Who’s the Best Los Angeles Dodgers Pitcher?

Kershaw, Hershiser, Drysdale, Koufax: those are probably the four best LA Dodger pitchers, albeit with a sidelong glance at Don Sutton, Fernando Valenzuela, Bob Welch, and Tommy John. The question here is: how do you rank Kershaw, Hershiser, Drysdale, and Koufax? If you put Koufax or Drysdale first (baseball-reference’s WAR stat puts Drysdale at #1, Koufax at #2), what would Kershaw have to do to take over the #1 spot?

Also, does Zack Greinke have a chance of elbowing his way into the Dodger pantheon-assuming he decides to resign with the team?

Published in: Uncategorized on November 10, 2015 at 2:32 pm  Comments (6)  

The 1912 AL Batting Leaderboard

This is a followup to the last post: here, from Baseball-reference, is a screenshot of the American League leaders for four significant batting categories in 1912 (again, click the image for a larger version):


My question is: how many of these names do you recognize? About half of the names in each category are not familiar to me, the same number as for 1942. That’s surprisingly high, but Cobb, Jackson, Speaker, Collins, Hooper, and Baker are about as well known as the great players of the ’40s, and in 1912 MLB players weren’t being drafted into the military.

Published in: Uncategorized on November 3, 2015 at 10:20 am  Comments (6)  

The 1942 AL Batting Leaderboard

Here, from Baseball-reference, is a screenshot of the American League leaders for four significant batting categories in 1942 (click the image to get a bigger version):

My question is: how many of these names do you recognize? About half of the names in each category are not familiar to me, and that’s probably because 1942 was a war season.

Published in: Uncategorized on October 31, 2015 at 10:16 am  Comments (3)  

Some Details on the 1967 Impossible Dream Boston Red Sox

Here are two slices of the Boston Record-American’s wrapup of the Red Sox’s regular season from the newspaper’s October 11, 1967 edition. This, a cartoon showing highlights from the end stages of the season:


This, from the brief bio of Carl Yastrzemski that was part of a 2-page section profiling the Sox’s players:


Notice that Yaz, despite being well established as a big league star by 1967, was still working in the offseason, at a local printing firm. He probably wasn’t manning the presses-more likely in sales or some other relationship-building role-but, he had three kids to feed, and before arbitration and free agency, salaries weren’t that high for a younger ballplayer.

Published in: Uncategorized on October 21, 2015 at 9:50 am  Leave a Comment  

The Batting Stances of Ichiro and Frank Thomas

Here are two photos of Ichiro and Frank Thomas in the batter’s box that I took in 2008. First Ichiro:



And the Big Hurt:


Notice Ichiro at the front of the box, back leg at mid-plate, his body torquing as he takes a pitch. Ichiro, in his stance and torquing motion, was set up for shifting his body toward first base as he hit the ball. Hence all of his infield hits. The tradeoff was that he didn’t put himself in a great position to drive and launch the ball. Frank Thomas was at the back of the box, body crouched, poised: ready not to run toward first but to put his full leverage into the swing.

Published in: Uncategorized on October 12, 2015 at 4:38 pm  Comments (2)  

Sandy Alderson and the New Wave of Analytics in MLB (in 1985)

Many Mets fans don’t know that a generation ago, in the mid and late 1980s, Sandy Alderson represented the vanguard of the analytics/sabermetrics movement. From what I’ve heard, Alderson is now considered a bit old-fashioned, but he was a very good analogue to Billy Beane in the first years he was general manager of the Oakland A’s. Like Beane, Alderson was in his 30s, had new ways of thinking and acting, and had a vogue of being hailed as a disruptive force in MLB. Here’s some of a profile of Alderson by Lowell Cohn of the San Francisco Chronicle, from March 22, 1985:

THE BRAINS behind A’s baseball is a 37-year-old lawyer named Sandy Alderson. You may not know about him. When you think of the A’s front office, Roy Eisenhardt’s name probably comes to mind, and you immediately seize on adjectives like intelligent and innovative.

