Before the Los Angeles Dodgers could get back to the World Series, they had to undergo a dramatic upheaval at the very top of the org chart.
The disastrous stewardship of Jamie and Frank McCourt, and their bitter divorce, distracted and devastated what had been a relatively stable franchise. In 2013, with a new ownership group that included former Los Angeles Lakers legend Magic Johnson, the Dodgers gradually began to reclaim their reputation.
News, Views and Reviews About Sports Books, History and Culture
Also in This Issue: No Last World Series Call For Vin Scully; Baseball vs. Cricket Wars; Greatest Living Athletes; Ice Bowl Reunion; Trumping the NFL; RFK’s Soccer Farewell; The Virtues of Local
In clinching their first World Series berth since 1988, the Dodgers did more than end a long drought when they trounced the defending champion Chicago Cubs in the National League Championship Series. They have helped restore the business and civic imprint of a team that’s been at the forefront of many important milestones in American sports and social history.
The team that integrated Major League Baseball with Jackie Robinson 70 years ago will boast Dave Roberts, only the fourth African-American manager in the World Series, when this year’s Fall Classic begins Tuesday in Los Angeles.
His steady managerial hand has been given much of the credit for what the Dodgers have done on the field in the last two seasons and their fierce dominance thus far in October.
After taking over for Don Mattingly, and inheriting a young, talented but disjointed roster, Roberts has steered the club behind the marvelous pitching talents of Clayton Kershaw, ignited the belated breakout of lumberjack dead ringer Justin Turner, and found a way to place the voluble Yasiel Puig on the right keel.
All three have been marvelous in the postseason, and adding to the lineup are the rookie phenom Cody Bellinger, versatile Chris Taylor and Enrique Hernandez, a big-bopping young talent from Puerto Rico who destroyed the Cubs with a three-homerun night, including a grand slam, in the NLCS clincher.
In today’s sports business world, however, teams that don’t have a solid front office can’t expect to have the goods to get it done on the field. The days of the brawling Oakland A’s winning three World Series in a row in spite of owner Charlie Finley are long gone.
The Dodgers have always been an antidote to that kind of drama and chaos, so the demise of the McCourt era not only outraged baseball insiders, but shocked almost everyone else.
Unlike the McCourts, Mark Walter, who bought the Dodgers out of bankruptcy in 2012, has stayed largely out of the picture, preferring to let Johnson and others in Guggenheim Baseball Management—including longtime sports executive Stan Kasten—do the front office work and represent the organization.
Also unlike the McCourts, Walter’s checkbook has been generous. A $2 billion price tag doesn’t seem all that outrageous. And don’t weep for the McCourts—Frank’s doing fine, and Jamie’s been a Trump diplomatic nominee.
Even though Walter’s been in the news recently for gossipy reasons, it’s not connected to his oversight of the Dodgers.
The only down note this week in Dodgerland was the now-retired Vin Scully’s comment that he won’t be returning to the booth for what would be a cameo call for the World Series.
“I honestly don’t feel I belong there and I would not want anyone to think I was eager for a spotlight.”
