Imagine Pete Rose and Steve Garvey talking about their on-field Reds-Dodgers battles? It happened here in 2016.
The book: “Cincinnati Red and Dodger Blue: Baseball’s Greatest Forgotten Rivalry”
The author: Tom Van Riper
The vital statistics: Rowman & Littlefield, 208 pages, $38, released April 16
Find it: At Amazon.com, at Barnes and Noble, at Powells.com, at Vromans.com, at the publishers’ website.
The pitch: The premise is flawed.
Seven straight seasons — a glorious stretch from 1972 to ’78 — it was either Sparky Anderson’s Reds or the Walter Alston/Tommy Lasorda Dodgers punching their way through the NL West to gain one of the then-four precious playoff spots. The Reds won four of the seven, but never easily. In six of the seven, either the Dodgers or Reds ended up as the NL rep in the World Series.
There would be years when the Dodgers would win 95 games and miss the playoffs (the Reds won 99 in 1973), or the Reds would win 98 and miss it (the Dodgers won 102 in ’74).
The combined rosters could have made up half the NL All-Star team each July.
There were NL MVPs aplenty.
So how is that forgotten? Maybe for those who have a short memory or a 21st Century birth certificate and never bothered to ask>
Of course, the NL West at that time was a big geographical mess. The Dodgers and Reds should never have been gathered in that Group of Death – Cincinnati and Atlanta should have been in the NL East, with the Cubs and Cardinals shifted to the West, but that’s a whole other political issue – perhaps worth exploring in a book like this.
But since the Reds and Dodgers were there, in this format, during this time, and had assembled the best talent in baseball (with the Oakland A’s, New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox having some say in it), this was a clumsy rivalry that had to develop out of necessity.
It wasn’t Dodgers-Giants in terms of heated hatred based on location and history. It was a way to a means, and with that regular clash of colors taken straight off the American flag nearly two dozen times a year, it defined a heavyweight fight more than a backyard scrap. More mutual respect than deep down animosity. They were good for each other.
Van Riper, who grew up in Long Island with no attachment to either team, admits he only had the Reds on his radar eventually was because his favorites, the Mets, traded beloved Tom Seaver to Cincinnati in 1977. With this, his first book, Van Riper calls himself a “baseball fanatic” in the author bio, also noting a 10-year run at Forbes covering the business of sports.
Even though Van Riper manages to land some interviews with the likes of Steve Garvey, Ron Cey, Al Downing, Tommy John and Claude Osteen from the Dodgers’ side, as well as Jack Billingham, Ken Griffey Sr., Ross Grimsley and Jon Matlack from the Reds’ side, and then tossing in commentary and context from Bob Costas, there still seems to be some missing voices.
Pete Rose, Joe Morgan, Tony Perez and George Foster. Dave Concepcion. The late Anderson. Even the late Marge Schott.
Don Sutton, Dusty Baker, Davey Lopes, Bill Russell, or the non-stop talking Lasorda. Even Peter O’Malley.
Vin Scully and Al Michaels, the voices of each team at the time. Silence (or excerpted, in one case, from a column we did with Michaels in 2014).
And in a lot of ways, that’s where the color from this blue-on-red drama naturally came from.
“The rivalry was the best in baseball; the road to the World Series went through the National League West,” Cey is quoted as saying. “Joe Morgan and I have talked about it, about how much fun it was and how it peaked your profession. We always had exciting regular season games. They had a little bit of an advantage, but we had a good time with it.”
But it should go much deeper.
And while the research is there from various traditional sources, it’s just too bad that the writing itself doesn’t draw one in with any sort of suspense or cliff-hanging nature. What’s left is a lot of words and sentences, arranged that tell a history that has been sitting there for decades on a Google search.
Another time, another era.
It’s always worth retelling, sure, but, but the voices have to resonate.
More to know:
== A Q&A with Van Riper for Platecoverage.com
== Van Riper is one of four authors to describe the background of his book with Forbes’ Howard Cole.