So who is this Alderson? He often jogs to Phoenix Stadium from his hotel, and then he goes to the weight room. After his workout, he sits in the stands in a T-shirt and white shorts, the kind tennis players wear. He is thin. His face is smooth and his forehead is large, and he looks as if he might be somebody’s bashful nephew who got free passes to the games down here.

Actually, Alderson is fast becoming the most dynamic executive in baseball. During the winter meetings, he made the two most startling trades, one involving Rickey Henderson, the other Bill Caudill. While most of the career baseball men were sitting around lobbies puffing cigars and discussing what used to be, Alderson was working.

BEFORE GOING to Harvard Law School, Alderson was a Marine. He met Eisenhardt when they worked together at a San Francisco law firm, and after the Haas family bought the A’s, Eisenhardt brought Alderson into the operation. At first he negotiated contracts and informed players when they were being sent down to the minors because Billy Martin, who didn’t mind punching a player on occasion, hated to hurt their feelings. Before last season, Eisenhardt pulled back from the day-to-day business of the team, and appointed Alderson vice president for baseball operations.

I was talking with Alderson recently in a shaded part of the stands at Phoenix Stadium. It was cool in the shadows. Alderson quickly developed goose bumps on his arms and legs, and before long he was shivering. I suggested we move into the sun, but he said no, the shade was all right. I’m not sure why he stayed there, although I would guess that he didn’t want to surrender to the chill. He was practicing a discipline – mind over matter, if you will – and that may tell you something about a man with little baseball experience who is taking on baseball’s 25 other general managers.

We talked casually about the team, and suddenly Alderson said one of the A’s strengths is Mike Norris’ drug problem.

Come again?

In a careful, measured voice, Alderson explained that in the past, some teammates stayed away from Norris because he would act erratically when on drugs. Others wouldn’t associate with him for fear they’d be labeled as drug users, too. Some guys did not want to be branded as squealers and said nothing, as was the case on the Dodgers when guys would turn the other way as Steve Howe was snorting cocaine in the bullpen. Now Norris’ problems are out in the open, and teammates are relieved of the burden of guilt by association or of being stoolies.

ALDERSON SAID this kind of situation brings a team together. The players feel free to help Norris, and because of the care they show, he feels responsible not to violate their trust. “I got so much backing here I’d have to be admitted to a nuthouse to screw up again,” Norris says.

I asked how players actually demonstrate their concern, and Alderson said teammates have attended Norris’ therapy meetings with him. Norris goes to group therapy four nights a week, four hours a session. The players don’t accompany Norris to guard him, Alderson said. They go because they want to be part of his recovery. . . .

The idea behind all this, Alderson says, is that the A’s have made a human contract not to let one of their number fall by the wayside. If they can pull together around Norris, they may somehow become a better team.

Compare those impressions of Alderson in 1985 with this look at Billy Beane early in his tenure as A’s. Later that year, in early September of ‘85, C.W. Nevius of the Chronicle called Alderson “an unknown” in a profile headlined “The Brains Behind the A’s.” More from the profile:

When Don Sutton, a trade acquisition who became the pillar of the A’s pitching staff this year, says, “I’m here because of Sandy Alderson,” you have to wonder how many people knew he meant the guy who came to Sutton’s introductory press conference wearing tennis shorts.

“He’s not hung up on playing the baseball big shot,” Sutton says, “and that’s nice to deal with.”

It is a low profile taken to an extreme. There is no biography of Alderson in the A’s media guide, nor of team president Roy Eisenhardt, nor executive vice president Wally Haas. Alderson plays shortstop in regular softball games between the A’s front office and a media team, and he’ll sit down for a drink with reporters.

Apple juice. Sometimes he’ll have two or three.

