The book: “High Fives, Pennant Drives and Fermandomania: A Fan’s History of the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Glory Years 1977-1981″
The author: Paul Haddad
The vital stats: Santa Monica Press, 336 pages, $16.95.
The pitch: Why does the author’s name sound familiar?
He’s the Dodger fan who recorded all kinds of Dodger games when he was a kid growing up in L.A. and some of them made it into an ESPN documentary last year called “Fernando Nation.” The L.A.-based TV writer and producer who has done work with Fox Sports has now put his fandome into print — and not a self-published effort, either.
Haddad says the seeds of his Dodger fandome started at age 11, during the 1977 World Series, when “there was a palpable buzz in Los Angeles surrounding the Dodgers getting into the postseason, and exitement that trickled down to the schoolyard and classrooms at West Hollywood Elementary.”
Thankfully, his dad got him “a big boxy cassete recorder with a built-in radio and microphone,” which was put to use recording Dodger games off KABC. And now the tapes provide a reference point how Haddad — a fan, and not a baseball writer — relives the moments in a way that really only a fan truely could.
An excerpt: From page 275, how Haddad was able to keep up with the Dodgers-Expos 1981 decisive Game 5 of the NLCS from Montreal while he sat in a 10th-grade classroom at Brentwood School:
“It was time to resort to Plan B–Operation: T.R. (Transistor Radio). The mission was simple: Set radio volume to its lowest setting. Smuggle radio into backpack. Lay backpack on desk. Press ear against backpack. It would be like those nights of listening to games under my pillow. Only, in this situation, it would be done in broad daylight, in a small classroom, under the prying eyes of a teacher. The risk of getting caught lay somewhere between ‘definite’ and ‘what’re you — crazy?’ But it had to be done. It remained 1-1 through seven innings, with Fernando retiring 19 out of 20 at one point. The final innings just happened to coincide with the start of my geometry class, taught by a humorless ramrod named — and I’m not making this up — Mr. Bland.
“I would’ve felt a little guilty about my ruse if it was against a teacher I liked. But Mr. Bland did not endear himself to anybody with his condescending attitude. Just a week before, a student in the front row seeking some untold payback purposely spilled some blue pen ink on a desk Mr. Bland sometimes sat on to get off his feet for a while. Predictably, Mr. Bland hoisted his posterior onto the puddle of fresh ink, then got up to write on the chalkboard. We spent the next half hour biting our lower lips and turning purple, trying to stifle laughs as we gazed at the blue blob hitching a ride on the cheeks of his khakis.
“There were three rows of desks in our classroom, and I strategically positioned myself in the back row, behind the tallest kid in class. Two desks to my left sat my friend, Andrew, whose Dodger devotion rivaled mine. Andrew had also brought a transistor radio to class and stashed it in his backpack. Redundancy would be essential. If one of us got busted, the other could still relay signals.
“As usual, Mr. Bland spent much of the period with his back to the class, jotting mind-numbing formulas on the board, giving us ample windows to bend our heads toward backpacks. I was having a hard time tuning in to KABC, but Andrew wasn’t. He updated me on every at-bat by passing notes to me through a complicit student who sat between us. In the top of the eighth, I received Andrew’s first missive:
“I immediately wrote back:
How many out?
“Andrew flashed one finger. I nodded, and Andrew pressed his ear against his backpack again. After a few moments he grinned and jotted another note through our intermediary:
“My heart, already racing due to our crazy stunt, beat even faster against my chest. I tried to get a read on the next play off of Andrew’s expressions. Why was he taking so long to write his next note? Maybe Bill Russell singled him in! It felt like we were two prisoners exchanging intelligence, although in hindsight the fragmentary way in which I was receiving reports for each at-bat was kind of like a primeval version of those auto-updates you get online at ESPN.com or MLB Live.
“Mr. Bland briefly addressed the class again, then turned toward the board. Andrew scribbled a hurried message:
Russell ground ball.
Lopes out, rundown.
“I sensed that Mr. Bland may have been catching on. He refused to turn toward the board for the next five minutes and seemed to be casting a suspicious eye on the back row, though it may have just been my paranoia. The entire bottom of the eighth inning passed without Andrew or me knowing that Fernando was dispensing of the Expos in order.
“As the top of the ninth inning got underway, with the score still 1-1, Mr. Bland returned to the chalkboard to jot out a new sequence of formulas, and I renewed my efforts to tune in to the game. Through a bunch of static, I was just able to catch Jerry Doggett’s familiar baritone. Steve Rogers had come in to replace Ray Burris and had just gotten Garvey to pop out to start the inning. One out and Cey at the plate. …
“‘Here we have alternate interior angles . . . ‘
1-and-1 to Cey . . .
” ‘Which creates a null set . . . ‘
Two balls and one strike . . .
“‘Triangle ABC . . .’ ”
Three-and-one now . . .
“‘Triangle DEF . . . ‘ ”
Fly ball to left field . . .
“‘Hypotenuse . . .’ ”
Two outs . . .
“‘The result would be incongruent . . . much like someone putting their head against a backpack to listen to the radio.'”
I lifted my head. Mr. Bland was staring daggers at me.
How it goes down in the scorebook: A seventh-inning stretch of the truth? Hardly.
It’s all documented. On tape. And I wish I’d done the same.
What Andy Strasberg’s book “Baseball Fantography” can do for the game’s fans collecting and saving photographs, Haddad’s book might inspire fans to go more with their own personal recording devices, and add their own personal stories.
If only the fans could capture it as well and relay it as entertaining as Haddad did here.
As Jon Weisman, the author of DodgerThoughts.com, writes in the forward: “I am nothing if not the jealout type, adn the thing that makes me most jealous is how Haddad has taken advantage of this window into his childhood self. To be able to hear himself as a fan, to revisit exactly what it was like whenhe was first being inspired, is an indescribable gift. The rest of us can live vicariously through his time travel machine … it’s a reminder that it’s never too late to appreciate the good times, whether they took place three decades ago or yesterday.”