In the summer of 1951, The American Legion offered "the world to a bunch of 17-year-olds who lived and breathed baseball and wanted nothing else but to play for our love of the game," said Carl Paul Maggio in his new book "Swinging for the Fences: How American Legion Baseball Transformed a Group of Boys into a Team of Men."
"Swinging for the Fences" is a memoir about Los Angeles Crenshaw Post 715 players, their lives before Legion Baseball, how they beat 16,000 other teams to win the 1951 Legion World Series championship and the lasting bond that they shared. In his book, Maggio also shares humorous stories about the team during their travels to play other Legion teams, and photos of the players and their many reunions together.
The Post 715 Legion Baseball team was comprised of 16 young men who previously played together in the 1940s at Rancho La Cienaga playground. "We named our (playground) team the Terrors because we knew we would strike terror in the hearts of our opponents," Maggio said. "Playing baseball in California at that time was comparable to going to church. Everyone did it. We were living in an unworldly period in which people played an innocent game just for the love of it."
Both the playground and Legion Post 715 team included well-known Major League Baseball (MLB) professionals Billy Consolo and Hall of Famer George "Sparky" Anderson. Consolo played for five different MLB teams from 1953-1962, most notably the Boston Red Sox and Minnesota Twins. "There wasn’t anything average about him (Consolo)," Maggio said. "He was exceptionally skilled in every aspect of any game." Consolo passed away in March 2008.
Anderson played one season for the Philadelphia Phillies, managed the National League’s Cincinnati Reds from 1970-1978, managed the American League Detroit Tigers from 1979-1995 and captured three World Series titles. Anderson is the first manager in baseball history to win a World Series in both National and American Leagues. He passed away in November 2010.
"(Anderson) was a scrappy, fun-loving athlete who had the proverbial ‘fire in the belly’ attitude," Maggio said. "He was rarely called Sparky by his friends from the playground. In fact, the nickname Sparky never fit the incredibly classy person who George Anderson really was to us. In a crowded ballpark full of fans yelling ‘Sparky,’ if he heard someone holler ‘George,’ he would turn around and seek that person out because he knew that it was a friend from the old days."
The Crenshaw Post 715 players won the 1951 American Legion World Series at Briggs Stadium in Detroit, now called Tiger Stadium and home to the Detroit Tigers. They were the first Legion Baseball team to travel by airlines to the Major League World Series.
"This book is not about just one person or one team," Maggio said. "It’s about the great game of baseball and all those who played the game and learned its life lessons. I pray that this memoir will be a legacy, not only to the 16 players who played on our American Legion team, but to the game of baseball as it once was played – for the love of the game."
To purchase "Swinging for the Fences," click here.