The Los Angeles Dodgers are one of Major League Baseball’s flagship franchises, going all the way back to when the team called Brooklyn, New York its home. For years, relying on flashy players and sometimes even flashier managers, they have traditionally been in the national spotlight. In particular, the 1977-78 teams were among the most entertaining and talented, and yet unfulfilled. Author Michael Fallon has dived in with a deep examination with Dodgerland: Decadent Los Angeles and the 1977-78 Dodgers (University of Nebraska Press, 2016).
The story of these two Dodgers teams isn’t just about the players and the wins and the losses. Fallon frames it all by talking about what was going on in the city, the country and also his own family, which was finding its way in the area at the same time. It’s a perfect example of the way baseball so often deeply ingrains itself in a community and becomes an integral part of the society.
These Dodgers were iconic to say the least. Just to name a few, there was All-American hero Steve Garvey; mercurial veteran Reggie Smith; future Hall of Famer Don Sutton; and Tommy John, the aging pitcher who was rediscovering himself after a revolutionary and significant arm surgery. They were all led by first-year manager Tommy Lasorda, a Dodgers lifer whose mouth and personality were both larger than life.
With a squad full of such big stars and personalities, there were bound to be plenty of stories, both good and bad. Fallon peppers his book with a liberal dose of such anecdotes, including a physical scuffle between Garvey and Sutton over a newspaper quote.
Of course Lasorda, who may have contributed more one-liners than anyone besides Yogi Berra, is prominently featured. Having already dedicated decades of his life to the organization, he finally got his shot manning the team, but in doing so had to follow legendary skipper Walter Alston, who was let go rather unceremoniously after 23 glorious seasons with the team, including four World Series titles.
The additional “non-baseball” stuff that finds its way into Dodgerland is nice window dressing. Fallon’s own family serves to show the way that Los Angeles and the surrounding area were expanding and growing in leaps and bounds. Additionally, he discusses politics, race relations and popular culture (like the explosion of Star Wars) and how they all came together to create the environment in which the Dodgers existed.
If this was a movie, the talent of these two Dodgers teams and the backdrop on which they played would have led to ultimate glory. While they made the World Series both years, they were thwarted each time by the powerful New York Yankees, who were every bit as talented and in the midst of their own drama mill back on the East Coast.
Dodgerland is a fine baseball book. Fallon is a talented writer, who is able to effortlessly weave together a number of major storylines in order to make the enormous tapestry that this story is ultimately part of. He has also dug deep with the research to provide an impressive array of statistics, stories and newspaper quotes to help bring it all together.
The late 1970s was a turning point for baseball and in America in general. As is so often the case, in order to understand one, you have to be able to understand the other. Fallon recognizes this and has created a book that details this team and its place in a tumultuous and important time.
Disclaimer: I was provided with a free advanced copy of this book, but received no payment or other consideration for this review.
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