A few new books on Dodger-related topics have been published this season, but one tackles the entire chronology of the Dodgers from 1958 to the present.
Michael Schiavone took on this task in his new book The Dodgers: 60 years in Los Angeles that was released earlier this year. (See my review in the sidebar to this article.)
Recently I conducted an e-mail interview with Schiavone, who grew up in Australia and initially learned to love baseball and the Dodgers through highlights of the 1988 World Series between the Dodgers and the Oakland Athletics.
Schiavone is the author of two books on the topic of organized labor, plus one sports-related work entitled Sports and Labor in the United States. My questions appear first, in italics.
Many histories of the Dodgers have been written before. What are you bringing to “The Dodgers: 60 Years in Los Angeles” that sets your work apart or establishes itself as different from the rest? How hard is it to find a fresh angle on this subject?
The most obvious difference is that The Dodgers: 60 Years in Los Angeles is the most comprehensive and up-to-date history of the LA Dodgers. In addition, many other LA Dodger history books skip over or only pay lip-service to particular years. Indeed, another semi-recent Dodger history book almost completely ignores the McCourt years. My book covers all the highs, lows, and everything in-between.
How does growing up in another country and hemisphere and learning to be a fan from afar play into your outlook for this book?
American baseball was very rarely shown on Australian television until cable began in the mid-1990s. Even then, it was not until years later that it was shown with any regularity. I got my fix by reading the “latest” (months old) copy of Sports Illustrated at the library. I sustained my Dodger fandom through the written word. Many people reading my book would not have seen the Dodgers in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s (and for some not even the in 1980s and 1990s). As such, I wanted to replicate what I felt reading about the Dodgers in Sports Illustrated so many years ago.
At 326 pages of text, you have about 5 ½ pages for each season. Were there any years that you wish you could have expounded upon further? In general, do you wish the book were longer?
The book is over 100,000 words. While I (like any author) initially would have liked it to be longer, my editor and publisher wisely did not. As it is, I believe it is the perfect length.
Did you ever consider organizing the book in some way other than chronologically?
Quite simply, no. I always envisaged the book chronologically.
With your background and previous work, it seems clear that you wanted to include the threads regarding the Dodgers roles and effects in the evolving nature of the labor relations between the players and ownership. How important was that to you?
It was very important. The history of baseball and the history of the Dodgers cannot be told without analysis of the labor struggles that have occurred. I wish I could say that the owners and MLB realize from past labor struggles that no-one truly wins from a prolonged strike or lockout. However, after the last offseason where the rules of the game (players were rewarded for artificially depressed salaries by signing big free agency deals) changed and Manfred’s recent pronouncements before the All-Star game, there will be a major labor dispute once the current collective bargaining agreement expires.
Why do you think so many fans seem to side with owners instead of players in baseball labor disputes? Some sense of team loyalty that’s built in to fandom? Inability to scale the general labor vs. management argument to the size of the player’s salaries? Other ideas?
It is easy to blame the players. After all, they are “lucky” to play baseball for a living earning so much money for playing a so‑called children’s game; that is something so many wish and/or strive for, yet so few are able to do. Almost since the birth of professional baseball, owners and the media have derided the salaries players receive. This was true even as far back as 1881, when Chicago White Stockings owner Albert Spalding stated “Salaries must come down or bankruptcy stares every team in the face.” Even today when the baseball media is perceived as “left-wing” they still generally side with the owners. In the lead up to the new CBA the owners threatened to lock out the players. In almost all instances the baseball media made no mention that the owners did not have to lock out the players. People reading the various articles on the potential lockout were led to believe that by not agreeing to the owners’ demands the players were the ones who would cause a stoppage. You also have the situation today where ESPN announcer Matt Vasgersian on Sunday Night Baseball repeatedly states that minor league players are property of their respective clubs. It should go without saying, that people are not property. All of these things combined make it very easy for the public to side with management in any labor dispute.
Were there other items and details that you wanted to make sure to touch upon (the nature of the protestors in the Rick Monday flag incident come to mind)?
