The book: “Dodgers from Coast to Coast: The Official Visual History of the Dodgers”
The author: Introduction by Vin Scully; forward by Tommy Lasorda
The vital stats: Skybox Press/Abrams, 256 pages, $40
The pitch: A publication of this proportions (11 3/4 x 9 1/4 inches) might look similar to previous Dodger history books — we’re thinking of William F. McNeil’s “The Dodges Encyclopedia” (2003), Glen Stout and Richard Johnson’s “The Dodgers” (2004), John Snyder’s “Dodgers Journal” (2009) or Richard Whittingham’s “Illustrated History of the Dodgers” (2005).
All of them are utilitarian in their own ways. The research and writing are well done. But in many ways, the photos are things we’ve seen before, and just don’t jump off the pages.
Here is where the visual assault of Dodgers history happens, and it does so because of those in the organization’s inside that have supplied the material to make it have such a bigger splash — starting with the sale of the book in the Dodgers’ team stores beginning with today’s home opener (although many of the website stores above are only taking pre-orders to date).
Dodgers’ team historian Mark Langill (left) and director of publications Jorge Martin are on board with this, supplying much of the direction of the project from a content standpoint, which differs from the previous works.
The easiest comparison here is to how this goes up against the Angels’ new “Under the Halo” coffee table publication, which comes in a slightly larger, $10 more on the sticker price, and 10 more pages to cover a franchise with about half the history. Skybox Press editor Scott Gummer and project editor Kevin Toyama actually did both publications, but for different publishers, which may account for some of the look and feel (and that new-book smell) being on the same page.
Where the Dodgers take this in a different direction is how former players are recruited to do chapters. Eric Karros, the L.A. Dodgers’ all-time home run leader and a Rookie of the Year, is given perhaps the most space to write about “Homegrown Talent,” Wes Parker writes about Walter Alston, Steve Yeager on Don Sutton, former Vietnam vet Roy Gleason about the impact of Rick Monday saving the American flag, Mike Scioscia talks about his relationship with Roy Campanella, and Wally Moon reminisces about the Coliseum years. And then there’s Ann Meyers Drysdale, who has a poignant piece about her late husband, Don Drysdale.
Taking it a giant step further, “Boys of Summer” author Roger Kahn has a chapter about Ebbets Field, historian Ronald G. Shafer gets readers up to speed about the early Brooklyn Dodgers years from 1890-to 1940, and broadcaster Charley Steiner, a Brooklyn native, writes about The Knothole Gang.
And somehow, the book manages to slip in biographies on souvenir sales guru Danny Goodman, statistician Allan Roth and one-time coach Babe Ruth. There is also ample space dedicated to the team’s trips to Japan, Taiwan and China, the 2008 exhibition game played at the Coliseum, the Dodgers’ organists (Gladys Goodding, Helen Dell and Nancy Bea Hefley) and, in a chapter on Tommy Lasorda (who also writes his own forward), copies of notes he scribbled on hotel stationary before he was to deliver a motivational speech.
While much of the Dodgers’ own historical treasure trove is culled for material, along with photographs of relics from the Gary Cypres collection — some of which has been on display at the Dodger Stadium’s club level hallway and are rarely seen otherwise.
Plenty of attention is also given to the current team and its recent success (warning: A photo of a smiling Frank McCourt appears on the next-to-last page, in a chapter about Camelback Ranch in Glendale, Ariz.)
An excerpt: From Vin Scully’s introduction:
“As far as the Dodger franchise is concerned, in many ways I’ve often thought that the franchise is somewhat a reflection of life itself. In your early days, you struggle just to pay bills. Eventually, if you’re fortunate enough, you might break through and have periods of some success. Along with the success, certainly, as you grow, there are heartache and frustration. But then, the spirit of the borough of Brooklyn has always touched the Dodgers — the idea that, undismayed by the past disappointments, fans will forever cry, ‘Wait till next year!’ So all of that has really helped me feel how important the organization has been to all of baseball, to all the fans and, very much, to me.”
From Shawn Green’s chapter on “New Heroes” on page 212:
“I was playing on a scout team as a sophomore in high school (in 1988). At the game one of the scouts asked if anyone wanted to buy his World Series (Game 1) tickets (high up in right field), because he couldn’t go. We bought them, and on the way to the stadium, we ran by a sporting goods store and grabbed a sweat suit for me to wear in lieu of my dirty uniform. I’m ashamed tos ay that we were guilty of leaving right before Kirk Gibson hit the home run, and like many others, my parents and I ran back into the stadium to see why the crowd has erupted so intensely.”
How it goes down in the scorebook: A giant swatch of blue heaven that passes the “wow” test.
What really makes it extra special? Check out the two-page spread that enlarges a hand-written letter that allowed Brooklyn into the National League in 1889. The photos of Casey Stengel are from his family’s personal collection. Even the bio of L.A. councilwoman Roz Wyman. The newspaper in the photo came from longtime Dodger fan Russ Urban, who saved it as a 7-year-old when it was announced the Dodgers were coming to L.A. He passed away several years ago, and his widow gave the paper to Langill and the Dodgers to use, as well as old ticket stubs and other things from his collection.
In the end, the pictures do tell the story, providing those proverbial thousand words, taking the reader back to a time when he can embrace the history from his own perspective.
But wait a sec: No chapter by Roger Owens, the famed peanut man (just a photo about the 2008 Coliseum game)? But a two-page spread on Steve Finley, the late-season acquisition who played 58 games with the team in 2004 and, OK, hit a walk-off grand slam against the Giants to give the Dodgers their first NL West title in nearly 10 years …. And nothing on Jaime Jarrin? Or Don Newcombe? Or …
“We could have used 856 pages instead of 256, which tells you how much material is out there since the 1880s,” said Langill, who credits Skybox’s Nate Beale for doing much of the photo layouts and memorabilia presentation.
Full disclosure: I was recruited to do an essay about the Dodgers’ infield from 1973-’81 — Garvey, Lopes, Russell and Cey — that appears on pages 152-153. It should be obvious to the readers that they didn’t run the photos of the foursome big enough within the superfluous text.