A Few Good Reads
- In 1859, the famed St. George’s Cricket Club of England toured North America as part of a last-ditch effort by Canadian and American cricket organizers to beat back the oncoming forces of baseball. As Daniel Crown writes in Atlas Obscura, the tour was a success in a certain sense, but cricket’s hold on American sporting supremacy began to slip away for good after the Civil War;
- On more familiar shores, cricket is becoming hard to bear for Matthew Engel who seethes about the onrush of T20 and the money culture that feeds it: “Everything worthwhile about it is being destroyed;”
- How the mob, politics, a burlesque dancer and Babe Ruth shaped the 1932 World Series;
- In 2013, the Jewish Museum in London staged an exhibit “Four Four Jew: Football, Fans and Faith,” that explored fan culture in the sport, which continues to have an anti-Semitism problem in the stands in England and Europe;
- A retrospective on the centenary of Swansea City FC, which is trying to hang on in the English Premier League as municipal leaders bid for Swansea to become a City of Culture;
- Next week in London, the Institute of Communication Ethics will hold its annual conference with the title: “Ethical Vacuum or Ethical Minefield?” and whose attendees will include the rugby journalist Tom Bradshaw;
- The editors of GQ have put together a list of the 50 Greatest Living Athletes, and it is an absolute travesty of historical illiteracy. Too contemporary and virtually All-American—far too many still active athletes here. J.J. Watt? Really? Bill Russell, Henry Aaron, Martina Navratilova, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Jack Nicklaus are far too down, and there’s no Larry Bird, Dan Marino or Joe Montana. No Steffi Graf, no Diego Maradona, no Lawrence Taylor, no Bobby Orr. No Sandy Koufax, Bob Gibson, Nolan Ryan, Derek Jeter, etc., etc. The editors are begging to be flamed for this clickbait-driven list, but they ought to start over and include only retired athletes. There’s too much “presentism” in media, and sports is no exception;
- Joe Posnanski went even further, calling it “the stupidest list ever,” and then he really got mad: “There’s not one choice that couldn’t have been thought up over a 43-minute lunch at Chipotle;”
- Meet Edward Barrow, the man who had much to do with creating the original Murderers’ Row and helped usher in the modern American sports spectacle;
- Bart Starr, ailing from multiple strokes, will be at Lambeau Field Sunday as the Green Bay Packers will honor the 1967 Ice Bowl team;
At The Post Game, an excerpt from Paul Zimmerman’s “Dr. Z” memoir, which includes the following vignette, a conversation with a public relations representative for a planned meeting with Donald Trump, then-owner of the Jersey Generals of the USFL:
“He told me, ‘Mr. Trump wants to know the tenor of your questioning.’
I said, ‘Tell Mr. Trump it’s not a tenor, it’s a baritone.’ I waited for the laugh that never came.
He said, ‘Just a minute, please,’ and disappeared. Two minutes later he’s back out.
‘Mr. Trump says he can’t do the interview at this time.’ “
Two from Politico on American political football and the White House; how Trump has trumped the NFL, but he’s got nothing on how Richard Nixon used the league as a partisan weapon. The latter piece is from Jesse Berrett, author of “Pigskin Nation: How the NFL Reshaped American Politics,” to be published in April 2018 (University of Illinois Press):
“This administration’s public spectacles are half-hearted reenactments of Nixonian originals. The trouble isn’t that Trump and Pence politicize football, but that they’ve managed to make an even more obvious, cheap—and successful—gesture of it.”
Maybe so, but Colin Kaepernick—now alleging collusion against the NFL for not finding employment—and his fellow protesting players gave Trump an easy opening for his unpresidential interjection;
- More on political footballs from Mychal Denzel Smith, regurgitating a very familiar (and tiresome) narrative about how the NFL cannot escape politics, blah, blah, blah. If this were a direct protest of something that the NFL had done, instead of the league and its popularity being used as a “platform” for a protest against the larger society, fine. Rosa Parks was protesting a bus company’s segregationist policies and sparked a famously successful boycott. Kaepernick is hardly comparable to Rosa Parks;
- A couple of years ago, I reviewed a conservative book that blasted liberal bias in the sports media. This was a bad book, but I think a solid, critical examination of what’s happened with far too many “woke” sports journalists is begging to be written. In the mainstream ranks of the sports press, I cannot imagine anyone raising their hand;
- On Sunday, D.C. United of Major League Soccer plays its season finale in the final soccer game to be played at RFK Stadium in Washington, which for the last 30 years has become the closest thing to a national soccer stadium in the U.S.;
- From yours truly, my interview for the Atlanta Jewish Times with Rafi Kohan, author of “The Arena,” and a guest at next month’s Atlanta Jewish Book Festival.
