivotal events—both in baseball and world affairs—1962 goes behind the box scores and into the dugouts, the stands, and the press box to chronicle the untold stories of 1962. If the bases were loaded with The Victory Season, Summer of ’68, and Ladies and Gentlemen, The Bronx Is Burning, then 1962 would hit a grand slam for books about baseball and America that revolve around the events of a specific year.
1962 began with the election of two American heroes into the Baseball Hall of Fame: Jackie Robinson became a civil rights symbol when he broke baseball’s color line in 1947 and Bob Feller put his career on hold to serve in the Navy during World War II. It was the beginning of a baseball year that saw five no-hitters, a rare National League playoff between the Giants and the Dodgers, and a thrilling seven-game World Series.
Beyond baseball, America’s social revolution turned a corner in 1962 when James Meredith enrolled as the first black student at the University of Mississippi, the United States Supreme Court ruled that mandatory prayers in public schools are unconstitutional, and Students for a Democratic Society unveiled its Port Huron Statement embracing activism, civil rights, and peace.
1962 traces the genesis of the New York Mets and the Houston Colt .45s back to the Continental League, a third major league conceived by Branch Rickey. Though the Continental League never materialized, its plans led to baseball’s expansion in 1962, resulting in debut seasons for the Mets and the Colt .45s. 1962 reveals the efforts of the Houston Sports Association to bring Major League Baseball to Houston—including sportswriter turned publicity executive George Kirksey, through his personal papers.
The Mets attempted to fill the National League void created when the Brooklyn Dodgers and the New York Giants left their homeland, history, and heritage for California.
1962 begins with a Prologue describing the last at-bat in the 1962 World Series. In their third consecutive World Series, the New York Yankees had their dynasty on the line when they held a 1-0 lead against the San Francisco Giants in the bottom of the ninth inning of Game Seven. Candlestick Park was, for the moment, San Francisco’s emotional epicenter, radiating nervous energy into every cove, crevice, and cranny of the Bay Area. From the five-star hotels in Nob Hill to the slaughterhouses in Butchertown, from the seafood restaurants in Fisherman’s Wharf to the Victorian homes in Haight-Ashbury, San Franciscans felt their heart rates spike with enough adrenaline to power NASA’s next Mercury mission.
What happened next was a moment that embodied the hopes, frustrations, and surprises of baseball fans. Charles Schulz even incorporated the World Series finale into two Peanuts installments. It was a rare real-life reference for Charlie Brown.
1962 also profiles William A. Shea, appointed by Mayor Wagner to spearhead the return of National League baseball to New York City. Shea’s law practice did not rely on arguing cases, negotiating deals, or writing briefs. Rather, clients turned to Shea for corporate, financial, and political matchmaking. When the Mets built a new stadium, they named it after Shea. The Shea family will give exclusive interviews for 1962.
The Mets and the Colt .45s’ disastrous ’62 seasons will be related throughout 1962—including a record of 40-120 for the Mets, labeled “Amazing” by Manager Casey Stengel in a bit of publicity hokum straight out of the P.T. Barnum playbook. Sportswriters alternated “Amazins” with “Mets” in stories and continue to do so today. Despite their record, the ’62 Mets hold a place in Mets fans’ hearts as lovable rather than pathetic. So what if their players were aging, failing, and not yet ripe for the majors? The Mets revived National League baseball in a city thirsty for an alternative to the Yankees. Meanwhile, Stengel moaned, “Can’t anybody here play this game?”
3,000 miles west, Dodgers owner Walter O’Malley fulfilled baseball’s version of Manifest Destiny when he launched Dodger Stadium, a state-of-the-art ballpark in Chavez Ravine—a gift from the City of Los Angeles. Weather problems hampered construction, triggering doubt concerning Dodger Stadium’s inauguration. In addition, a faction of Angelenos fought the city’s power structure in political combat amounting to David fighting Goliath without even a slingshot or a rock. Angry at the displacement of Latino families in the ravine, protestors tried to stifle O’Malley’s stadium efforts.
No less passionate about the Dodgers than their Brooklyn “fancestors,” Dodger fans in southern California rejoiced when Sandy Koufax pitched his first of four career no-hitters, Maury Wills set a record for stolen bases in a season, and Don Drysdale won 25 games. The Dodgers, however, collapsed in a heated pennant race against the Giants—a rivalry dating back to the 1880s—forcing a three-game National League playoff, the last of its kind in Major League Baseball.
Popular culture found new icons in 1962—The Beach Boys released their first album, the Beatles recorded their first single, Johnny Carson began a 30-year reign as host of The Tonight Show, Sean Connery played the first film version of James Bond in Dr. No, Wilt Chamberlain set an NBA scoring record with 100 points in a single game, Buddy Ebsen debuted as a poor mountaineer turned multi-millionaire on The Beverly Hillbillies, and Vaughn Meader parodied the Kennedy clan with a spot-on impression of President John F. Kennedy in the hit comedy album The First Family.
America’s innocence began to fade when the Cuban Missile Crisis threatened to trigger World War III, Marilyn Monroe died of a drug overdose, and Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield became the first elected official to speak negatively on the war in Vietnam. Meanwhile, Richard Nixon threatened to leave politics after losing the California gubernatorial election. He told reporters, “Just think how much you’re going to be missing. You won’t have Nixon to kick around anymore.” Six years later, America elected him to the presidency.
1962 boasts a cast of heroes that inspired America’s greatness, including President Kennedy—a former World War II Navy officer—establishing the Navy SEALs, John Glenn becoming the first American astronaut to orbit Earth, Walter Cronkite starting his two-decade tenure as anchor of CBS Evening News, Sam Walton beginning a retail empire with the first Walmart store, Stephen Sondheim debuting his legendary Broadway musical A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, and Stan Lee creating Spiderman—the first superhero with realistic family problems.
Returning to television in The Lucy Show, Lucille Ball carved a new path for women as the first woman to head a Hollywood studio—Desilu. Under Ball’s leadership, Desilu later produced the 1960s iconic programs Mission: Impossible and Star Trek.
1962 is the glorious story of baseball, popular culture, and current events intersecting, inspiring, and initiating new standards of achievement where the land of the free is the home of those brave enough to imagine. 1962 will entertain baseball fans, historians, popular culture buffs, baby boomers, and just about anyone who ever watched an episode of Mad Men.