A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.—Joseph Campbell
This quotation is the epigraph to David Halberstam’s magisterial “Summer of ’49,” surely one of the most influential books in the baseball literary canon. The passage evokes the stature and power of Joe Dimaggio and Ted Williams—the book’s chief protagonists—but it just as well describes Halberstam, who was killed today in an automobile accident in California. Few writers can be credited with shaping political events. Halberstam did that; first as a Pulitzer-winning journalist, and then with his two books on the Vietnam War, “The Making of a Quagmire” and “The Best and the Brightest.” Those books made plain to the American public the fiasco of a failed war. A spate of books in the same vein have followed recently, on a different war and a different set of misguided intellectuals. If his Vietnam work secured Halberstam his place in history, for baseball fans he will always be best remembered for “Summer of ’49,” which tracks a nail-biting, wire-to-wire pennant race between baseball’s two great rivals. It is a beautiful book, an elegaic and sympathetic portrait of the Yankees and the Red Sox and one extraordinary summer. Any number of books have since followed its format—Halberstam himself copied it with “October ’64″—but it remains the gold standard. If this site had a patron saint, it would be Halberstam. He will be missed.