An Oral History of the Brooklyn Dodgers
Written by: Peter Golenbock
Published By: G.P Putnam's Sons
Reviewed by Melissa Minners
When I was a kid, baseball was the be all and end all of sports existence for me. Sure, I watched football every once in a while, but no other sport captured my attention like baseball. I loved to watch it, listen to it, and play it. I collected the cards, scored the games with my dad and talked about it with friends. I loved going to the library and reading books about the baseball greats. My favorite team was the New York Mets, but growing up, I read about all sorts of stars from every team in baseball. I especially loved to read about the older heroes like Babe Ruth, Mel Ott, Lou Gehrig, etc.
To this day, I can’t remember the title of the book, but one such library book turned me on to the Brooklyn Dodgers. Little did I know that the Brooklyn Dodgers of long ago were the New York Mets of today – guys with incredible talent that always seemed to be the underdogs in New York and yet were the most beloved team in the area. When they left New York, it seemed as if the heart of baseball went with them. Sure, you had the Yankees, but no self-respecting fan of the Dodgers would ever root for them. Later, when the Mets franchise was born in Queens, some Brooklyn Bums fans found a new team to root for, but I doubt it was ever the same for them.
In reading about the team, I began to wish that I had gotten to see them in their heyday. I loved reading about Sandy Koufax, Jackie Robinson, and Pee Wee Reese. When my parents bought us a Commodore 64 computer baseball game that allowed you to play as any World Series team, I would alternate between choosing the 1969 New York Mets and the 1955 Brooklyn Dodgers. Gosh, but I loved that game!
After reading Amazin’, a book about the New York Mets by Peter Golenbock, I learned that the author had also written a book about the Brooklyn Dodgers. I set about searching for this book everywhere, but found that it was out of print. I finally found the book for a decent price and scarfed it up – a hardcover version of Bums: An Oral History of the Brooklyn Dodgers in excellent condition. I couldn’t wait to read it.
As is the case in other Golenbock books, Bums is a blend of pictures, facts, and quotes that tell the history of the team. The quotes come from players, owners, opposing team members, staff, and fans giving the reader the whole picture and not just a view of the Dodgers from one particular standpoint. Golenbock knows that just spewing the facts doesn’t tell the true story of a team. It’s not enough for Peter Golenbock to say that the Brooklyn Dodgers were the first team in baseball to cross the color barrier by bringing Jackie Robinson to the Major Leagues. To tell the whole story, he adds quotes depicting the fan sentiment at the time, the opinions of the teammates, owners and opposition alike. Thus, the reader feels as if he/she is actually experiencing the events as they occur.
As someone who was born after the great Brooklyn Dodgers era, I was delighted by the fact that there were so many pictures in the book. That way, I could see exactly who it was that was being talked about in any given chapter of the 450+ page book. I was transported back to an age when baseball was everything to a young kid growing up in Brooklyn; back to an age when a couple of coins could get you into the park to see your favorite players in action. Back then, you couldn’t watch the games on television. You had to be content with either reading about the game in the papers, listening to it on the radio, or trying to scratch up enough coin to get into one of the bleacher seats at Ebbets Field.
Golenbock takes us all the way back to 1883, the year the Dodgers organization was founded and explains how the Brooklyn Dodgers got its name – the original ball field was set in the middle of a convergence of trolley cars and one had to dodge all of these just to get to the field. He takes us through the history of the Dodgers as they begin their play at Ebbets Field, discussing the nature of the Dodgers’ fanatical fans that did their best to make every game more exciting just through their antics in the stands. Readers learn about the rise and fall of promising players and the coming of Branch Rickey, father of the farm team system.
Mets fans will relate to the “maybe next year” mantra of Dodgers fans who were uplifted through countless National League Pennant wins, only to see their hopes dashed in the World Series which would inevitably pit their scrappers against the hated New York Yankees. In fact, did you know that the only World Series ever won by the Brooklyn Dodgers occurred against the Yankees in 1955? All the pennant races and championships they realized and only one World Series win! What a heartbreaking experience it must have been to be a Brooklyn Dodgers fan, and yet, the Brooklyn Dodgers fans were the staunchest fans to ever exist! They would support their team to the bitter end and would break down in tears at the news that owner Walter O’Malley was moving their beloved team to Los Angeles …that Ebbets Field was going to be torn down and replaced by a housing project.
Reading Bums: An Oral History of the Brooklyn Dodgers was a wonderful experience. I love the attention to detail that Peter Golenbock puts into every baseball book he writes. The opinions, facts, and storytelling by the actual players, fans, management, writers and more are blended together to provide a perfect picture of the era and of the team itself. This book makes me want to read about the individual players again as I did in my youth – I just want to know more and more about this team. I know that had I been born in that era, I would definitely have been a fanatical Brooklyn Dodgers fan! Bums: An Oral History of the Brooklyn Dodgers is a must for any true baseball fan!