With Tuesday’s arrival in bookstores of “The Last Innocents: The Collision of the Turbulent Sixties and the Los Angeles Dodgers,” writer Michael Leahy circles back to a group of players from that roster to find out, 50 years later, how they survived that decade of upheaval, surrounded by World Series titles and adjustments from the franchise still fresh off its move from Brooklyn.
We reviewed the book as one of our favorites during the April series — not just for the subject matter but the way it is so eloquently written and organized.
Leahy, the former Washington Post political writer who has covered everything from politics to sports, is coming to Southern California as part of his book tour, arriving at the Burbank Library’s Buena Vista Branch on Thursday, May 12 at 7 p.m. along with former Dodgers first baseman Wes Parker.
Prior to his arrival, the 63-year-old Northridge native and Yale grad currently living in Fairfax County, Virginia, often included in the Best American Sportswriting annual anthologies, graciously submitted answers to our Q&A about the process of how the book came about and what he got out of it:
Q: In writing this book, did you feel that growing up in Northridge with a fan’s appreciation of the team and franchise helped you more than got in your way of an objective approach to documenting how that era played out?
A: When it comes to the book, growing up where I did was an enormous advantage. I probably saw 20 to 25 games a year at Dodger Stadium as a kid. Familiarity and intimacy are always huge benefits for a writer.
For instance, I find it difficult (bordering on impossible) to imagine how I would have written the scene about Koufax’s perfect game had I not been in the Stadium to see it – at the very least, something powerfully visceral would have been lost. There are moments from that night, frozen on my mind’s eye at age 12, which I would’ve had no chance of evoking had I not been sitting with my hosts (the Allen family, who are characters in the scene) in Aisle 27, Row S of the reserve level.
And I keenly remember what it was like, a year earlier, to make that drive with my father from Northridge to Dodger Stadium for the first time, the sheer wonder of it – ascending that incline on Stadium Way, glimpsing the ballpark and the glowing globes with the baseball stitching in the parking lot, then sitting in the high seats and watching the sunset in the distant hills. It was all paradise for a kid whose family had moved to Los Angeles a short while earlier. The memories of those images have served as reminders for me of the Dodgers’ profound hold on millions of Los Angelenos during the Sixties. We were, in many unadmitted ways, a citizenry without a hub at the time, and the Dodgers (along with some other Los Angeles teams and institutions) served to provide some modest sense of connection.
What a writer must avoid, of course, is romanticizing his subjects. A writer has a duty to reveal the truth about his subjects, no matter how disturbing that truth might be in moments, and to illuminate, as in the case of this book, what those realities tell us about individual players, the team’s management, the city and country in which they played, and their era. It’s always the same task in journalism really. It was much the same challenge for me in writing for The Washington Post about politics and about Michael Jordan’s playing comeback in Washington and later in my book about Jordan (in 2004).
When it came to writing The Last Innocents, I told players that I hoped to learn something utterly new about their careers and lives, something that would enable a reader at once to grasp the reality of their lives and better understand baseball in the era, the sport’s imperious executives, the Dodgers organization, and the Sixties. The players delivered; they were extraordinary subjects. Continue reading