Destiny’s Darlings: A World Championship Little League Team Twenty Years Later
by Martin Ralbovsky
Publisher: Hawthorn Books
Summary: In 1954, a group of twelve-year-olds from Schenectady, New York, won the Little League World Series. Twenty years later Martin Ralbovsky caught up with the kids to determine what had become of them. Destiny’s Darlings is a terrific book that considers American’s obsession with sports and its effect on our children.
Review: “This is unbelievable. I thought Little League was so innocent; my illusions are being shattered” (p. 200).
The above quote is from a woman who is hearing the “behind-the scenes” details of what it took for Schenectady, New York, to win the 1954 Little League World Series. The quote does a good job of capturing the tone of Martin Ralbovsky’s book Destiny’s Darlings. Destiny got a boost when James Michener gave it a plug in his book Sports in America. (I learned of Destiny’s Darling’s through Michener’s book). Since then, the book has become somewhat obscure; it deserves a wider audience, as it is both excellent entertainment and a thought-provoking book about the role of sports in the U.S.
One Team – Nine Stories
After describing Schenectady & the team’s 1954 victory at the beginning of the book, Ralbovsky then devotes the next nine chapters to each of the starting players on the 1954 team. (The benchwarmers are mentioned only in passing). These nine chapters are the “meat” of the book.
Predictably, the lives of the nine had diverged over the years. Surprisingly, two of the boys (Billy Connors and Jimmy Barbieri) had gone on to play in the major leagues, though neither stayed there for long. Mostly, the lives of the nine seem to have been fairly average. However, two team members – Ernie Lotano and Pete Fennicks – express dissatisfaction with their lives.
The stories that the ex-players tell are somewhat uniform – they speak of the immense pressure to win games and recount that they had little fun while playing. Interestingly, Ralbovsky notes that none of the ex-players had a son participating in Little League. As almost forty years have passed since Destiny’s publication, it would be nice to have an update on what happened to the nine players after 1974.
Mike Maietta – The Final Chapter
Maietta, a former minor-League baseball player, helped create Schenectady’s Little League and managed the 1954 team to the world championship. Throughout the interviews, his former players recount how – as twelve-year olds – Maietta forced them to act like little adults in the grim pursuit of the world title. The former players mention that Maietta browbeat them and broke the rules (by secretly sending signals to his pitchers, telling them which type of pitches to throw).
Having set up Maietta as something of a “heavy,” Ralbovsky interviews him in the final chapter. I don’t want to give anything away, but the chapter is anti-climactic. If Ralbovsky asked the tough questions, they don’t appear in the book. Perhaps he chose a “softer” approach as a way of letting the readers draw their own conclusions.
A Few Errors & Some Runners Left on Base
While I like Destiny’s Darlings, the book has some definite drawbacks –
– Ralbovsky starts the book with a boring description of Schenectady (how many high schools, the major industries, etc.) that runs on for several pages.
– On several occasions, he mimics the broken English that he says was spoken by many in Schenectady’s Italian community – “Hey, a-Joe DeeMaj ees up; now a shed-op, or I whip-a you esses” (p. 11).
– Finally, he includes a long, boring, batter-by-batter account of the championship game in which Schenectady won the World Series. This would have been much better had Ralbovsky used the recollections of the players on the team.
The Box Score
Baseball fans – and those with an interest in America’s passion for youth sports – will enjoy Ralbovsky’s book. It causes you to ask the old question, “What price victory?”