This is also the man who traded Henderson, acquired Alfredo Griffin and is currently engaged in a feud with catcher Mike Heath. Maybe you don’t know him, but in baseball, Alderson is getting a reputation.

“Baseball people don’t give out too many compliments,” says Karl Kuehl, the A’s director of player development, “but Roland Hemond, the GM at Chicago (White Sox), told me, ‘Sandy’s grasp of the game in just two years is almost embarrassing.’ ”

Alderson, 36, is part of a new breed of bright young men who have stepped to the front in the new world of baseball-as-business. The yuppification of the National Pastime isn’t unique in Oakland. Tom Grieve, the 37-year-old GM in Texas, sees a trend.

“Baseball operated for a long time on the theory that the longer you’d been in baseball, the better you’d be at it,” he says. “If you wait around long enough and keep your nose clean, you’ll get the job. Now I think they’re realizing that it’s become a lot more complicated, and that younger, inexperienced people who are bright and hard-working can succeed.”

Alderson may be the most extreme example to date. Unlike Grieve, a former player, his background is two years on the Dartmouth varsity.

“No tools whatsoever” is his self-evaluation. “No range, no hitting. Mediocre at both.”

Just five years ago, Alderson was a practicing attorney in San Francisco, “a general business lawyer,” he says. “Dark suits, pinstripes, button-down collars and wingtip shoes.”

His rise is a combination of his good sense, a quirky series of events and the willingness of Eisenhardt and Haas to take a chance. It is doubtful any other organization would have made its in-house lawyer its “vice president, baseball operations (read general manager).”

The Haas family is new to the brotherhood. They purchased the team in 1980, and when they fired Billy Martin in 1982, there went their primary pipeline to baseball knowledge. Martin made the moves and suggested the trades to Eisenhardt. Things were much calmer after he left, but there was a vacuum.

For a time the operation was run by committee, with Eisenhardt, Haas, Bill Rigney and Alderson offering input. Alderson began to feel he’d found his niche.

The son of a career Air Force officer, Alderson took some time to find his calling. Between his junior and senior years at Dartmouth he finagled a press credential and used his air-travel privileges as a military dependent to fly to Vietnam, touring the country as a war correspondent.

Upon graduation he joined the Marine Corps, became an infantry officer and saw “a little action” at Da Nang. After his discharge he entered Harvard law school, helped, he thinks, by his varied resume, and came out to San Francisco during his second year of law school to visit Tom Bradley, an old friend who was then pitching for the Giants.

“It turned out he’d been sent down to Phoenix,” Alderson recalls. But the trip also gave him a chance to observe the previous A’s owner in action.

“That was the year Charlie Finley was trying to sell all the players (Joe Rudi and Rollie Fingers) to the Red Sox. I was a Red Sox fan at the time.”

Alderson decided to settle in California and got a job as a law clerk in a local firm, where one of the partners was another ex-Marine who graduated from Dartmouth and enjoyed jogging. His name was Roy Eisenhardt. . . . By 1981 (Alderson) was touring the minor leagues, talking to scouts and studying baseball as though it were the bar exam.

“One of the things I really enjoyed when I was a lawyer was agricultural real estate,” Alderson says, “because I got to deal with more than just the sale of products. I actually got to go out in the field and kick the dirt. I liked that.”

Alderson was bright enough to listen more than he talked, which made an impression among longtime baseball types.

“Some people who are smart act like they are smart,” says Hemond of the White Sox. “He listens very attentively and doesn’t profess to know it all.”

With that realization, Alderson sought out Kuehl, a respected judge of talent, whom he hired after a tennis match. Kuehl gave the A’s access to pitching coach Wes Stock and director of scouting Dick Bogard. Along with farm director Walt Jocketty and Rigney, they formed the A’s brain trust.

Alderson made his first deal in November of 1983, admitting, “I don’t think anybody actually believed I was going to have the authority to make trades.”