And a Few Good Listens Too
- At “Only A Game,” a special series on the future of the NCAA;
- ESPN’s Zach Lowe has one of the best podcasts around in “The Lowe Post,” and in this NBA season tipoff episode he talks to Sports Illustrated’s Jack McCallum, author of the newly published “Golden Days,” the connection between today’s Warriors and Jerry West’s Lakers;
- At “Good Seats Still Available,” an interview with Bill Povletich, a Wisconsin sports historian whose book subjects include the Milwaukee Braves, Green Bay Packers, and twin surfing brothers from the Lake Michigan town of Sheboygan, my mother’s hometown and where my sister and I were born. We moved to Georgia when I was a toddler and she was a baby, sparing us of extremely cold winters and polar bear swims.
Off the Sporting Green
As I mentioned at the top, I won’t be publishing a newsletter next week and will be attending a conference for local news publishers in Chicago. I recently began a community news site and after a career of more than 30 years in commercial and institutional news media, I believe strongly in the power of independence.
The organization holding this conference is LION Publishers (Local Independent Online News), and many of us are former newspaper and legacy journalists trying to figure out how to keep doing what we love to do, what’s in our bloodstream, and provide what we know communities need.
My site covers only my hometown, a prosperous suburb of Atlanta, which has grown into much more than a sleepy bedroom community (more here on why I’m doing all this). While it’s not a late-night hotspot for young folks, middle-aged people like me and oldsters find this place just fine, even if the traffic is becoming worse.
After moving around so much early in my childhood (many more times after we left Wisconsin), I don’t really feel like going anywhere else. Everyone else in my family has absconded to the Florida and Alabama Gulf Coast. Perhaps I should have taken a hint and followed them there. But it’s finally starting to feel like the fall around here, with cooler temperatures and the colors changing, and in my mind there’s no better time of year.
I’m still in startup mode with my site, and need to learn how to become a business owner, sell advertising and promote the work that I do, something that’s an anathema to a lot of journalists. As one of the pioneers of local online news wrote recently, it’s going to be up to us, and not the media companies that left us behind, to create new business models.
I never thought this is something I would consider doing, but I’m going to give it my best shot. There is so much to learn.
Promoting the concept of local is hard everywhere, especially in my big-box and chain-oriented suburb, and I want to expand that idea to what I do here too.
Since I started Sports Biblio two years ago this week, I have been linking to books mostly on Amazon. It’s easy, done almost out of reflex. I never signed up to be part of the Amazon Affiliate program, so I’ve never earned a dime by doing that.
From now on, the links you will find here and on the blog come via IndieBound, which is run by the American Booksellers Association. The site has a search engine and book summaries that are just as easy to use as Amazon.
More importantly, you’ll be able to patronize your local independent bookstore. In my community, they’re making a comeback. The Borders near me closed in 2012, and I mourned a little. But in its place at least five indie bookshops have opened, and they have author events, resale and loyalty programs, ordering services and so much more.
There’s so much in the news about Amazon’s shopping for a second HQ, and the groveling that’s underway to offer this monolith tax breaks it hardly needs. There’s not enough information out there about how the online shopping giant has gutted local economies and the threats Facebook poses for journalism, especially at the local level.
I’ve been feeling for some time the need to adopt the habit of going local, and wean myself from the habit of going easy. I realize this may be too hard to resist at times (I just used Amazon to buy a camera USB cord I could not find locally). The sales prices are hard to beat, especially if you’re a Prime member.
But from here on out, on Sports Biblio, it’s IndieBound, or publishers’ sites, that you’ll be seeing linked here. I will be joining their affiliate program and will be making a disclaimer on the site and in all my posts.
I’ll be back here with another newsletter on Nov. 5. Have a Happy Halloween!
The Sports Biblio Digest is an e-mail newsletter delivered each Sunday. It contains commentary and links about sports books and history. You can subscribe here and search the archives. This is Digest issue No. 101, published Oct. 22, 2017. The Digest is a companion to the Sports Biblio website.
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