Peter Cozzens is the author of sixteen critically acclaimed books on the Civil War and the American West. He recently retired after 30 years as a Foreign Service Officer with the U. S. Department of State. All of Cozzens’ books have been selections of the Book of the Month Club, History Book Club, and/or the Military Book Club.
When 29-year-old pitcher Alva Lee “Bobo” Holloman Jr. showed up at the St. Louis Browns’ spring training camp in March 1953 for his first trial with a Major League club, he gave every indication of being an instant washout. The meaty, raven-haired, 6-foot, 2-inch Georgian with a Southern drawl carried an extra 20 pounds, much of it in his belly.
On Thursday, June 18, 1953, the visiting Detroit Tigers and the Boston Red Sox played the rubber game of a three-game series. The afternoon was sunny and hot, and the Detroit Tigers were in an ugly mood. Detroit had won the first game 5–3, only to be trounced in the second game 17–1. The defeat came as no great surprise. Detroit was the doormat of the American League. With a cellar-dwelling 14–42 record, they were 29½ games out of first place.
The cinematic Cleveland Indians sportscaster Harry Doyle (Bob Uecker) would have felt right at home with the Opening Day roster of the 1899 Cleveland Spiders, then a National League franchise. The team was a sorry mix of erstwhile benchwarmers, fading regulars, mediocre minor leaguers, and former semipros. But unlike the fictitious Indians in the movie Major League, the real-life Spiders made no stirring midseason comeback.
Like other Chicago Cubs fans, I’ve been waiting a lifetime for a triumphant postseason. I won’t reveal my age, but memories of the Cubs’ September 1969 collapse and the Miracle Mets’ surge remain among the most painfully vivid of my childhood. Some historically inclined Cubs fans seek solace in stories of the great teams of 1906–1910, 1908 being of course the last year the Cubs won a World Series.