Needing a reliever, Alderson recalled then-Seattle manager Del Crandall mentioning that his team needed catching help. Alderson offered Bob Kearney and reliever Dave Beard, and the Mariners handed over Bill Caudill, who was second in the league in saves (36) last year and made the All-Star team.

His first trade out of the way, Alderson headed for the winter meetings a month later, and in three days he made three deals, acquiring catcher Jim Essian, pitcher Ray Burris (who led the team in wins and ERA last year) and reliever Tim Stoddard.

Stoddard was traded to the Cubs before spring training ended and Essian wasn’t offered a new contract this year, but “they weren’t bad trades,” Alderson says. “They were also easy. It was a lot of fun. Exhilarating.”

Two months later, Alderson outfoxed (and enraged) the Yankees by claiming Tim Belcher, a highly regarded pitching prospect they had just signed but neglected to protect from the free-agent compensation pool. The A’s were entitled to a pick after Baltimore signed Tom Underwood, who didn’t figure in their plans anyway.

And the Burris and Caudill trades looked even better a year later because of what they enabled the A’s to do. Burris went to Milwaukee for Sutton, and the Caudill trade to Toronto brought Dave Collins and Griffin, who has been the answer at shortstop.

In Griffin’s case, Alderson stubbornly stuck with his scouts and went against those, including best-selling baseball analyst Bill James, who did not think Griffin would cut it.

“It was easy to make bold decisions in the service,” Alderson says, “because I knew I’d only be around three or four years.”

Alderson was attracting attention, but he had only a year’s experience under his belt when he encountered a very thorny problem – Rickey Henderson.

A popular local product, Henderson was a franchise player for the A’s, but he had priced himself out of their market. Henderson had to be dealt, but with their hand forced, the A’s figured to have trouble getting equal value in return.

On such deals do the futures of organizations turn, particularly one in the smallest two-team market in baseball.

“We were all concerned about making a trade that involved the loss of a great player – possibly a superstar – for a handful of pedestrian players,” Alderson said. “We decided that we would shoot for a handful of players, each of whom had the potential to be outstanding, who did not have a long track record, but were within a year or two of arriving in the big leagues.”

Alderson admits the approach was “partly economics. Even pedestrian players have large salaries.”

But it was a method with risks. The A’s did not receive a single “name” player among the five they acquired. Jay Howell was the only major leaguer, and as a long reliever his stats were not eye-opening.

The A’s were trusting their instincts, their scouts and their ability to bring along young talent.

And now, with Howell leading the team in saves, Tim Birtsas going 10-5, Jose Rijo impressive every time he throws and Eric Plunk and Stan Javier up and coming, the trade looks dandy. Baseball has noticed.

Published in: Uncategorized on September 30, 2015 at 10:25 am  Comments (2)  
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Jose Uribe of the San Francisco Giants

Jose Uribe was one of the fan favorites on the late ’80s/early ’90s Giants. He’d changed his last name in the mid-’80s. He was Jose Gonzales in 1981, but around the time the St. Louis Cardinals traded him and three other players to the Giants for Jack Clark, he became Jose Uribe, prompting jokes about the ultimate trade of a player to be named later.

Uribe said in 1987: “There are a lot of Jose Gonzalez’s in the Dominican. The name Gonzalez down there, it’s like Smith in the United States.

“Two or three guys playing with me on the same team had the same name. All the time, someone would yell, ‘Hey, Gonzalez’ and everybody’s turning around.

“The other three guys played outfield. I was the only one playing shortstop. After the games, the people, they’d be shouting at me, ‘Hey, Gonzalez, you play outfield great.’ Sometimes it was, ‘Gonzalez, you play outfield lousy.’ I was always yelling, ‘I don’t play outfield, I play shortstop “‘

“I talked to my daddy and my momma and they said I could pick whatever I want. If I wanted Uribe – that’s my father’s last name – that was fine.

