Sixty years ago, the Brooklyn Dodgers moved to Los Angeles bringing Major League baseball to the West Coast. Chavez Ravine was yet to be carved out as the Dodgers’ permanent home, but on April 18, 1958 the Boys of Summer played their first LA game against the San Francisco Giants at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
Michael Schiavone’s The Dodgers: 60 Years in Los Angeles chronicles the complete history of the Los Angeles Dodgers from 1957 when they left their long-time home in Brooklyn and Ebbets Field through their sixty seasons in California, ending with the 2017 World Series. Every season is covered in detail, making it the most comprehensive history of the Los Angeles Dodgers on the market. Whether you are a fan from the Brooklyn days or you’re new to Dodger baseball altogether, you will enjoy the often surprising recounts of the early days of LA Dodger baseball as well as the more recent trials and tribulations of the Boys in Blue. There’s also many photos, including two of my own.
Whether you think you know the all the details of the franchise history or not, it’s worth your time to read it. There were many interesting tidbits that even surprised me. To take a deeper look into the process of writing the book, I sent Michael some questions:
In writing your book The Dodgers: 60 Years in Los Angeles, what were some challenges you faced in researching and writing such a comprehensive history that spanned many decades?
Professionally, the biggest challenge was determining what to include in the book. The book spans over 60+ years so there were quite a few things that I wanted to include but could not. There was one story I desperately wanted in, but in the end had to leave it out. Craig Calcaterra of NBC Sports theorized that it was A.J. Ellis who fed Ken Rosenthal the fake story that Puig stormed out of Dodger Stadium after Yasiel Puig was told he was going to be demoted or traded. I reached out to a few people and two of them claimed it was indeed Ellis who fed the story, management found out, and that is a large part why Ellis was traded. However, two people I trust categorically denied it was Ellis. In the end, I could not confirm it was indeed Ellis, even though I am somewhat inclined to believe the story (not necessarily the part on that is why he was traded), so I did not include it.
Personally, I wrote this book while basically being a stay-at-home Dad. I was let go (nice way to say fired, retrenched, insert your own word) from two well-paying jobs within a week after signing the contract to write the book. So in-between looking after my one-year old daughter, cooking, cleaning, the occasional casual job, and spending time with my wife, any free time I had I wrote. It is fair to say that I did not sleep much.
Your book was expansive in scope and covered many different eras of baseball in Los Angeles. What is your favorite time period in Dodger baseball?
Historically, the period 1961-1966 with the rise and dominance of Sandy Koufax, and three World Series appearances with two triumphs is special. However, my favorite time period is from 2011 until now. 2011 saw Matt Kemp’s wonderful season and the beginning of peak-Kershaw. It also had the despair of the waning days of McCourt and bankruptcy. And as we all know, it led to the Guggenheim Era. There have been blockbuster trades, some great baseball, and five NL West divisional titles in a row. The era also has had World Series despair (thanks to MLB.TV continually showing Astros’ WS highlights during almost every commercial break I am now over the loss) and controversy in the television deal. The only thing missing is a World Series victory.
Who was your favorite baseball player growing up?
Orel Hershiser. When watching Game 1 of the 1988 World Series I remember Vin Scully mentioning what a great season Hershiser had. And that Hershiser then proceeded to dominate in the World Series made a big impression.
As told in your book, the Dodgers have a rich tradition of excellent pitching. What do you think is the greatest pitching performance in LA Dodger history?
It is hard to go past Koufax’s perfect game against the Cubs in 1965, especially as he basically had to be perfect for the Dodgers to win. Clayton Kershaw’s no-hitter is the best one I had the pleasure of seeing live (well I was watching on my computer). However, while not the greatest ever, Koufax striking out fifteen Yankees in Game 1 of the 1963 World Series set the tone for the Series. The Yankees were very confident going in the World Series, there were less so after Game 1. Koufax’s Game 1 dominance was a big reason the Dodgers won the 1963 World Series
What was one thing you learned from writing this book which surprised even you, a lifelong Dodger fan?
Walter O’Malley is always lauded as a visionary. You never hear a bad word about him (well apart from in New York), but he seemingly did not like many Dodger players; he viewed them as commodities. During contract negotiations he implied that Sandy Koufax (hardly a management favorite) was naïve. There was also an interview O’Malley gave to Vin Scully following the 1965 World Series. O’Malley thanked everyone in the Dodger organization, including Scully. However, O’Malley never thanked the players, instead claiming they were unpredictable. There was worse to come following the 1966 season (as you note below). The Dodgers had a goodwill tour of Japan. Maury Wills was injured and did not want to go. In a compromise, Wills was told he would only play in one to two innings in a select number of games. For the rest of the tour, all he had to deal was smile in photos and be at the games. Prior to the first game, Wills was told he would be the starting shortstop in almost all the games. Wills played a few games, was hurting badly, had enough, quit the tour and was soon traded. While Claude Osteen was forced to miss the birth of his child as O’Malley reneged on a promise that Osteen would only have to play in the first game of the tour.
