And now for a welcome break from the steroids hubbub, I’ve got a couple books which recently landed in my in-box to plug this week. The first, which has actually been sitting on my desk for a few weeks, is Jon Weisman’s 100 Things Dodger Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die, a 300-page paperback (Triumph Books, $14.95 list, $10.17 at Amazon) ideal for summer reading. If you’ve been reading this site or following the baseball blogosphere for any length of time, you know that Jon is the keeper of Dodger Thoughts, the top blog covering the boys in blue, and one of the best baseball blogs around.
He’s also somebody I count as a friend, so I won’t pretend to offer an objective review here (full disclosure: this site is generously included in his bibliography). Instead I’ll note that even for a grizzled Dodger know-it-all such as myself, this book has plenty to offer. Leaning mostly on the key events and personalities (the Know, as opposed to the Do), Jon’s selected 100 of the most important in the team’s history across their Brooklyn and Los Angeles residencies and offered three or four well-researched pages on each. Not all of the players he profiles are Hall of Famers like Sandy Koufax (#3) and Duke Snider (#28); cult favorites like Pedro Guerrero (#40), Wes Parker (#64) and Manny Mota (#71) get their entries, as does the Fernandomania phenomenon (#7). Not all of the highlights are warm and fuzzy, either — hey, this is Dodger history we’re talking, full of reckoning with what it means to wait ’til next year, so the painful endings to the 1980 and 1982 seasons (#42 and #48) are recounted, as is Mickey Owen’s dropped third strike from the 1941 World Series (#54) and Al Campanis’ disastrous Nightline appearance from 1987 (#39).
If I have a criticism of the book, it’s that the Brooklyn side of things gets a bit of short shrift, with very little on longtime mananger Wilbert Robinson (“Uncle Robbie”), Dazzy Vance and Babe Herman. While Zack Wheat (#58) and Burleigh Grimes (#74) get to stretch their legs out, those three larger-than-life personalities — who helped define the Daffy Dodgers of the Twenties and Thirties — are all squashed into one entry, tenement style at #81. They’re an essential, colorful part of Dodger history, because their antics, such as the time Herman, Vance and another baserunner all wound up at third base (briefly recounted here), made the team’s evolution into National League powerhouse all the more surprising.
That still leaves plenty to cheer about, starting with the authority with which Jon stakes out his top two spots: Jackie Robinson and Vin Scully. By Jon’s reckoning, the former still provides the best reason to celebrate the Dodgers and their history, and the latter is the strongest existing link to that history given his 60 years of service for the club. I was particularly struck by the combination of those choices when I sat down to watch the April 15 Dodgers game, the one where young Clayton Kershaw whiffed 13 Giants on the 62nd anniversary of Robinson’s breaking of the color barrier. Though the event was noted with considerably less fanfare than on its decennial anniversaries, Scully interwove details from Robinson’s debut with his account of the action at hand, providing both historical gravitas — particularly during his usual “this date in history” spot at the top of the sixth inning — with enthusiasm for the moment he was watching. Such a delicious combination, and so well suited to the top two spots of this book.
Here’s how Jon starts the Robinson entry:
From beginning to end, we root for greatness.
We root for our team to do well. We root for our team to create and leave lasting memories, from a dazzling defensive play in a spring training game to the final World Series-clinching out. With every pitch in a baseball game, we’re seeking a connection to something special, a fastball right to our nervous system.
In a world that can bring frustration on a daily basis, we root as an investment towards bragging rights, which are not as mundane as that expression makes them sound. If our team succeeds, if our guys succeed, that’s something we can feel good about today, maybe tomorrow, maybe forever.
The pinnacle of what we can root for is Jackie Robinson.
Robinson is a seminal figure — a great player whose importance transcended his team, transcended his sport, transcended all sports. We don’t do myths anymore the way the Greeks did — too much reality confronts us in the modern age. But Robinson’s story, born in the 20th century and passed on with emphasis into the 21st, is as legendary as any to come from the sports world.
And Robinson was a Dodger. If you’re a Dodgers fan, his fable belongs to you. There’s really no greater story in sports to share. For many, particularly in 1947 when he made his major league debut, Robinson was a reason to become a Dodger fan. For those who were born or made Dodgers fans independent of Robinson, he is the reward for years of suffering and the epitome of years of success.
If that’s not reason to pick up a copy and dig into the other 99 entries in this book, I don’t know what is. Perhaps two entries a day will help the time between now and Manny Ramirez’s return pass more quickly.