“I said to them, ‘I’m going to go with Uribe. It’s shorter. People will understand it better.’ But it’s funny. For the American people, it’s hard to pronounce my last name. Some people call me ‘Yer-bee,’ some people call me ‘Oh, baby’”

The St. Petersburg Times reported that by 1987, Uribe had “become a cult figure of sorts. The Giants’ fans know how to say it. They chant it every time he comes to bat.

“For the three playoff games in Candlestick Park, three huge signs were plastered to the wall behind the top row of the upper deck in almost straightaway centerfield.


In May 1988, Uribe’s wife, Sara, died at Sequoia Hospital in Redwood City two days after prematurely delivering a boy. It was her and Jose’s third child; Sara died from a heart attack linked to her pulmonary hypertension. In spring 1989, when he left the Dominican Republic for spring training in Arizona, his three children and two sisters were left behind. Uribe said: “Spring training is a time to get in shape for the season. I hope to bring my two sisters to the country to help take care of my children, and I’m confident they will be able to get their visas.”

He added: “The most important thing is to try. If you try, you can do anything. I know Roger (Craig) and Mr. (Al) Rosen and the team are behind me.”

Uribe wound up his career with Houston in 1993, but he is certainly best remembered by Giants fans. When Jose died in the Dominican Republic early in the morning of December 8, 2006, in a car crash, he left behind a new wife, Wendy, with whom he’d had four children. Giants president Peter Magowan said: “I was very saddened to hear the news of Jose’s passing this morning. He meant so much to the Giants during his playing days. He was such an important part of the team’s success in the late 1980s. When you saw Jose on the field, he exuded happiness and pure joy for the game and life.”

Will Clark said: “He was always happy and had a smile on his face — he found a way to make you laugh. That (the late ’80s Giants) was a great ballclub and Jose was right in the middle of it. On a baseball team, you’re only as good as the middle, and he and Robby [Thompson] were the two rocks out there.

“He had some of the best hands you’ll ever see. He’d pick the ball and make hard plays look easy, which at Candlestick Park wasn’t easy to do. As a hitter, I think the whole time he was with the Giants, he always improved in some capacity.”

Jose was/is the uncle of Juan Uribe, the key player on the 2010 Giants team that finally delivered a World Series title for San Francisco. When I talked with Ray Ratto about the 1989 Giants, he said of Uribe: “He and Thompson were very close, both on and off the field, and he was one of the players who didn’t need to be noticed. He was an efficient shortstop and a better than average eight-hitter, and was open enough with the media if you could speak Spanish or had an interpreter handy. He was not an effusive story-teller, though, in a room that had a lot of them, so he didn’t get as much attention as he might have.”

Published in: Uncategorized on September 21, 2015 at 10:48 am  Leave a Comment  

Carl Yastrzemski’s Retirement and Last Game in 1983

This, from the Boston Herald, is a photo of Yaz saying “New England, I love you” after getting the last hit (a single) of his big league career, on October 2, 1983:


Published in: Uncategorized on August 27, 2015 at 6:15 pm  Comments (3)  

The Nine No-Hitters of the San Diego Padres

At the end of June, the San Diego Padres were nearly no-hit by Mike Montgomery, a little-known rookie pitcher for the Mariners. I knew the Padres had never achieved a no-hitter; a spasm of curiosity, and knowing they were recently no-hit twice by Tim Lincecum, led me to look up the occasions that San Diego’s been no-hit. Here, courtesy of Baseball-Almanac, are those 9 games:
Dock Ellis, 06-12-1970, Pittsburgh 2 at San Diego 0
Milt Pappas, 09-02-1972, Chicago 8 vs San Diego 0
Phil Niekro, 08-05-1973, Atlanta 9 vs San Diego 0

Kent Mercker (6.0 IP), Mark Wohlers (2.0 IP), Alejandro Pena (1.0 IP), 09-11-1991, Atlanta 1 vs San Diego 0
A.J. Burnett, 05-12-2001, Florida 3 at San Diego 0
Bud Smith, 09-03-2001, St. Louis 4 vs San Diego 0
Jonathan Sanchez, 07-10-2009, San Francisco 8 vs San Diego 0

Tim Lincecum, 07-13-2013, San Francisco 9 vs San Diego 0
Tim Lincecum, 06-25-2014, San Francisco 4 vs San Diego 0

And, there’s the psuedo-perfect game Pedro Martinez threw against the Padres in 1995: Pedro was perfect for 9 innings, but lost perfection in the 10th after the Expos had failed to score a run to settle things up in 9.

