I’ve definitely gotten my dose of the Los Angeles Dodgers this month. Two weeks ago, I reviewed Forever Blue, a biography of former Dodgers owner Walter O’Malley. This week, I’ll be taking a look at something a little broader, but definitely just as interesting. Jon Weisman of Dodger Thoughts fame recently penned the 100 Things Dodgers Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die. Part of a series of team specific books by publisher Triumph Books, the Dodgers were definitely in good hands with Weisman because he’s only been writing about the team for over 20 years. He also got a great team to work with because with the Dodgers’ rich history, he had no problem coming up with a solid list of 100 things. Peter O’Malley wrote a nice forward and this led right into the list.
As you’d expect, the book is set up in order from 1 to 100 so you get the top moments in the beginning and you then work your way back to the somewhat more obscure. The top 10 should come as no surprise and it includes everything from Kirk Gibson’s historic 1988 home run to Vin Scully, Sandy Koufax and Jackie Robinson. (I’ll leave it up to you pick up the book to find out what the ranking order is.) Another thing that Weisman does well is mix in the traditional with the more modern statistics. Your more general stats like batting average, RBIs, wins and ERA all make plenty of appearances, but Weisman also mixes in OPS+ and Equivalent Average and provides an explanation of each at the beginning of the book.
Since this is in place of my BOB report, it also bears mentioning that there’s plenty in the book dealing with the business aspect of the Dodgers as well as baseball in general. Both Ebbets Field and the move to Los Angeles are given quite a bit of space (and top 10 consideration), but you also have chapters on Chavez Ravine, Walter O’Malley and a separate chapter on his son Peter as well as a discussion of the previous two ownership changes. Branch Rickey and his predecessor, Larry MacPhail also show up in back-to-back entries. Andy Messersmith’s contribution to the game as the first free agent also comes up near the end of the book.
As interesting as the top 10 list are the final 10 chapters. Weisman doesn’t have to do any stretching to come up with filler to complete the list; this is both a testament to the Dodgers’ rich history as well as Weisman’s knowledge of it. Probably the most interesting in my mind is where he recommends you go out and read old newspaper accounts of games. I’ve done this on several occasions, and it never ceases to amaze me how much you can learn. When I was doing my 1935 Tigers series, I came across an interesting account of where player/manager Mickey Cochrane skipped a game to see a boxing title bout. I’m sure you could find similarly interesting stories looking through old editions of The Los Angeles Times for columns on the Dodgers in their early years. Weisman shows you where to go to find the resources to do just that.
There are also the more subtle but no less important pieces throughout the book. One entry has to do with joining the Dodgers’ online community; as a blogger, I highly recommend this. While the daily newspaper (if your city still has one) is still the common source for most fans, you also have a variety of sites for each team that provides excellent analysis on a daily basis. Along these same lines, he has an entry on questioning the conventional stats that are out there. This is good advice to just about anyone who has never read someone like Bill James or The Hardball Times. I still smile whenever I’m talking baseball with someone who tells me the RBI is the most important offensive statistic.
The Dodgers couldn’t be completely contained by 100 entries because there are plenty of extras scattered throughout the book. In the section on Chavez Ravine, there’s a picture of the brochure that was handed out to support the Dodgers’ stadium cause. There’s a nice side note on the Jack Clark at-bat (if you’re a Dodger fan, you’ll know which one I’m talking about) in the Tommy Lasorda chapter, and there’s also a partial transcript of the infamous Al Campanis interview that cost him his job as general manager of the team.
Overall, Weisman does the Dodgers justice. I found the book interesting even though my ties to Dodgers fandom are a little loose. It’s definitely a must read if you’re a Dodgers fan but well worth the money even if you just want to delve into some solid writing on a colorful team’s history.