- The book: “Mover & Shaker: Walter O’Malley, the Dodgers, & Baseball’s Westward Expansion”
- The author: Andy McCue
- Vital stats: University of Nebraska Press, 480 pages, $34.95
- Find it: At University of Nebraska Press, at Powells.com, at Vromans.com or at Amazon.com.
- The pitch: The release date of this one isn’t until May 1, but we’ve put it in the lead-off spot because of its importance.
Andy McCue, who wrote “Baseball by the Books: The Complete History and Bibliography of Baseball Fiction” and is a former president of the Society for American Baseball Research, told us about this project of his few years back while he deep into the research end of it.
Even if it doesn’t have the endorsement of Peter O’Malley — who put enough of his own heart and soul into the creation of walteromalley.com in order to present the family legacy — it’s a story that needs to be told by someone on an unbiased sort, not with an emotional tie to any of it, and willing to do a lot of digging.
As as McCue reveals, the narrative that others (i.e.: Brooklyn natives and New York writers) may want to perpetuate really does go up in smoke.
As McCue writes in the introduction:
“To Walter O’Malley, correcting a reporter’s facts (in stories about him or the team) was less important than keeping a good relationship with the team’s major source of free publicity … Keeping reporters in the proper frame of mind was more important than a misunderstood anecdote. … Thus many ‘facts’ about Walter O’Malley were reported again and again and again. Even the most respected newspapers in the business would repeat incorrect information. The Los Angeles Times, New York Times, New York Daily News and Sporting News all had mistakes in their obituaries … It is not like O’Malley was blameless in this process. ‘Remember,’ Walter O’Malley once said to Roger Kahn, ‘only half the lies the Irish tell are true.'”
McCue gives O’Malley more than the benefit of the doubt, as well as his proper props, mostly notably in a chapter entitled “The Most Powerful Man in Baseball,” which documents how other contemporary owners such as Philip Wrigley and Bill Veeck believed it to be true and followed his lead on many things — particularly in involving more black players.
Of course, those like NL president Warren Giles and commissioner Ford Frick tried to dismiss that notion, worried that O’Malley came off as too influential.
“There was no doubt that he got his way more than most,” writes McCue, “whether it was through better ideas, cleverer arguments or the power of his personality.”
As McCue concludes in his Chapter 19 “Postgame”:
“As a businessman, what Walter O’Malley did is completely justified (moving the Dodgers from Brooklyn to L.A.) He moved his plant to a better market. He prospered there. … Saying that Walter O’Malley had the property rights to move his team is true. Saying he had ample economic justification and could see little responsiveness among the New York politicians is true.
“But that is to ignore the emotional bond he had worked so hard to build. Brooklyn fans were loyal enough to make the team profitable, but not loyal enough and numerous enough to generate the profits or political pressure to build a new stadium. And there is where they parted.
“Above all, Walter O’Malley wanted to build his monument to the O’Malleys. And for every outraged Brooklyn fan, there was a Los Angeles fan who could appreciate that .. (he) worked very hard to ensure his business gave the fan what he wanted. …
“Ultimately, Walter O’Malley wanted to build a stadium. And he did.”
Ultimately, McCue wanted to give as many sides possible of what O’Malley meant to the game — he was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2008, for heck’s sake.
And McCue did as well.
- More to know:
= Does the cover at least look familiar to some? From the photo above, it should. But then again, Time magazine took that shot and made more of it when it put him on its April 28, 1958 cover — just as the Dodgers began their existence in L.A.
= For more on this topic, McCue will appear on a panel discussion called “One for the History Books: Pivotal L.A. Sports Stories” at the L.A. Times Festival of Books at USC on Sunday, April 13 at 12:30 p.m. in the Andrus Gerontology Center.
= A book excerpt from the University of Nebraska Press website.
- More background:
= From 2009: “Forever Blue: The True Story of Walter O’Malley, Baseball’s Most Controversial Owner, and the Dodgers of Brooklyn and Los Angeles,” by Michael D’Antonio, and a review we did of that book in on Day 2 of the very first “30 for 30” book project as well as a column with D’Antonio.