Published in: Uncategorized on August 22, 2015 at 7:03 pm  Comments (8)  

ROY, RAZ AND THE RUSSELLS: A Guest Review of John Tunis’ Brooklyn Dodgers Novels

Presented below is a review of Tunis’ series of 8 novels about a fictional edition of the Brooklyn Dodgers. Bruce Baskin, a sports announcer, pr director, and writer, in a guest contribution to the blog, provides his thoughts on one of the earliest-ever sets of baseball novels, written almost entirely in the 1940s. Here’s Bruce’s review:

I grew up a Dodgers fan. Not THOSE Dodgers, the team men like Willie Davis, Steve Garvey and the immortal Billy Grabarkewitz played for when I was a kid. No, I’m talking about the team men like Razzle Nugent, Karl Case and the immortal Roy Tucker played for. The real Dodgers were created by Charles Ebbets over a century ago while the virtual Dodgers were authored by a guy named John R. Tunis, whose eight-book series is still in print seventy-five years after the first one, “The Kid from Tomkinsville,” was released in 1940.

I first discovered Tunis’ fictional Brooklyn Dodgers in the early Seventies, shortly after the Seattle Pilots had been stolen off to Milwaukee following one season. I was starved for any baseball I could wrap my brain around while my hometown was without even a minor league team for two long years. I can’t recall which Tunis book was the first I read, although I do remember it was in my middle school library, but it obviously had enough going for it to get me to read the others whenever I could find them. There was something about this team that drew me in, even though I knew I was reading fiction. Maybe it was the comfortable writing style of Tunis, a former athlete himself. Maybe it was how so many characters carried over from book to book or just that these Dodgers were usually in contention for a pennant. Whatever it was, I was hooked and that addiction has continued into my fifties. And I’m not alone.

A LOT of people have cited the Tunis books as being influential while they were growing up, ranging from Billy Crystal to Philip Roth to Charles Kuralt. It’s been speculated that Bernard Malamud’s Roy Hobbs character in “The Natural” was drawn from Tunis’ Roy Tucker while Mark Harris’ series of novels involving pitcher Henry Wiggen was inspired by the Tunis series. It’s certain that millions of young people over the decades have grown up reading the Dodgers books and while the series has faded in prominence, all the books are easily obtained (more on that later).

Let’s go back in time and look at each of the eight Tunis Dodgers books in chronological order and maybe discover the thread that keeps kids reading them decades after their first release:

Anyone who explores this series MUST start with this one, the first of them all and the one that introduces a central character. Roy Tucker is a rookie pitcher by way of a Connecticut farm who becomes a star early before arm miseries sideline him and necessitate his conversion to the outfield. Roy is a rather taciturn sort by nature but nonetheless good-natured and popular with his teammates and manager Dave Leonard, himself a low-key figure who replaces player-manager Gabby Gus Spencer when Spencer is killed in a car accident. Roy is an integral part in nearly all the books in the series. Some of the dialogue is of the “gee whiz” variety, but that aspect lessens a bit as the series progresses, although it rarely gets trenchant.
Tunis admits to drawing his book’s characters from real life figures, and you can definitely see strains of Dizzy Dean, Leo Durocher and Bill Terry in “The Kid…” Not the best of Tunis’ eight Dodgers books but it’s decent enough and a table-setter for the ones to follow.

