A post-script to 30 baseball books from April ’16: A Q&A with “Last Innocents” author Michael Leahy

posterWith 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:

SFValleyStateQ: 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.
il_570xN.758989978_j530For 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.
415ZJAlWjULWhat 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

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ICYMI: April 27-May 1

drew.tableA quick reminder about posts and columns that landed this week:

== Former UCLA and Clippers star Baron Davis walks us through his documentary “The Drew: No Excuse, Just Produce” which continues a Showtime network run.

== ESPN’s Chris Mortensen gives us an update on his treatment for Stage IV throat cancer and how he was able to keep up with the NFL Draft.

== You think it’s a safe bet for the Raiders to land in Las Vegas? We’re not so sure.

== We’ve finished another version of 30 baseball book reviews during the month of April, and two of them about the Dodgers (one looking at the World Series teams of ’77 and ’78 by Michael Fallon, and another about the team of the ’60s by Michael Leahy) were among the best out there. We also have a list of books we wish we could have included in the list — maybe another one for this summer?

== Here’s the week ahead, May 2-8, highlighted by the Kentucky Derby and …. Suddenbreakingnews?


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(More than) 30 baseball books for 2016 we wanted to get to but …

By art student Matthis Grunsky in Halifax, NS, Canada.

By art student Matthis Grunsky in Halifax, NS, Canada.

The books we had hoped to get to but for one reason or another – a late review copy, delayed release, etc. – we regret not being able to include:

51mWS+VVchL== “Stealing Games: How John McGraw Transformed Baseball with the 1911 New York Giants,” by Maury Klein
Ron Kaplan has a review for Bookreporter.com that includes: ” ‘Stealing Games’ is a marvel of research, almost to a fault. Practically every paragraph is cited, mercifully in endnotes rather than footnotes, which, given the sheer number, would have rendered this fine work difficult to navigate. This is a minor point, as Klein’s contribution will doubtlessly earn him the highest accolades from those in the baseball literary world.

== “Fastpitch: The Untold History of Softball and the Women who Played the Game,” by Erica Westly. Due to come out in June, we figured that if softball star Jessica Mendoza was qualified enough to do analysis on ESPN MLB baseball, a baseball reader should be up to speed with the history of softball. Start with Bertha Ragan Tickey and the Buena Park Lynx.

== “Born Into Baseball: Laughter and Heartbreak at the Edge of The Show,” by Jim Campanis, Jr. (son of the former Dodgers GM)

== “Playing With Tigers: A Minor League Chronicle of the Sixties,” by George Gmelch

== “Ahead of the Curve: Inside the Baseball Revolution,” by MLB Network anchor Brian Kenny

91Z2E+0wJ6L== “House of Nails: A Memoir of Life on the Edge, The Construction, The Demolotion, The Ressuraction,” by Lenny Dykstra with Peter Golenbock

== “All-Time Nines: Baseball’s Greatest Teams As Determined by Analytics,” by Don Cox

== “Beyond the Ballpark: The Honorable, Immoral and Eccentric Lives of Baseball Legends,” by John A. Wood

== “Characters from the Diamond: Wild Events, Crazy Antics, and Unique Tales from Early Baseball,” by Ronald T. Waldo

== “Darkhorse: The Jimmy Claxton Story,” by Ty Phelan

== “DiMag & Mick: Sibling Rivals, Yankee Blood Brothers,” by Tony Castro

515IP6HYm4L== “Dingers: The 101 Most Memorable Home Runs in Baseball History,” by Joshua Shifrin and Tommy Shea

== “Disco Demolition: The Night Disco Died,” by Dave Hoekstra (and Steve Dahl as a contributor)

== “Fall from Grace: The Truth and Tragedy of Shoeless Joe Jackson,” by Tim Hornbaker

== “Herb Pennock: Baseball’s Faultless Pitcher,” by Keith Craig

== “Home Game: Big-League Stories from My Life in Baseball’s First Family,” by Bret Boone, with Kevin Cook

