Chasing October is a look at the 1962 National League season, featuring baseball’s first great West Coast pennant race. In both team’s fifth seasons after departing New York and Brooklyn, the Dodgers and Giants staged a repeat of their epic 1951 chase. History would wind up repeating itself, as San Francisco chased down L.A. to tie for the pennant on the final day of the season, and then prevailing in a three-game playoff before ultimately losing the World Series to the Yankees.
Plaut devotes equal time to the Dodgers and Giants. The two teams were very different in style, but both were doing new and innovative things on the diamond. Though baseball had been integrated for 15 years by this time, the process was not completely harmonious. Both teams benefited from their league’s quicker acceptance of desegration (by contrast, the Red Sox had only played their first black player three years earlier, in 1959.) The Dodgers lineup was keyed by several black stars, especially shortstop Maury Wills, and hard hitting Willie Davis and Tommy Davis (no relation). Wills lead a revolution on the basepaths, as he broke Ty Cobb’s record for steals in a season, setting a new mark at 104. The Giants were keyed by many Latin American stars, though their manager Alvin Dark was not always appreciative of their efforts. Plaut chronicles the near revolt that occurred when the manager tried to ban Spanish speaking from the clubhouse. Stars such as pitcher Juan Marichal and first baseman Orlando Cepeda both accuse Dark of having it out for them.
Plaut’s book is an interesting look at what baseball was like in a very specific time and place. For fans of the game there will be much of interest, especially in terms of managerial strategy and the philosophy of the game.