Friday, May 15, 2009

Book Review: Dodgers Past & Present

Earlier this year, the Sons were sent a copy of Steven Travers' Dodgers Past & Present (MVP Books, 144 pages, $25). One in a series of similar books (along with works on the Cubs and Cardinals), Dodgers Past & Present is a fine coffee table book that does a great job of capturing many of the key images in Dodgers franchise history, oftentimes linking black-and-white pictures of the past with full-color pictures of modern times. Tracing some of the moments in the Dodgers' history along the way, Travers demonstrates why the Dodgers are one of baseball's most storied franchises, beloved by teams on both coasts.

Rather than approach this work chronologically, Travers opted to instead group photos and vignettes around short chapters of subject matter. First come chapters about the team's legacy, teams, championships, and rivalries (with the Giants and the Yankees of particular mention). Then, groups of individuals, from "barrier breakers" to managers to key sets of players. Third comes a list of the Dodgers' key players organized by position. And finally comes a group of chapters about some of the relics and items surrounding the Dodgers, from the uniforms to the stadiums to the fans and the food.

What's interesting about this circuitous approach is that it allows Travers to not be bound by the density of memories of any particular era; he is free to weave vignettes and expand on some while contracting others, without seeming like he is short-changing any particular subject or player. It's a maddening approach for the knowledgeable fan trying to link a linear path of the franchise, but for a casual fan versed in one era but not in any of the others, it allows multiple entry points to learn more about the ballclub.

Fond of Duke Snider? Then reading about him in the chapter on home runs allows one to see his 1952 at bat juxtaposed near the fearsome foursome of the 1977 Dodgers squad, including the father of our staff, Steve Garvey, as well as Ron Cey, Steve Yeager, and Reggie Smith (Dusty Baker got aced out in the photo collage simply because he didn't happen to hit a homer in Game 2 of the 1977 World Series). Brad Penny looks especially robust in 2007, especially when contrasted with the beanstalk that is Ramon Martinez from 1995.

And there are plenty of great shots from the 2008 campaign, including winning the division title, Vin Scully in the booth, James Loney in the dugout. In all these pictures, the continuity and simplicity of the uniform makes the Dodgers seem almost timeless--which I suppose is the point of the book. Past, present: for the Dodgers, it's just one big continuum, filled with triumph and heartache, racial diversity and young phenoms, Ebbets Field to Chavez Ravine.

Avid Dodger fans might already be quite familiar with most of the tales Travers recounts, and he often doesn't go into the depth necessary to capture the drama of a moment or emotion of the time. That's unfortunate, as Travers, a former professional baseball player who has written other books about the Dodgers, surely has a perspective that would make it worthy of sticking around on a vignette to spend a bit more time.

But the upside is that the rapid-fire pace allows every page turned or paragraph read has so many memories mentioned and pictures shown, that it's bound to spark memories on its own. And that's a fun way to casually read about the Dodgers, celebrating their rich and vivid history. It's a nice book for the coffee table at home...or right here in the Sons of Steve Garvey staff room, where our copy sits today.

Interested? Dodgers Past & Present is available in bookstores everywhere or through

And, for one lucky SoSG reader: watch this blog carefully this weekend, for information on how you could win your own copy of Dodgers Past & Present!


Chappy said...

The wifey just got this sent to her e-mail as an early X-mas hint.

Thanks Saxy!

Rob said...

Great review, guys. I have a pile of books for review, and I feel negligent. This one looks interesting.

Steve Sax said...

Thanks Rob. I'd actually never done a book review before, so I appreciate the feedback. It definitely took me longer to write than I had anticipated (though luckily, I'm a quick reader so I made up time there).

If you're interested in the book and are getting up early tomorrow, you may want to swing by our 'hood...

karina said...

Great review, Steve! it's like having the book in the hands.