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Terror in the City of Champions

Murder, Baseball, and the Secret Society that Shocked Depression-era Detroit

Tom Stanton

A New York Times Bestseller

Detroit, mid-1930s: In a city abuzz over its unrivaled sports success, gun-loving baseball fan Dayton Dean became ensnared in the nefarious and deadly Black Legion. The secretive, Klan-like group was executing a wicked plan of terror, murdering enemies, flogging associates, and contemplating armed rebellion. The Legion boasted tens of thousands of members across the Midwest, among them politicians and prominent citizens—even, possibly, a beloved athlete.

Terror in the City of Champions opens with the arrival of Mickey Cochrane, a fiery baseball star who roused the Great Depression’s hardest-hit city by leading the Tigers to the 1934 pennant. A year later he guided the team to its first championship. Within seven months the Lions and Red Wings follow in football and hockey—all while Joe Louis chased boxing’s heavyweight crown.

Amidst such glory, the Legion’s dreadful toll grew unchecked: staged “suicides,” bodies dumped along roadsides, high-profile assassination plots. Talkative Dayton Dean’s involvement would deepen as heroic Mickey’s Cochrane’s reputation would rise. But the ballplayer had his own demons, including a close friendship with Harry Bennett, Henry Ford’s brutal union buster.

Award-winning author Tom Stanton weaves a stunning tale of history, crime, and sports. Richly portraying 1930s America,
Terror in the City of Champions features a pageant of colorful figures: iconic athletes, sanctimonious criminals, scheming industrial titans, a bigoted radio priest, a love-smitten celebrity couple, J. Edgar Hoover, and two future presidents, Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan. It is a rollicking true story set at the confluence of hard luck, hope, victory, and violence.
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Globe Pequot Press / Lyons Press
Pages: 352Size: 6 3/4 x 9 1/2
978-1-4930-1570-2 • Hardback • June 2016 • $26.00 • (£17.95)
978-1-4930-3058-3 • Paperback • August 2017 • $17.95 • (£11.95)
978-1-4930-1818-5 • eBook • June 2016 • $24.99 • (£15.95)
Tom Stanton is the author of several nonfiction books, among them the critically acclaimed memoir The Final Season and the Quill Award finalist Ty and The Babe. A longtime journalist, he teaches at the University of Detroit Mercy. Stanton co-founded and edited the suburban Detroit Voice newspapers, winning state and national press awards, including a Knight-Wallace Fellowship at the University of Michigan. He and wife Beth Bagley-Stanton live in New Baltimore, Michigan.
Praise for Tom Stanton’s previous books

“Stanton has an eye for the novelistic detail that captures the drama of Aaron’s drive to the record.” –
The New York Times Book Review

“Engaging...The real story here...is of the trials this wondrous player endured on the way to his big moment.” –Sports Illustrated

“Powerful...Baseball books rarely reach the heights of Stanton’s...Excellent.” –Chicago Tribune

“As splendid as a sunny spring day at the ballpark. ... Stanton’s writing is seamless.” –Publishers Weekly, starred review

“What’s better than talking baseball?...Stanton’s got it all here, the real stuff.” –Elmore Leonard

“A beautiful gem of a book: tender, perceptive, compassionate, funny, and wise.” –Lawrence S. Ritter, author of The Glory of Their Times

“Those who don’t understand say baseball is only a game. Those who run and play it sometimes act as if it’s only a business. By now, maybe they’re right. But for a long time, something else was true. That something else is what Tom Stanton is getting at here.” –Bob Costas

“With the racist Black Legion spreading evil and the rambunctious Detroit Tigers bringing joy, Detroit’s seemingly eternal forces of darkness and light coexist in this captivating slice of American history.”
—David Maraniss, Pulitzer Prize winner and author of
Once in a Great City: A Detroit Story and When Pride Still Mattered: A Life of Vince Lombardi

"Today, Detroit is a shadow of its former self. This fascinating book reveals what an astonishing place it formerly was. Eight decades ago, it was a boiling cauldron of social extremism, extravagant criminality, and athletic excellence. Readers of this book have a new understanding of the city and the Thirties."
—George F. Will

“Once in a blue moon, a city bears witness to the best and the worst of times. Such was Detroit’s fate more than a generation ago as the Tigers, Lions and Red Wings reached new sports heights while the Black Legion too often ruled the night. It’s a great tale and Tom Stanton has done a marvelous job telling it.”
Tim Wendel, author of Summer of ’68

“Tom Stanton’s absorbingly detailed work entwines the best and the worst of Detroit during the Depression. Readers will find themselves cheering the sports heroes and rooting against the Black Legion, a fascinatingly bizarre bunch whose sudden leap into the headlines inspired a wave of national hysteria. Stanton has deftly recreated one of the most farfetched episodes of the Motor City’s never-dull past.”
—Richard Bak, author of
Detroitland and Joe Louis: The Great Black Hope

(starred review) A veteran journalist uses a variety of lenses to illuminate the dark story of the Black Legion, an association of murderous (white) domestic terrorists who briefly thrived in the upper Midwest. Stanton unfolds the history of the Legion gradually, always keeping it in the social, cultural, and economic context of the area where it was born and grew…. First-rate reporting and a seminar in how to employ context in investigative and historical journalism.

Glittering triumphs cover up a sordid racist conspiracy in this lively vignette…. Swerving between hysterical excitement and hysterical fear, the city embodied the roiling socioeconomic and ideological currents of the 1930s…. a cauldron of racial tensions, police brutality, and strife between management and workers.
Publishers Weekly

(Starred Review) If you’re looking for a book that combines sports, crime, and history in one package, look no further…. For fans of books about baseball, Depression-era American History, and crime nonfiction, this book is a must-read.

Stanton's masterly prose is thoroughly engaging from cover to cover.
Library Journal

[A] head-turning tale of the generally forgotten Black Legion terrorist group and Detroit in the 1930s.
Us News and World Report