The book: “The Dodgers and Me”
The author: Leo Durocher
The vital statistics: Pathfinder Books, 302 pages, $12.95. (Re-released Feb. 23)
Find it: At Amazon.com, at Powells.com, at Vromans.com
The pitch: The original version of this tome from Ziff-Davis Publishing landed in 1948 – the year after Durocher needed something to do as he was stuck gardening at home in Santa Monica because of an MLB suspension, unable to work as the Dodgers’ manager in the season that Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s color barrier.
Original first editions sometimes show up in online auctions going for more than $150, if signed. The great online used book site, Abebooks.com, will show one or two for $190.
A copy might surface on eBay.com in the $75 range.
So why did we gravitate toward this one?
Because of the affordability, the availability and the enjoy ability.
And we’re not even sure who to thank for this. The book publisher listed in this copy is Pathfinder Books. On online book sellers, its CreateSpace Independent Publishing, implying someone prints and sends these out once they’re ordered.
Imagine the kind of shelf life books like this could continue to have, and might this one inspire, if baseball fans continue to rediscover more oldies but goodies like this and show a willingness to buy not only hardbound, but softbound and kindle versions (at $2.99 a pop)?
Durocher has not been with us since 1991, living out the last year of his life golfing in Palm Springs. But bringing this diary back to life is pretty cool.
On this revised cover, the “The Inside Story” subtitle is missing. An illustration of those Dodgers doesn’t even include Durocher.
All the original black-and-white photos are included (if not in the same order as the original editions) as well as the muddy typeface that makes the reader feel as if he needs to wash his hands after handling it.
Our first memories of Durocher came in the 1960s, when we saw him on an episode of “The Munsters,” “The Beverly Hillbillies” or “Mr. Ed,” playing himself, but often playing himself off as the Dodgers’ manager (when he was actually a coach on Walter Alston’s staff).
We were familiar with him later as a manager with the Chicago Cubs and Houston Astros until the early ‘70s.
But outside of a shaded reference to Durocher as played by Christopher Meloni in the 2013 movie “42,” where Durocher is suspected of being associated with known gamblers, we aren’t really told why Durocher had to serve a season-long suspension.
This book, as it turns out, does nothing at all to help.
Durocher explains in the opening pages how he was told by Dodgers president Branch Rickey about the suspension. That allows him to launch into his life story in the game, coming to the Dodgers in 1937 and all times before that with the Yankees and Cardinals.
By the time we hit the final paragraphs of the book, we still get no clue as to what he’ll tell us about the suspension, whether he regrets not having to get the chance to manage Robinson’s rookie year … pretty much nothing.
“That’s all of it I guess. Maybe I haven’t put in all you’d like to know about the spring of 1947, and the rhubarb that led to the abrupt subtraction of a year from my baseball career. Yet, for the first time in my life, I really have nothing to say. But not by choice.
“For the last line in the Commissioner’s ruling, which Rickey had summarized so dramatically that April morning in his office, took care of that.
“It said briefly. ‘All parties to this controversy are silenced from the time this order is issued!’
“That’s all, brother!”
Try getting away with that explanation in today’s media.
The language Durocher uses here – and we have to assume there was a ghostwriter who helped him through all this — also provides a time capsule into what readers were used to reading before some of the political correctness kicked in.
There’s an entire chapter about an argument Durocher got in with pitcher Van Lingo Mungo while the team was playing in Cuba that reads like a script from a Laurel and Hardy movie.
In a reference to the Ebbets Field “Sym-phony” group that played music at Dodgers games, Durocher makes note of “Jo-Jo, the cigar-smoking midget who thumps the drum” and jokes about his mangled Brooklyn phraseology.
As for super fan Hilda Chester, Durocher calls her “a female colossus with a thundering voice, a sharp tongue and an undying loyalty to the Dodgers … she can collect a crowd quicker than a guy scattering ten-dollar bills.”
When it comes to Robinson, Durocher refers to him as “the Negro boy” on the first page, but doesn’t touch much more about this historic achievement until Chapter 30, “The Memorable Year ’47,” which he says he followed via a play-by-play radio rebroadcast of Dodgers’ games that he heard from his home.
Noting that the Dodgers were winning games and drawing fans at Ebbetts Field, Durocher admitted that “the ‘difference’ at the gate and on the scoreboard, too, was Jackie Robinson. He was having a rough time, no question about it. From the opposing dugout, most everybody gave it to him … When Enos Slaughter spiked Robinson’s outstretched foot in a play at first base that wasn’t even close, Hugh Casey, who lives in Georgia, charged at the Cardinal outfielder.
“ ‘I saw a Georgia Cracker defend a Negro boy!’ marveled one writer. ‘It can be said that Robinson “made” the team today!’”
During key series against the Cardinals later, Durocher also noted that “when (Joe) Garagiola spiked him, Jackie quickly let him know that he understood what it was all about.”
We’re not sure we completely understand why Durocher even put out this book at the time he did. If only to give him something to do?
Still, something we might have easily overlooked in the backlog of baseball books from year’s past becomes one more thing that we appreciate now that it’s back in circulation.
More to know:
= In 2007 and 2010, Kessinger Publishing LLC is credited with a reprint of “The Dodgers And Me.”
= We may be much more familiar with his 1975 book, “Nice Guys Finish Last,” with Ed Linn, a Simon & Shuster product that had more longevity and promotion. Even if that quote attributed to him was something never never did say verbatim. The book was reprinted in 2009.
= On the topic of reprints: The 1961 title “Out of My League: The Classic Account of an Amateur’s Ordeal in Professional Baseball” by George Plimpton is also coming out again this month by Little, Brown and Company. The book, which has been re-released most recently in 2010 by Lyons Press, It is part of a re-issue of other Plimpton titles from his estate such as “One for the Record: The Inside Story of Hank Aaron’s Chase for the Home Run Record” issued in 1974.