Kevin Cook is the author of Electric October and five other books on sports and the people who play them, including Tommy’s Honor and The Dad Report. He is a former senior editor at Sports Illustrated who has written for the New York Times, Men’s Journal, GQ, Playboy, Smithsonian, and many other publications. He has appeared on CNN, ESPN, and Fox TV. An Indiana native, he now lives in Northampton, Massachusetts.
Q: What made you want to write about the 1947 World Series?
A: It’s the ultimate underdog story. The ’47 Series featured stars we still celebrate today—Jackie Robinson and Joe DiMaggio. But the real heroes were role players. The underdog Brooklyn Dodgers had Cookie Lavagetto and Al Gionfriddo, a couple of substitutes who came off the bench to play hero for a day. The mighty Yankees had a skittish second baseman with a nervous stomach, Snuffy Stirnweiss, and a sore-armed pitcher, Bill Bevens, who came within one pitch of immortality.
As the radio announcer Red Barber put it, “For human stories, you’ll never beat this one.”
Q: Is there anything in the book for non-baseball fans?
A: Lots. My goal was to write a baseball book that isn’t mainly about baseball.
For me, the 1947 Series presented a chance to tell six remarkable life stories. Those four players and their managers, the long-forgotten Burt Shotton and Bucky Harris, crossed paths in Brooklyn and the Bronx in October of ’47. What happened that month changed their lives forever. For some, the epic ’47 Series was a memory to cherish. They’d get free drinks and pats on the back for the rest of their lives. Others were haunted by the same seven ballgames.
I think of Electric October as the best baseball story you never heard. A true story of momentary fame, friendship, teamwork, memory, and life’s biggest challenge: how we deal with the cards that fate deals us.
Q: You spent more than a year researching the book. What surprised you?
A: The ways the ’47 Series affected everything that came after. Even for players who lived 40 or 50 years after retiring from baseball, the events of 1947 headlined every story about them, right down to their obituaries. One shocker was discovering how one of the players died in an accident as bizarre as the ’47 Series. A better surprise was tracking down the players’ and managers’ children, who shared scrapbooks and memories—priceless pieces of the puzzle I was putting together.
Q: The 1947 World Series happened before you were born. Why write about that era?
A: It was such a vivid time. World War II was over, America was on top of the world. It was a golden age when baseball surpassed college football, boxing and horse racing to become the true national pastime. The ’47 Series was the first integrated World Series, thanks to Jackie Robinson, who broke the infamous color line that year. It was also the first televised World Series. People said baseball would never work on TV—the ball looked too small. But TV would change the game forever.
I found an obscure newspaper clipping I love. That fall, the Brooklyn-based Liebmann Brewery offered $100,000 to sponsor the TV broadcast. But Major League Baseball said no. Ford Motors and Gillette got the gig for $65,000. Why? “It would be wrong,” baseball commissioner Happy Chandler said, “for baseball to be sponsored by an alcoholic beverage.”
Q: You’ve written nine books, including the acclaimed Kitty Genovese: The Murder, the Bystanders, the Crime that Changed America, a true-crime story. But your last two have been about baseball. Why?
A: I played ball in high school, but was never nearly as good as my dad. He was a minor-league pitcher who scattered a few footnotes to baseball history. Dad gave up a tape-measure homer to Cincinnati Reds slugger Ted Kluszewski, which may still be orbiting the earth. Twice he pulled off the “Iron Man” stunt, winning both games of a doubleheader. Then he hurt his arm and came home to raise a family.
I wound up writing about the game for Sports Illustrated, Playboy and other magazines. I spent time in dugouts, palatial homes, and even strip clubs with baseball heroes and antiheroes. Pete Rose, Cal Ripken Jr., Barry Bonds, Derek Jeter, Clayton Kershaw, even Michael Jordan in his year as a minor-leaguer. They all see the game in their own ways. I’m still fascinated by this strange line of work they have.
Q: What will you remember most about writing Electric October?
A: It was very moving to me to see how these men’s life stories played out. Not to give too much away, but there was a sort of long-term heroism to some of their lives. And a bunch of surprises.