Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Brooklyn Dodgers: The Last Great Pennant Drive, 1957 by John Nordell - Guest Review

Brooklyn Dodgers: The Last Great Pennant Drive, 1957 by John Nordell
84 pages
Published 2007 by Tribute Books
Source: the publisher

A few weeks back, I was approached by Tribute books to review a book about Mickey Mantle (famed player with the New York Yankees). Not being a big fan of baseball, but knowing one, I asked if I might get a copy for my father to read and review. By the time I got back to them, however, that book was gone. Would my father be interested in reviewing a book about the Brooklyn Dodgers instead? Read on to find out why he said "yes" to this one and what he thought of it.

"I became a Dodgers baseball fan when I was 10 years old, though what led a boy in Nebraska to connect with a team from the East I can't now remember. I think the name attracted me. Then I learned what Brooklyn was and how the team appealed to the working class people there. And then, two years later, the Dodgers endeared themselves to me for a lifetime when the owner, Branch Rickey, was bold enough to sign and put on the field the first black player ever in the major leagues. I read everything I could find about the Dodger players, managers, games, and Mr. Rickey. They were heroes to me and the teams who beat them the most were the first sports figures I ever regarded as villains (Take that, you Yankees!).

No surprise then, that books about the Dodgers have always appealed to me. So when I was asked to read and review Brooklyn Dodgers: The Last Great Pennant Drive, 1957, no persuasion was needed.

I'm disappointed. Author Nordell covers only three weeks of the second half of the 1957 National League season. And what he provides is little more than pages and pages of the kind of synopses of games that a newspaper far removed from major league territory (which was a much smaller area in those days) might put together after consulting the wire services. Those games which had more bearing on the Dodgers are fleshed out more, but most of them read like the way one's mind processes what's to be found in the daily box scores.

This is how much of the book reads:
"A four-run rally in the ninth inning enabled the Pittsburgh Pirates to get past  the Chicago Cubs 6-5. Trailing 5-2 in the final frame, the Pirates picked up their first run in pinch-hit singles by Roman Mejias and Gene Freese, and a sacrifice by Dee Fondy. Bob Skinner walked and Dick Groat tripled to tie the score. With only one out, the Cubs issued two intentional passes, to pinch-hitter Jim Pendleton and Frank Thomas, filling the bases for a possible double play. Second baseman Bill Mazeroski upset this plan with a single that sent Groat across the plate with the deciding run. Winning pitcher Luis Arroyo was 3-8. Loser Turk Lown was 4-4."

I'm old enough to remember the names of those players, so there was a little nostalgia in it for me. But that wasn't enough to make for an interesting book.

Some of those demi-gods Dodgers of my boyhood get fleshed out a bit in this book, but not to such an extent as to make it possible to really get to know them better. The photos of them are mostly dark and blurry.

As for the sub-title, when the book picks up the season the Dodgers are in 5th place, 5 games out of first on July 10. The last games the book reports on were on July 23, at which point my team had climbed into second place, only one game behind the Milwaukee Braves. At the end of the season, however, they were in third place, eleven games out. So much for a "great pennant drive."

The final chapter deals with owner Walter O'Malley ending the great love affair between the borough and its beloved "Bums" by moving the team to Los Angeles.

Brooklyn Dodgers is a short and easy read. But Roger Kahn's The Boys of Summer (2006) and Peter Golenbock's Bums (1984) are much better accounts of those players, those times, and that team."

Thanks for the review, Dad!  Perhaps this book might actually work better for someone who wasn't as familiar with the team and the season and wasn't looking for something new to learn?  

Update from my dad:   To the contrary, what interest the book had for me was primarily seeing again the names and deeds (no matter how skimpily fleshed out) of all those players of all those teams that I knew and was interested in in my youth.  I think they’re less likely to resonate with a reader who doesn’t have my background.


  1. Great review.
    But I expect this would go over my head. Baseball is not big down here.

  2. I know a reader who would love this book, though I don't think it would appeal to me. It sounds as if it has some minor flaws, but nothing too bad. I am so impressed that your dad wrote a review for you! I wish I could get my dad to do that too!