In some ways, this is an even better read than “The Kid from Tomkinsville” because Tunis keeps the story within the framework of a series (albeit the most important series of the season for all baseball) as opposed to two seasons in “The Kid…”
In “World Series” you get to see how a battered and bruised Roy Tucker handles his first postseason, although the novel also puts a lot of time in on Brooklyn manager Dave Leonard (who shows himself to be a lot more complex than in the first book). Tunis is very good at getting the feel of what baseball was like in the 1940’s, and “World Series” contains perhaps his best game-situation writing of all the novels, partly because he has so much more room to branch out in that direction. And the banquet scene is priceless, although GM Jack McManus (shades of Larry MacPhail) didn’t find it terribly amusing.
Very much a companion piece to “The Kid…” and it’s worth buying them together and reading them one after the other.

It’s hard to believe this book was released four years before Jackie Robinson made his debut with the real Dodgers in 1947 because “Keystone Kids” touches on many things that were dealt with when Robinson became the first black player in the majors. The de facto main characters, Bobby and Spike Russell, are a pair of young brothers who are middle infielders brought up from the minors to the Dodgers during the WWII era. Both encounter the usual difficulties that rookies face in the Tunis series, although Spike more than overcomes them to be named manager before the book ends.
The difference between this book and the others is another rookie, Jewish catcher Jocko Klein, who has to endure racial prejudice from opponents and even his own teammates, including Bobby Russell, before succeeding on the field and earning respect. This book and “The Kid Comes Back” are the two most socially relevant of the Tunis series. Any parent wishing to instill a sense of conscience in their kids could do worse than getting them a copy of “Keystone Kids.”

Along with “Schoolboy Johnson,” this is the least among the eight Brooklyn Dodgers series written by John R. Tunis. Actually, there are a number of similarities between Bones Hathaway in this novel and the aforementioned Johnson: Both have great natural talent, both start strongly before hitting the skids in midseason and both are headstrong and somewhat egotistical.
In “Rookie of the Year,” however, Hathaway’s comeuppance comes as a result of one the few honorable things he does during the book’s first half. One neat thing about Tunis is that while the central figure in his stories is easily noticed, other people play major roles. In “World Series,” for instance, Brooklyn manager Dave Leonard is as important as Roy Tucker. In “Rookie of the Year,” Bones Hathaway fades away while manager Spike Russell assumes the spotlight.
In many ways, this book is as much about Spike’s coming of age as a manager as it is about Hathaway’s coming of age as a man. Again, not the strongest in the Dodger series but still a worthy read.

One of the most interesting books in the Tunis series about the Brooklyn Dodgers, “The Kid Comes Back” is very unusual in that it’s not really about baseball so much as it is about courage. Roy Tucker (“The Kid from Tomkinsville”) serves in the U.S. Army during the Second World War in Europe, where he suffers an injury in battle. This book deals with what he goes through during the war effort, his stateside rehabilitation and his difficult return to major league baseball with the Brooklyn Dodgers.
Tunis, who also wrote “Silence Over Dunkirk,” is extremely effective at letting younger readers know what WWII was like. He also does a masterful job of painting a word picture of what it was like for veterans to come back to an America that had changed while they were gone. It wasn’t easy for most of them.
Of all the Tunis books, this is the best. The wide-eyed writing style of the first four books in the series is subdued here and a very strong storyline carries all the way through.

Another tome about another first-year player. This time, Cecil “Highpockets” McDade is a rookie center fielder from North Carolina who, though talented, has an inflated opinion of himself and is generally disliked by his Dodger teammates. An auto accident midway through the season changes everything, although not right away.
Of the latter four Tunis book in the Brooklyn series, this one is perhaps the best. The opening description of Braves Field in Boston is exceptional, right down to the smoke rising above the Charles River beyond the outfield fence. The reader gets to watch Highpockets grow up chapter by chapter, although he has a tougher time of it than Roy Tucker did in the first two books in the series. A good story and a good read that centers upon how a selfish young player whose halting friendship with a kid who gets Cecil to look inside himself.
Tunis maintains an amazing consistency throughout his Dodgers series, from the clack-clack-clackety-clack of the players’ spikes to the dialogue between people, especially the players. Expect nothing less here.

