Thomas Oliphant’s Praying for Gil Hodges: A Memoir of the 1955 World Series and One Family’s Love of the Brooklyn Dodgers is a loving snapshot of 1950s Brooklyn. It transports you to not only the 1955 World Series between the New York Yankees and Brooklyn Dodgers, but also to 1955 New York, covering Brooklyn of course, but a few surrounding boroughs as well.
Baseball fans will enjoy this book for putting us front and center with one of the more epic game sevens in World Series history. It’s right up there with the 2016 game seven in which the Chicago Cubs broke through a 100-year curse with an 8-7 win over the since-renamed Cleveland Indians. In 1955, the Dodgers were on a bad streak of their own.
The Brooklyn Dodgers of 1955 had some aging stars, but they were beloved the country over because they were still the Dodgers who integrated baseball with the likes of Jackie Robinson, Don Newcombe, and Roy Campanella.
To put some context into it from someone who was there, a quote in Oliphant’s book from Duke Snider himself really sets the stage for half of this book: “The Yankees were admired but the Dodgers were loved. The Yankees were the ultimate professionals–they even wore pinstripes. We were the colorful, scrappy underdogs. Somebody said rooting for the Yankees is like rooting for General Motors, but the whole world had a great time rooting for the Dodgers. We sounded like an assortment of characters straight out of Daman Runyon and in many ways we were . . . The sports world has never again seen the likes of Brooklyn and its Dodgers in the 1940s and ‘50s.”
The other half of this book is a memoir, which leads me to say that this book would make for a fascinating two-sided documentary because it does completely tell the story of the 1955 World Series in a way that puts you front and center in the action. It is also a compelling family history and, not to be discounted, an interesting story of the history of the Brooklyn Dodgers. There are even a few, probably painful to the author, references to the West coast version of the team that left Brooklyn not too long after 1955.
Fans of Americana, and those history buffs who are interested in the way things used to be will enjoy the pictures painted in this memoir of 1955 Brooklyn. It’s easy to forget today with all sports virtually on demand, but baseball used to be the number one sport in America. The highlights of games missed were only caught in the print of newspapers and not on endless cable highlight reels and streaming websites.
To that end, this book might be the best representation of the 1955 World Series there is, as video from the time is spotty at best. You’d have an easier time reading this book twice than being able to comfortably find and watch the entire game. Archives from 1955 aren’t quite what we would want them to be.
It makes me thankful for Oliphant to have put pen to paper to chronicle the experience of being a kid and reliving the experience by researching and writing about it.
This book is a time capsule, before the turmoil of the Sixties, but not without the racial tension brought about by the integration of baseball. It’s before the Dodgers moved to Los Angeles, but not before the great Vin Scully brought his now iconic voice to the airwaves.
If you are interested in the history of America or America’s pastime, this book is for you. And you may just learn something. For example I had no idea how many famous names were connected to the Brooklyn Dodgers that weren’t actually Dodgers: Roberto Clemente almost signed for the Dodgers, and Pete Rozelle of NFL fame wrote an article about his high school classmate Duke Snider, for example. These connections are just the appetizer to a grand story and a moment in time, unlikely to ever be repeated again.