Post #42: Keystone Kids

Keystone Kids by John R. Tunis

Post number forty-two is for John R. Tunis' Keystone Kids, which was yet another required reading for my History of Children's Literature course. (Can I just say how much I will love it when I can actually read something for myself? Sigh.) For this week we are studying the 1940s. This book was published in 1943, and because of that, I had some serious issues with it. But I will get to those in a moment. If I had needed another reading response journal entry for my course requirements, I would have chosen this book to use. However, I have finished all my required journal entries and Moodle posts, so instead this blog will get the brunt of my thoughts.

Spoilers follow.









Keystone Kids follows the Brooklyn Dodgers ("keystone" refers to the second baseman/short stop, btw). Two rookies, Spike and Bob Russell (shortstop and second baseman, relatively), are called up toward the end of the season, in the hopes that they'll be something of a spark plug and ignite the team enough for them to win the pennant. This doesn't happen, but it does guarantee that they can return the following season from the start. However, midway through the season, the manager is fired (the team has basically fallen apart, and are playing for individual stats instead of the team, and there are a TON of factions in the clubhouse) and Spike is chosen to be the player-manager. (The idea of a player-manager was a common one once upon a time, but doesn't happen anymore in the Major Leagues, just fyi.) While he's adjusting to becoming manager, he also has to deal with the prejudice that's boiling over in the clubhouse at the call-up of a new rookie catcher, who happens to be Jewish. Things start out "okay" (I use quotes because the guys "affectionately" refer to him in racist/Anti-Semitic terms at first, and frankly, I have a hard time saying that prejudice of any kind can be used "affectionately), but deteriorate rapidly when Jocko – that's the catcher – sort of invites himself into the old-timer's poker game and ends up winning all their money. The "affection" that used to exist in their tone and the names they call him suddenly disappear. Couple that with Jocko's sudden inability to play the game the way he knows how, and you have Major Trouble. It falls to Spike to try to figure out how to bring the team back together, but when even Bob – Spike's loudmouth brother – gets in on the harassment, Spike realizes that it's not going to be an easy situation to fix.

Anyway, so there's your synopsis. However, I have so SO many more thoughts than that on this book that I kind of don't know where to start. So what follows is probably going to be disjointed, and I apologize for that, but this book – quite frankly – made me MAD. First off, it was published in 1943, right in the middle of World War II, when millions of Jews and other "undesirables" were being murdered by the Nazis. You can say all you want about people not knowing what the Nazis were doing in those concentration camps, but the fact is that enough people DID know that they could have done something – anything – and instead chose not to. The US was as much at fault as anyone else; Hitler "offered" to send the Jews to other countries – of which the US was one. Great Britain opened their country to some, and I believe there were other countries that did likewise. The US initially said they would take some, too, but changed their mind while the boat was at the dock ready to let the Jews come aboard. (See this Wikipedia article about the SS St. Louis for more info.) The article states that President Roosevelt had to turn them away based on "public opinion" at the time. This same "public opinion" is what Jocko was having to face as he traveled around the league and attempted to play baseball. I get that this book is an accurate picture of the times – Anti-Semitism was rampant not only in Europe, after all – but that fact that the author kept harping on the past of Jocko's family – how they were moved from one country to another because no one wanted them there, but never quite going so far as to say that Jews were killed – during a time when JEWS WERE BEING KILLED, just … I can't even put it into words. Let me just say that it really really bothered me and leave it at that.

Also, the team basically falls back in love with Jocko when he finally stands up for himself to one of the teammates that's been razzing him the most (much of what they say about him is that he's "yellow" and "can't take it" and "won't last", and all of this is based on the singular fact that he is Jewish), then picks a fight – and punches out – an opposing player and bangs up much of the opposing team, and also – shocker! – starts hitting well again. The team actually jumps into the stands to defend Jocko against three opposing fans (bringing up a mental image of the fight between the Pacers and Pistons, when Ron Artest and Stephen Jackson jumped into the stands) toward the end, and suddenly all is well on the team. I just … God. There's no apology, no "sorry we've been such asses," no nothing. No punishment. It's just all erased because they finally stood up for Jocko when a situation – one of many, I should point out – arose. And Jocko accepts that; that's enough for him. I can tell you right now that it would NOT be enough for me.

(Also, Spike tells Jocko to stop thinking of himself as Jewish, and instead to think of himself as the Dodger catcher. The problem is that, many of the Jews who were killed in the Holocaust thought of themselves first as Germans (or Poles or French or … etc.) and not as Jews, and yet that didn't matter. Being Jewish was what made them enemy number one, and nothing else about them even mattered.)

One amusing thing I did get out of the book is that the old manager of the Dodgers, Ginger Crane, had a lot of the same characteristics of the St. Louis Cardinals manager, Tony LaRussa. They mentioned how Crane tinkered with is lineup daily, which is something Tony does as well (although not quite as much last year), how he situated the fielders based on the batter at the plate, how he would run through five or six pitchers in a game, playing match-ups, etc. The descriptions – minus the one about Crane forever getting thrown out of games (that's more like Bobby Cox of the Braves) and causing massive dissension in the clubhouse/badmouthing players to the press – was basically describing Tony perfectly. Makes me wonder if he read the book when he was younger. :-P

Anyway, there's probably more that I could say about this book, but I will refrain. I am fairly certain anyone reading this will know where I stand.

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