Although this book is considered part of John R. Tunis’ Brooklyn Dodger series, it’s really not quite within that description. The main character, Joe Nugent, is a young infielder whose father is pitching great Razzle Nugent of the Dodgers. Ol’ Raz is wrapping up his career with the Brooks and fading into the minors; son Joe has a smoldering resentment towards a father who never had much time for him while he was growing up. The book mostly concerns itself with Joe’s climb up the New York Yankees ladder and his effort to both come to grips with his father while trying to get out from under Raz’s shadow. You don’t get as much baseball and you miss the Dodger players from the previous novels, but “Young Razzle” is well worth reading for the message of reconciliation it carries. In that regard, baseball is a metaphor here much like the movie “Field of Dreams” was (but without the ghosts and the cornfield).
Sons and fathers alike can read this one and get something from it, but that “something” doesn’t happen in Brooklyn.

Not one of the stronger books in John R. Tunis’ eight-part Brooklyn Dodgers series. Tunis continues his penchant for centering his story around a rookie, as is the case in all the Dodger books except “World Series” and “The Kid Comes Back.” The designated rookie this time is a young pitcher named “Schoolboy” Johnson, who will remind fans of the young Don Drysdale. Similar to Bones Hathaway in “Rookie of the Year” and Cecil McDade in “Highpockets,” Johnson is full of himself and headstrong (neither of which endears him to his teammates). After a strong beginning, he starts getting batted around a bit and has to deal with self-doubt for the first time.
Again, not one Tunis’s better efforts because the ideas have previously been touched on more than once. However, the writing is solid. One interesting note is that the book first came out in 1958, the real Dodgers’ first year in LA. Try to find references to Brooklyn in this one. Worth having because it completes the series and isn’t a BAD book. We’ve just seen it before.

And there we have it. If there’s a common thread to the Tunis novels, besides the rookie angles, it’s usually that the protagonist in each is facing issues that make them look inside for answers. There’s no shock that most of the main characters are rookies, given that Tunis was writing primarily for a young audience and (in baseball terms) what’s younger than a rookie? While sometimes the answers seem too easily arrived at and things may be approached in an either/or fashion when life isn’t always that clear-cut, the stories themselves are easy to follow, they never pander to the young readers, fairness and respect are core themes throughout and Tunis was willing to take on social mores of his day at a time when there weren’t many authors of juvenile fiction doing that.

Tunis’ output was certainly not limited to these eight books. He wrote several other sports stories for a young audience as well as the World War II fiction, “Silence over Dunkirk,” which had nothing to do with sports. He also wrote commentaries on real-life sports, including a 1928 column in Harper’s titled “The Great God Football” about the commercialization of college football that would probably translate well today, but it’s the Dodgers series he’s best remembered for.

Whether you’re a long-ago Tunis fan wanting to reconnect with the series or someone wondering how these books have held up over time, it’s ridiculously easy to find any of them. Both Amazon and eBay have copies that can be bought used online for very little.

Like any book (or series of books), the Tunis Dodgers series is an acquired taste. The dialogue might be too dated or simplistic for some while the moral at the center of each story not “relative” enough for others. But Tunis must’ve been doing something right. Although it’s been nearly 40 years since his death, people are still reading his books even though the world has changed much since they were written.

Speaking for myself, I have a replica Brooklyn Dodgers cap that I often wear when I’m outside. Just like The Kid from Tomkinsville standing in right field would’ve done decades ago.

By Bruce Baskin (copyright 2015)

Published in: Uncategorized on August 11, 2015 at 3:54 pm  Leave a Comment  
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