Giving the full details on what happened with the flag incident was essential to me. When it is mentioned by any Dodger announcer they fail to note that the protesters were a father and his son, an eleven-year-old boy. The man was not a hippie, a communist or whatever as is often portrayed, but a depressed Native American man protesting at the treatment of his people and that his wife was held against her will at a mental health facility. It was just a sad situation all around and should not be celebrated in any form.
The other thing I pushed very hard for inclusion was how the Dodgers and MLB in general treated Glenn Burke. Burke was gay. This fact did not bother his teammates. However, it did not sit well with Dodgers’ management. Also Burke was friends with Lasorda’s son, Tommy Lasorda Jr., who was gay and a sometimes cross-dresser. For all his positives, Lasorda was in denial over his son’s sexual orientation. It is almost certain that Burke was traded because he was gay and was friends with Tommy Lasorda Jr. At Oakland their manager Billy Martin often called Burke a “faggot” among other insults. As I wrote in the book, “every year on April 20, the so-called National High Five Day, do not remember the Burke who invented the high-five, but the Burke who was persecuted because he was gay.”
The steroids/PED discussion is unavoidable when addressing the Manny Ramirez years given that he was suspended at the time, but it’s not discussed when talking about Eric Gagne’s success or the trade of Paul Lo Duca, with the allegations of their use coming later in the Mitchell Report. Was that a conscious decision on your part? Why or why not touch upon it?
The reason why is that Ramirez was busted for performance enhancing drugs while as a Dodger; this was not the case with Gagne nor Lo Duca. Also, I believe that Gagne still denies ever taking PEDs during the saves streak.
What was the most interesting fact you found in your research about the pre-1988 Dodgers that you did not know previously?
Walter O’Malley is always lauded as a visionary. You very rarely hear a bad word about him (well apart from in Brooklyn) but he seemingly did not like many Dodger players; he viewed them as commodities. In addition, the treatment of Sandy Koufax by Dodgers’ management is hardly ever mentioned today. When it came to Koufax, O’Malley implied that he was naïve during contract negotiations. Koufax was also portrayed as money hungry by the media (and there is reason to believe that it was someone in Dodger management was feeding the media stories). In a Time magazine article Dodger executive Fresco Thompson had the audacity to state that Koufax did not even like baseball. The response from O’Malley and Dodger management was to do and say nothing. It is difficult to escape the notion that the reason why Koufax was painted as different by the media and even Dodger management was because he is Jewish.
What was the most interesting fact you found in your research about the 1988 and later Dodgers that you did not know previously?
Discovering how big a distraction Adrian Gonzalez was for the team during the 2017 postseason. While Gonzalez was not on the roster, he decided to watch the NLDS from his home and was in Italy for the NLCS. Gonzalez rejoined the team following Game One of the World Series. His decision not to be with the team up to that point did not sit well with the majority of the clubhouse.
When you first set out to write this book, did you ever envision writing “Trump” in it? (p. 8)
Ha ha ha. Are you trying to get me to talk politics?! If you think I have some strong opinions about baseball, that is nothing compared to my political opinions. Anyway, the Trump in question in the book is Fred Trump; the father of Donald Trump.*
Anything you’d like to share regarding the new Dodgers-related book you are writing?
I would like to share a lot, but all I can say for now is that in the book there will be a lot of content on both the Brooklyn Dodgers and Los Angeles Dodgers. It will be released in April-May 2020.
The Dodgers: 60 Years in Los Angeles is available where all books are sold. Can’t afford the book, request your local library buy a copy. You can follow Michael Schiavone on Twitter @DrMike5150 , which is how I met him in the first place.
Finally, full disclosure, True Blue LA’s Stacie Wheeler receives an acknowledgement in this book.
*From the book, “When O’Malley focused on one particular site [for a ballpark to replace Ebbet’s Field], he found that [Robert] Moses [New York City Planning Chief] was already working with ... Fred Trump [on a development].”