- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 27, 2003

Baseball history can be fascinating when well researched and written. This spring brings several attempts that seem to fall short.
"The Last Good Season" by Michael Shapiro ($24.95, Doubleday, 356 pages, illus.) Although I grew up in D.C., I must confess retroactive affection for the Brooklyn Dodgers. Several members of my family have lived in the Borough of Churches, and I have gone so far as to seek out the site of old Ebbets Field. There is a certain romance and magic attached to the conjoined words "Brooklyn" and "Dodgers" for people who once made their homes there or perhaps were enthralled by Roger Kahn's lovely 1972 retrospective, "The Boys of Summer."
Yet considering that the Dodgers defected to Los Angeles 45 years ago, is there any real need to recount the reasons for their leaving? In his new book, author Shapiro posits that club owner Walter O'Malley was victim rather than villain when the Dodgers (and, simultaneously, the New York Giants) skipped town and brought major league baseball to the West Coast in 1958.
Shapiro blames Robert Moses, the autocratic molder of modern New York City, for blocking O'Malley's plans to build a stadium in Brooklyn to replace Ebbets, which was in a state of high disrepair and lacked adequate parking and other amenities though just 45 years old.
It is not necessary here to recount the long, tedious struggle between the two men, but hindsight suggests the team was doomed in Flatbush regardless of where it played. By the late '50s, the flight of white, native-born citizens from Brooklyn was in full flower a fact recognized by city officials when they built Shea Stadium on Long Island for the fledgling Mets in 1964.
Despite his good intentions, Shapiro's pedestrian writing tends to bog down his narrative. One would expect a professor of journalism at Columbia University to be a more accomplished wordsmith, but perhaps no one could make this material fascinating at such a late date.
Surprisingly, too, the book is full of misspelled names. This dubious roster includes rival player Del Crandall, manager "Jolly Cholly" Grimm and media members Bob Wolff, Roscoe McGowen and Dan Daniel, Shapiro also describes Jackie Robinson's .256 batting average for 1955 as the only season in which the pioneer batted below .300; in fact, Robinson hit .297 and .296 in 1947 and 1948, his first two seasons.
The first thing you do when you write a book about baseball is check every number or pay someone else to do it because most fans clutch statistics to their breast like a mother with her newborn.
The best part of Shapiro's book comes early, when he discusses Brooklyn's social climate in the '40s and '50s. "Brooklyn was a place where parents came to live but where their children so often left," he writes. "Brooklyn was a place that had a common mythology but where unanimity came only in a sense of inferiority to Manhattan and in rooting for the Dodgers [when they were the pathetic Daffiness Boys in the '20s and '30s."
Two wonderful if likely apocryphal stories about the old Dodgers circulated in a time when the mere mention of Brooklyn on a radio show was enough to bring gales of laughter. The first involved one Dodgers fan telling another, in the city's peculiar patois, of an injury to pitcher Waite Hoyt: "Didja hear the news? Hert was hoit!"
The second tale came after Dodgers slugger Babe Herman once doubled into a double play because of generally careless baserunning. "Hey," one fan outside the park is supposed to have yelled to a another in the bleachers. "What's happenin'?"
"The Dodgers have two men on base," he was told.
"Yeah? Which base?"
Perhaps it's better for older Brooklyn fans to savor the legends, good and bad, that made the team unique. The truth is less glamorous and less interesting.
"Damn Senators" by Mark Gavreau Judge ($25.95, Encounter, 170 pages) This thin volume may be of some interest to historians studying the formerly woebegone Washington Senators drive to the franchise's only World Series championship in 1924. Unfortunately, the author grandson of the team's standout first baseman, Joe Judge is reduced to rewriting the clips, a necessary technique that ultimately palls. When applied to a season that occurred 79 years ago, there is limited interest in such daily detail as, say, "then the Senators went out west [sic] to open a series in Cleveland."
Judge does a nice job recapturing the excitement of the World Series, when aging idol Walter Johnson finally captured his first Series game after two losses when a grounder to third hit a pebble and bounced into left field, scoring the Senators' winning run in the 12th inning of Game 7 at Griffith Stadium.
As with the Dodgers book, however, mistakes put a heavy dent in the author's credibility. Judge refers twice to "Robert Fitzgerald Kennedy Memorial Stadium"; Kennedy's middle name was Francis. He indicates that Senators manager Bucky Harris had no regular-season home runs in 12 seasons; Harris hit nine. He says the Senators slumped into eighth place in 1926 after winning two pennants; they were fourth. He has Johnson facing Cobb in 1936, years after both had retired. He has the Yankees playing at Yankee Stadium in 1919 and '20; it opened in '23. He says John McGraw managed the New York Giants for 22 years; it was 30.
Research, gentlemen.
"When Boston Won the World Series" by Bob Ryan ($18.95, Running Press, 192 pages, illus.) The Boston Globe sports columnist recounts the fortunes of Cy Young's Boston Americans (later Red Sox) in 1903, when they defeated Honus Wagner's Pittsburg (no "h" then) Pirates to win the first modern rounders championship of the world in 1903. Ryan is an accomplished writer, of course, but the subject matter will be of little interest to most fans. Heck we know baseball is a lot different (and in many ways the same) as it was a century ago.
"Planet of the Umps" by Ken Kaiser and David Fisher ($24.95, St. Martin's, 276 pages) Kaiser, a long-time American League umpire, gained notoriety chiefly by being perhaps the game's most overweight and overbearing arbiter. Only a true masochist would spend $25 for his pointless biography. In other words, "Big boy, yer outta here!"

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