100 Things Dodgers Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die
by Jon Weisman
Triumph Books, p.299, $14.95
I got all excited when I first heard about this book, mis-reading the title as 100... Dodgers Fans Should... Die. Or, as we refer to it in Arizona, "a good start." Personally speaking, the Dodgers have gone from a team about which I felt largely neutral to the team in the division that I most want to beat: indeed, they probably rank roughly third in the majors among the outfits I least want to see win the World Series.
There's largely one arrogant, dreadlocked reason for that, but in the interest of knowing the enemy, I still requested a review copy - not least because author Jon Weisman's Dodger Thoughts blog remains one of the things that inspired me to get into blogging. So, every time you wince at one of my puns: blame Jon. If anyone could write a book about the Los Angeles Dodgers that wouldn't find its best use in the bathroom [if you know what I mean, and I think you do], it'd be him. After the jump, we'll see whether he succeeded...
If I can't honestly say that I now like the Dodgers, I do at least now have something of an appreciation for their place in baseball history. By itself, the first of the 101 things listed - and entirely justifably #1 - would be enough to cement what the franchise did for the sport, breaking the color bar by playing Jackie Robinson. Now, it's certainly true that it would have happened sooner or later, but taking that first step was a brave and bold one by Branch Rickey and Robinson. If the Dodgers had done nothing since, they would still deserve plaudits from all true fans.
Probably no prizes for guessing what's #2 either: Vin Scully, now in his sixtieth season with the team. Let me repeat that: his sixtieth season. That's longer than there have been Los Angeles Dodgers. From the point of view of a fan whose franchise is in its 12th year, it's a completely mind-blowing accomplishment, even for someone like myself who has not heard much of Mr. Scully in action. It's evidence that there's not really any substitute for the passage of time, with regard to establishing fan passion, loyalties and tradition. Such things can only be generated organically and naturally - I don't think when Scully took the job, he expected eventually to be entering his seventh decade providing commentary for the team.
Of course, these have to be weighed against the debit marks on the Dodgers' record - their introduction to the game of beach-balls and fans not showing up till the game is under way. Both aspects are covered; the former gets a side-bar mention, but Weisman mounts a spirited defense of the late arrivals at #27 - opening with the joke that when a book about the Dodgers is published, fans start reading in the third chapter. I can't say I'm convinced: it's like missing the start and end of a movie, and if you live in LA, traffic can hardly come as any surprise. However, credit to Weisman for at least trying to justify them.
Less successful are the play-by-play descriptions of games from the team's past, which tend to blend into one another, as a series of "somebody doubled, and then someone else singled, bringing somebody home." This isn't where Weisman's strength lies: it's more in evoking characters and specific incidents, not retelling the ebb and flow of a specific game. This is even more pronounced for the series reports, though this is probably an inevitable side-effect of the compression necessary to cover anything up to seven games in a couple of pages. Entire books have been written on things like the 1955 World Series: it's impossible to do them anything like justice here.
Weisman is much better when covering the people and ephemera which surround the franchise - again, something which we in Arizona can only envy. Things like Dodger Dogs, the best routes to take to Chavez Ravine if you want to avoid traffic, and various songs associated with the team over the years - this is where the book comes to life. Maybe in a century or so, someone will get to write a similar book about the Diamondbacks: until then, while this is (obviously) recommended mostly for Dodgers fans, I still enjoyed reading it - and will have some good ideas of where to go eat, the next time I'm in LA!