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Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Bob's Books - Superstars and Screwballs by Richard Goldstein

Richard Goldstein’s Superstars and Screwballs is an outstanding look at, as the subtitle proclaims, 100 years of Brooklyn Baseball. You will be hard pressed to find a better start to finish history of the Brooklyn Dodgers that also goes back beyond that franchise’s nascent beginnings. Goldstein begins with the flourishing of the not-yet national pastime in the CITY (not borough) of Brooklyn.  The Atlantics, the Eckfords, the Excelsiors, the Mutuals and more competed in the city’s parks.

Bennie Kauf (second from right) of the Brooklyn
Tip Tops was the Federal League's best player
Brooklyn teams were at the heart of the National Association of Base Ball Players (9 of 11 championships went to Brooklyn squads), the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players (it wasn’t an amateur game anymore), the American Association, the one-year Player’s League (which resulted in construction of The Polo Grounds) and the Federal League. While ‘Dem Bums’ still cast their long shadow over baseball history, the sport was deeply enmeshed in Brooklyn culture and played by a myriad of teams.
But it is the Dodgers that are the enduring image of Brooklyn baseball and Goldstein gives us a great look at the franchise from their first season in 1883 (as a the minor league ‘Grays’) through the final 1957 pennant race. The Dodgers joined the American Association and then the National League, going through several name changes before settling on the Dodgers, abbreviated from ‘Trolley Dodgers.’ The first World Series was played in 1903, and in the days before divisions, the best team in each league played for the ultimate title: there were no playoffs. From 1903 to 1940, the Dodgers managed only two National League pennants, coming up short both times against their AL counterparts.
Three Hall of Famers: Manager Burleigh Grimes, coach
(and potential successor) Babe Ruth and short stop
(and actual sucessor as manager) Leo Durocher
There were a few  Hall of Famers like Zach Wheat, Dazzy Vance and Burleigh Grimes, and manager Wilbert Robinson. And some pretty good players, such as Babe Herman, Nap Rucker and Jeff Pfeffer, though they usually brought up the second division, finishing under .500 twenty-six times. But the team was interesting to read about, be it three runners standing on third base during a game, or Hall of Fame pitcher Rube Marquard being arrested for scalping tickets on the same day he was pitching in the World Series. Known as ‘The Daffiness Boys’ for most of this period of ineptness, Goldstein gives us a look at both the Dodgers and baseball at large during the period.
The legendary home of the Dodgers from 1913-1957 
Then, in the forties, front office exec Larry MacPhail transformed the Dodgers into winners, building a team that won a Brooklyn pennant for the first time in twenty-one years. Five years later, Branch Rickey brought in Jackie Robinson to break the color barrier and before long, Walter O’Malley took complete control and moved the team to Los Angeles. Goldstein covers it all, bringing you from the beginning of Brooklyn baseball, through the lean years of the Dodgers and onto the final glory years when the Yankees, Giants and Dodgers dominated the sport, coming to an end after 1957. And the stuff in the forties and fifties is great reading for a true baseball fan.
This is an excellent recounting of baseball in Brooklyn, dropping in details of fund raising efforts during the war years, behind the scenes ownership battles, the semi-plan to have Babe Ruth manage the Dodgers, and so much more that gives you a deep understanding of its subject. That includes black baseball, with a Brooklyn history of over eighty years during the game’s segregated era. Superstars and Screwballs remains the best book I’ve read on the history of the Dodgers franchise.
'Wait Til Next Year' was the Dodgers' fans' lament
after each World Series loss to the hated
Yankees. 1955 was finally 'Next Year'

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