Michael Shapiro’s The Last Good Season looks at 1956: the year after the Brooklyn Dodgers won their only World Series. With the same cast of characters, the Dodgers spent most of the season chasing the Milwaukee Braves, edging them for the pennant by just one game. Ted Kluszewski’s Cincinnati Reds finished only two games back.
Facing (naturally) the Yankees once again in the Fall Classic, they ran into Don Larsen’s unlikely perfect game and saw league MVP and Cy Young Award winner, Don Newcombe, hammered in the game seven loss.
This book interweaves three stories: First, the actual on-field play of the boys of summer.
It’s also the story of the changes in Brooklyn, as the ethnic makeup was undergoing a transformation. And that change played a part in the third story: that of Walter O’Malley’s attempt to get a new stadium, leading to the move to Los Angeles.
Though getting a bit long in the tooth (Jackie Robinson would be sold, then retire after the Series), the offense dominated National League pitching, while Don Newcombe and Clem Labine started and finished wins. Perhaps because so much has been written about these fifties Brooklyn Dodgers, the actual baseball part doesn’t make up quite as much of the book as expected. There’s still plenty there, but it’s not as big a part of the whole as the title leads one to believe.
There are long passages looking at the experiences of Brooklynites and the changes going on in the borough. I found these to be the least interesting parts of the book.
There is much about O’Malley’s attempt to build a new stadium in Brooklyn, and about powerful New York City official Robert Moses’ lack of interest in helping O’Malley on the latter’s terms. Whether or not O’Malley’s domed stadium and site selection was actually feasible, Robert Moses wasn’t interested in facilitating the project. In the end, he tried to push the Dodgers into a site in Flushing, which a few years later came to host Shea Stadium.
Every book seems to take sides. While Shapiro isn’t particularly sympathetic to O’Malley, he clearly states, “In the end, Robert Moses is the bad guy in this story.” I happen to be in the camp that there is much blame to be assigned to both sides. But O’Malley wanted to improve his business, couldn’t get what he wanted, and went somewhere else where he could get it. That’s a simplified view, but that doesn’t make it any less accurate.
I think that this is a pretty good book about the second-to-last season of the Brooklyn Dodgers, with quite a bit of information on the power struggle for a new ballpark. One interesting tidbit is that Los Angeles officials were in Ebbets Field, wooing Clark Griffith of the Washington Senators when O’Malley sent a note down, saying he wanted to talk to them. The Senators, of course, moved to Minneapolis and became the Twins.