Brooklyn Dodgers Memorabilia
No one is homesick for the St. Louis Browns.
The Boston Braves are also largely forgotten in baseball’s faded past.
Also cancel out the Philadelphia A’s and, in our own time, the Montreal Expos.
But oh, the Brooklyn Dodgers, the Dodgers, will always be “The Boys of Summer.”
Tribute Books has a new book on the Bums, “Brooklyn Dodgers: The Last Great Pennant Drive, 1957.” The slim 90-page volume sells for $14.95. Author John R. Nordell Jr. brings personal and professional credentials to the table. He has a Ph.D. in history from Penn State and had previously written on a heavy subject: the Battle of Dien Bien Phu. The catastrophic defeat of the French in Indochina helped establish our involvement in Vietnam and has repercussions on American foreign policy to this day.
This is a lighter subject, though, and Nordell also brings a fan’s childish delight to the book. He saw a game at Ebbets Field in the summer of 1957, his first game. His father’s photographs of him at the game, including a rare view of famous Ringling Brothers clown Emmett Kelly as the “Boom” Dodger, add a very personal touch.
It’s also a very intriguing topic for a book. The Dodgers won pennants in ’52, ’53, ’55 and ’56. 1955 is remembered as the year they finally won the World Series. 1956 is remembered for the Yankees’ Don Larsen pitching a perfect game against the Dodgers in the series. 1954 is remembered as the year the Giants beat the Dodgers with Bobby Thomson’s home run.
But ’57 was a fading year. Several veteran Dodgers stars were on the decline. Then, throughout the year, there was speculation that the Dodgers would leave for Los Angeles.
Nordell, however, defines his book very narrowly. He focuses on a brief two-week period after the All-Star break when the Dodgers used a winning streak to move within a game of leading. For much of the summer, five teams in an eight-team league — Milwaukee, the Reds, the Dodgers, the Giants, and the Phillies — were close to the lead.
Ultimately, the Braves of a young Hank Aaron, Eddie Mathews, Warren Spahn and Lew Burdette would walk away and win the pennant in eight games.
Nordell summarizes each of the daily games in the pennant races, in about two or three paragraphs each, much the same way you would read in the Associated Press daily summaries. This rather sober method is developed with anecdotes in the footnotes at the end of the chapters. Almost all of the research appears to have been drawn from secondary sources. I don’t know if many, or any, of the key Dodgers from that era are still alive, but interviews with a few would have gone a long way.
The last chapter, the best, deals with the team’s departure to the West Coast. Nordell is wistful and sentimental about the escape from the Dodgers, a theme that has been repeated over and over again.
People generally remember the ’50s as some kind of golden age of baseball, like in the song “Willie, Mickey and the Duke.” The reality is that baseball attendance was plummeting for much of the 1950s, with teams stuck in aging stadiums in run-down neighborhoods. The ’57 Dodgers drew 1.03 million fans that year, fifth in an eight-team league. Today, that assist would put them last in both leagues.
Think about it, the Dodgers of Roy Campanella, Pee Wee Reese, Duke Snider, Don Drysdale and Gil Hodges, selling 13,000 tickets per game. People’s hearts may have been with the team, but not with their wallets.