Play ball! The year 1963 was, to quote author and veteran Sports Illustrated writer Jim Kaplan, “365 days of miracles and wonder, of brave heroes and cowardly villains that undoubtedly obscured many sporting achievements.”
There were dark moments in our history you couldn’t possibly miss no matter how long or hard you blinked: the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, the violence of the civil rights movement, the mounting casualties of the Vietnam War. Despite — or perhaps in light of — tragedies like these, Americans have always looked to their competitive spirit for comfort and a rejuvenation of national and civic pride.
1963 was a great year for sports fans: the Dodgers’ World Series sweep of the Yankees and Sonny Liston’s first-round knockout of Floyd Patterson to retain the World Heavyweight Championship title — for the second year in a row.
But almost forgotten, at least to those not tuned into the minutiae of regular-season baseball lore, is the July 2, 1963 game between the San Francisco Giants and the Milwaukee Braves at Candlestick Park. It was during this four-hour-plus game that pitchers Juan Marichal, a Dominican wunderkind in his mid-20s, and Warren Spahn, an southpaw legend who had passed the 40-year-old mark, went toe-to-toe for 16 innings in front of almost 16,000 spectators. In Kaplan’s new book, The Greatest Game Ever Pitched: Juan Marichal, Warren Spahn, and the Pitching Duel of the Century (Triumph Books), the author presents captivating career biographies of Spahn and Marichal, folds them into the cultural history of the day, and ramps up the thrill and suspense leading to the big matchup at Candlestick. Just in time for the 2011 Major League Baseball regular season, which begins on March 31, Kaplan releases a solid homage to the sport of baseball and two of its true heroes. At 6 p.m. Monday, March 21, Kaplan signs copies of The Greatest Game Ever Pitched at Collected Works Bookstore, 202 Galisteo St., 988-4226.