Quite simply, while players like Koufax, Wills, and Don Newcombe are rightfully considered Dodger greats, at times they were all treated very badly by the team during their playing careers.
For me, Walter O’Malley’s treatment of the players including Maury Wills and Claude Osteen following the 1966 season during a goodwill tour of Japan was quite shocking. You have also written books about sports and labor in the US as well as unions. What do you see happening in the future when the current labor deal between the owners and players expires in December 2021? Do you think there will ever be a salary cap?
Well right now there is a de facto salary cap in the luxury tax. Is there a media article about the Dodgers’ front office that does not mention that the team wants to stay under the luxury tax threshold? There is no need for the owners to push for an actual salary cap considering the current collective bargaining agreement is so beneficial to them.
A labor war is coming unless the owners change track and start paying free agents like they used to get paid or there are dramatic changes when players can obtain free agency. It was accepted that players were underpaid until they hit free agency, when they could expect a large pay-day. If the last off-season is the new norm, and from all indications it is, the players are underpaid and apart from a select few, are not going to be rewarded in free agency. The players are incredibly unhappy. Thus, unless the owners start paying free agents like they used to or there is a change when players hit free agency there will be a lockout or strike once the current collective bargaining agreement expires. And it will be very bitter.
Having anxiety issues myself, I can relate to Zack Greinke. Molly Knight discussed her battle with anxiety when I interviewed her about her Dodger book The Best Team Money Can Buy in 2015. How did you deal with your own nerves or possible anxiety while writing this book?
I have a PhD and was in academia for over a decade. I bring these things up because the level of depression and anxiety orders in academia is enormous. Anxiety and stress come with the territory (obviously not a good thing). It is something I learned to live with, but I certainly have anxiety issues. As I mentioned, I started work on this book just after I lost my jobs (well-paying, with flexible hours that allowed me to work from home; sigh) and was transitioning to being almost exclusively a full-time stay-at-home dad. It was a very stressful time. However, writing the book was a pleasure. It was the least stressful book I have written; of course, in saying that I thought about the book constantly.
Since The Dodgers was released my anxiety has been at acute levels. I have been constantly worrying about how the book is selling. It did get particularly bad for a few days. Stepping away from the Internet for awhile did help, but anxiety is ever-present. What helps me if I feel my anxiety levels rising is to have a tea party with my daughter. My wife and daughter can always make me smile. I really do hope The Dodgers sells well for a few reasons (money aside, see my answer for the next question), but in the end it is not the most important thing in my life. I keep reminding myself of this if I start to stress.
Do you plan to write any more books in the future? Would you consider writing an addendum to the book to cover 2018-2019 and round out the decade?
There will be an addendum to the book if the publisher wants it; it is not up to me. As for anymore books, there are talks about me writing a new baseball book; one that is Dodger related. Quite simply, if my publisher is happy with how The Dodgers: 60 Years in Los Angeles sells I will be writing another Dodger related book. If they are not happy with how The Dodgers sells, there will not be another baseball book from me. So, please buy my book so I can write another one!
You wrote about many different Dodger teams, both good and bad. How do you feel about this year’s team?
As a Matt Kemp fan (he is my favorite player. I have no idea why I am such a fan of his, I just am) that he is back with the Dodgers and playing well is so damn great. As for the team itself, I was concerned coming into the season. Specifically, I did not necessarily believe the team should be relying on Chris Taylor and Enrique Hernandez. Also, I was curious to how Cody Bellinger would bounce back after the World Series. Not to mention, that Kershaw’s health is becoming a bigger concern every year. However, I still believed the Dodgers would run away with the NL West title. The team is not playing well, the starting rotation is a mess, the bullpen is even worse, and the offense is lackluster at best. The Dodgers should be very happy that they are playing in the NL West. One would assume that the front office will make a trade or two that should hopefully strengthen the team. The Dodgers can still easily win the Division. They are only 4.5 games out of first. And once the playoffs start, anyone team can get hot and win it all. In the end, while there is life, there is hope.
The Dodgers: 60 Years in Los Angeles is available where all good (well also bad and mediocre) books are sold. Can’t afford the book, request your local library buy a copy. If you like the book, leave a review on Amazon and/or tweet about it. You can follow me on Twitter @DrMike5150. I follow back Dodger fans. Thanks!