Sunday, May 31, 2009

The Dodgers Move West, by Neil J. Sullivan

This book was great. It was basically what I was looking for when I read Brooklyn's Dodgers. Sullivan reviews the history of the Dodger franchise, starting at its inception. This is important because the way in which Ebbets Field was built factored heavily into the Dodgers' negotiations with New York officials when the part became antiquated. The history of the team through the 1950s is not given the "you all know this already" treatment that Prince used in his book, and the ties to the community, while important and included, are never reduced to the navel gazing I thought I saw in Prince.

From what I read recently in the other baseball books I got for my economics paper, the standard interpretation of events is that Walter O'Malley was a jerk. Sullivan disagrees with that angle and, it seemed to me, made a case for a dual villain of Robert Moses and Robert Wagner (not the dude fromHart to Hart, but rather the mayor of New York).

I also enjoyed the way this book taught me things that have been on the periphery of my "I should know more about that" file, such as Robert Moses and the incorporation of Brooklyn into New York. Where the book fell a little short was in its analysis of the Giants' coincidental move to San Francisco. Sullivan does give it a few pages, and he does try to excuse himself my noting that it deserves its own history, but it is difficult for me to believe that it was such a non-factor in O'Malley's decision, especially since O'Malley himself said the teams' fates were probably linked, and the Giants made their decision first. Sullivan's coverage, though, is basically limited to "Horace Stoneham also hated his ball park and got a city to build one for him." I think, given the way O'Malley was so set against a municipal stadium for the Dodgers, it would be interesting to have learned more about how the Giants moved west (though not interesting enough to read an entirely separate book, since the Giants suck).

The book follows the history of the Dodgers up to the time of publication (just before the Dodgers' 1988 World Series victory). I understand why the history of the club after the move is important, but as more and more of the ties to Brooklyn have been severed, the history into the late 1970s and early 1980s seemed a little unnecessary. I also would have liked more about the Brooklyn response to the Los Angeles Dodgers, especially after the Mets began play in 1962 and the Dodgers returned to New York as a visiting team. There is just a paragraph thrown in about former Ebbets Field groundskeepers ambivalence towards the Dodgers' 1959 World Series championship.

For clarification, it also appears the date "1953" on page 77 should actually be "1956." I'm not sure, but it makes more sense that way.

These are minor criticisms. On the whole, I really enjoyed this book. Even with my primary baseball allegiance to the Pittsburgh Pirates, I could appreciate this story and the way it was told.

As an aside, I noted Sullivan writes, "...no baseball team has moved since 1972, when the expansion Washington Senators shifted to Arlington, Texas" (214). Last summer I read The Baseball Economist by J.C. Bradbury, wherein he wrote, "...MLB teams have been known to move cities. However, this movement is rare, as only one MLB team has switched cities since 1971--the Expos moved from Montreal to Washington, DC, to become the Nationals" (214). I'm guessing that Bradbury's 1971 event is the Senators move Sullivan dates to 1972 (and I think it's sort of spooky the way they both wrote about it on page 214 of their respective books). It probably depends on the definition of "move," since the decision was made in 1971 to play the next season elsewhere. However, most people (including Sullivan) agree the Dodgers moved in 1957, even though the first game in Los Angeles did not come until 1958. This 1971/1972 issue reminds me of the way in which the history presented in John C. Batchelor's "Ain't You Glad You Joined the Republicans?" became riddled with inaccuracies as soon as he began relying on memory instead of sources. When an author makes a mistake you KNOW is a mistake, it makes you wonder how much of the other stuff isn't true, too. (I had a similar problem with a college history professor, who seemed to really know his stuff until he made something up off the top of his head.)

Rating: 6 out of 7 giant inflatable monkeys.

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