== “The Hall of Fame Corrected,” by Eddie Daniels

==Tony C: The Triumph and Tragedy of Tony Conigliaro,” by David Cataneo (updated from the 1998 original book)

512NxheahBL== “Incredible Baseball Stats: The Coolest, Strangest Stats and Facts in Baseball History,” by Kevin Reavy and Ryan Spaeder

== “Ralph Kiner: A Baseball Biography,” by Robert P. Broadwater

== “Down on the Korner: Ralph Kiner and Kiner’s Korner,” by Mark Rosenman and Howie Karpin

== “Skipper Supreme: Buck Showalter and the Baltimore Orioles,” by Todd Karpovich and Jeff Seidel

== “The Elias Book of Baseball Records 2016: Major League Baseball Records, World Series Records, Championship Series Records, Division Series Records, All-Star Game Records, Hall of Fame Records,” by Seymour Siwoff Continue reading

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The complete 30-for-30 2016 list of baseball book reviews

From the phenomenal artwork of Lusy Eldrige, available at etsy.com.

From the phenomenal artwork of Lucy Eldrige, available at etsy.com.

Arranged by the quality of the work that we tried to pass along in each review

Top shelf:
== Day 30: “Dodgerland: Decadent Los Angeles and the 1977-78 Dodgers,” by  Michael Fallon
== Day 29: “The Last Innocents: The Collision of the Turbulent Sixties and the Los Angeles Dodgers,” by Michael Leahy
== Day 27: The Grand Old Man of Baseball: Connie Mack in His Final Years, 1932-1956,” by Norman L. Macht
== Day 26: “Cuba’s Baseball Defectors: The Inside Story,” by Peter C. Bjarkman
== Day 22: “The Only Rule Is It Has to Work: Our Wild Experiment Building a New Kind of Baseball Team” by Ben Lindbergh and Sam Miller
== Day 11: “Baseball and the Law: Cases and Materials” by Louis H. Schiff and Robert M. Jarvis
== Day 6: “God Almighty Hisself: The Life and Legacy of Dick Allen,” by Mitchell Nathanson
== Day 5: “The Selling of the Babe: The Deal that Changed Baseball and Created a Legend,” by Glenn Stout”
== Day 4: “The 50 Greatest Dodgers Games of All Time,” by J.P. Hoornstra
== Day 2: “Baseball Field Guide: An In-Depth Illustrated Guide to the Complete Rules of Baseball,” by Dan Formosa and Paul Hamburger
== Day 1: “The Arm: Inside the Billion-Dollar Mystery of the Most Valuable Commodity in Sports,” by Jeff Passan

Admirable effort: Continue reading

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30 baseball books for April ’16, Day 30: The Dodgers and the ‘70s, a deliciously decadent look

The 1978 Dodgers team photo.

The 1978 Dodgers team photo.

The book: “Dodgerland: Decadent Los Angeles and the 1977-78 Dodgers”
The author: Michael Fallon
The vital statistics: University of Nebraska Press, 472 pages, $34.95. Released April 19
Find it: At Amazon.com, at Powells.com, at Vromans.com, at the publishers’ website. Also, the writers’ website.

Dodgerland1.ashxThe pitch: It’s a fitting quote Fallon uses to start the last chapter – actually, the afterward – in this book about the Dodgers, taken from an August, 1979 edition of Time magazine:
“Nobody is apt to look back on the 1970s as the good old days.”
The Dodgers transitioned from the tumultuous ‘60s (as we just finished reading in “The Last Innocents”) into a spiral at the start of the ‘70s.
We were there. We went through it.
The franchise found some stability with a home-grown infield, a Don Sutton-led pitching staff, and a revived fan base, but all they had to show for it were three trips to the World Series during that decade – all of them losses.
The last two of them — back-to-back painful thwarting by the New York Yankees – are what Fallon holds up for an intricate inspection, clearing away the palm trees to intentionally craft a “Bronx Is Burning”-type narrative that seems to demonstrate that the Dodgers epitomized the concept of “promise unrealized” during a time when strange vibes were channeling their way through Southern California.
Continue reading

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