Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Books: "Brothers In Arms" On Dodgers' Remarkable History On The Mound

Brothers In Arms: Koufax, Kershaw, and the Dodgers' Extraordinary Pitching Tradition
By Jon Weisman
Triumph Books, 384 pages, $19.95

The Dodgers, from when they played in Ebbets Field in Brooklyn to their 60 years in Los Angeles, have one of the best traditions in baseball, and all of sports.

The blue and white have been at the forefront of the game for generations, spanning the history books, the country and the gap between a mere sports team and a cultural icon.

The true impact of the Dodgers, is seen in how they have mastered a 60’6” stretch of the diamond, from the pitcher's mound to home plate.

Veteran baseball writer Jon Weisman, in his new book, Brothers in Arms: Koufax, Kershaw, and the Dodgers’ Extraordinary Pitching Tradition, examines the rich history of Dodgers aces and how they’ve shaped the franchise.

Weisman goes beyond the statistics to delves into the biographical narratives of players and coaches to provide a complete picture of the personalities that defined the club’s culture of success.
Brothers in Arms explores generations of Dodgers royalty and how they shaped the identity of the franchise. It  brings together a thorough history of what makes the Dodgers unique, covering everything from the Brooklyn "Bums" era to the 2017 World Series.

"The Dodgers are the team of Jackie Robinson, of Vin Scully, of the Boys of Summer, and the improbable, impossible home run," writes Weisman. "They play in one of baseball's most idyllic ballparks, wearing one of its most iconic uniforms, and whether you're their fan or they're your foe, they stand as a tentpole not only in baseball, but all of sports.

"And yet, through the years, if anything defines one of baseball's flagship franchises on the field, it's been the Dodgers' ability to continually, almost relentlessly, produce greatness atop that humble rise of dirt in the middle of the diamond. The Dodger pitching tradition is like no other.

"It's a pantheon filled with towering figures, any one of whom could be the defining pitcher for a franchise: Newcombe. Koufax. Drysdale. Sutton. Venezuela. Hershiser. Kershaw.

"In the deep supporting cast, you'll find the troops that tie the tradition together: the Knights of the Round Mound. Preacher Roe, Carl Erskine, and Johnny Podres weren't mere men of character - they were characters, perfectly cast in the longest-running show on the Great Blue Way. Since World War II, when the Dodger pitching tradition tiptoed into life, decade after decade has costarred underrated pitchers who deserve the light of a better sun, from those harshly torched by singular moments, such as Ralph Branca, to steady aces lost in the shadow of flashier ones, like Claude Osteen or Burt Hooten. Their stories fascinate with their joy, their poignancy, even their agony.

"The Dodger pitching tradition also hosts the origins of some of the most significant developments in baseball history. The Dodgers led baseball in diversifying the men on the mound by recruiting pitchers from untapped leagues, whether Negro, Mexican, Korean, or Japanese. They practically redefined the medical treatment of pitchers, most notably with Tommy John (and a leading assist from Dr. Frank Jobe) but also on several quiet but significant levels. The Dodgers even played important roles in the intersection of pitching and free agency, whether as antagonists to Andy Messersmith or deep divers into the enticing but dangerous waters for Kevin Brown or Zack Greinke.

"The attention to scouting and development, the broad-based talent hunting and high-end fine-running, was passed from the past to the present. Executives like Branch Rickey and Peter O'Malley, managers like Walter Alston and Tommy Lasorda, coaches like Red Adams, Ron Perranoski, and Rick Honeycutt, men with generations of service, students who grew up to teach, honed and preserved the Dodger pitching tradition, to the benefit of Los Angeles in particular and baseball in general." 

Highlights of Brothers In Arms include: A heartfelt foreword from play-by-play broadcaster Joe Davis; insights garnered from more than 25 original interviews with current and former players, coaches, broadcasters and journalists; rofiles of fan favorites like Sandy Koufax and Orel Hershiser as well as underappreciated pitchers like Don Newcombe; how the Dodgers expanded baseball’s global revolution through their recruitment of international arms, and the majesty of Clayton Kershaw’s career to date, and what the game’s best pitcher has to look forward to in the future.

Weisman provides plenty of information along the way, such as what he writes here about the name of the team in Brooklyn, "Back in 1932, the time had come to quit dodging the issue of Brooklyn's baseball nickname. After years of volleying between Bridegrooms, Superbas, and Robins - and less formally, Bums -  the official choice had come down to two: Dodgers (the shorthand version of the Trolley Dodgers of lore) or Kings, a new choice harkening back to Kings County, as Brooklyn was the seat of the borough.

"Dodgers won out, and happily so, giving the team and its fans a name rooted firmly in franchise history and unique in sports culture.

"But in what turned out to be the final decade of Major League Baseball in Brooklyn, in the nascent days of the Dodger pitching tradition, kings did emerge, with the mound their throne. Their memories linger, flickering in black and white, in stories too often summed up in shorthand but that are, as you'll see, much more complex."

One of the pitchers of lore in the Brooklyn years is Johnny Podres, the Most Valuable Player of the 1955 World Series, when they finally beat the Yankees for their lone championship before moving west.

"So we come to Johnny Podres and a big question," writes Weisman. "How, after 53 years of baseball in Brooklyn in the World Series era, did Podres end up on the mound for the team's first moment of triumph?

"How was it Podres and not any of the great names that preceded him: Nap Rucker, Burliegh Grimes, Dazzy Vance?

"How was it Podres and not any of the other legendary Boys of Summer: Ralph Branca, Preacher Roe, Carl Erskine, Don Newcombe?

"Some of it was pure timing. Some of it was pure stamina.

"The rest of it was pure Podres...

"If any thought surfaced that Podres would be a postseason hero in '55, it came before a series of maladies, including a midseason appendectomy, threatened to derail what was left of his season. He had a 4.96 ERA from July 1 on, and his September consisted of 12 innings with eight runs allowed. In the Dodgers' final dozen games, Podres gor six outs.

"'For a while, my shoulder was so sore I couldn't sleep,' he said. 'Then, when I was okay again and getting back into the groove, I got slammed on the foot by a line drive and had a swollen left instep. Then I had a freak accident in September, at Ebbets Field. Batting practice was over, and we were getting set to take infield. I had a fungo bat and was going to hit balls to the infielders. Well, in Ebbets Field they used to wheel the batting cage across the diamond and out through a gate in center field. They started wheeling that thing and they hit me in the side with it. Banged up my ribs pretty good, plus a severe muscle pull. For two or three weeks I could hardly breathe.

"'After the season ended, I had no idea I'd be starting in the Series...Sometimes when I think about how close I came to not playing in the '55 Series, I break out in a cold sweat.

"On his 23rd birthday, Podres started Game 3 of the fifth World Series between the Dodgers and Yankees in nine years. Brooklyn had lost the first two games, and when Podres took the Ebbets Field mound, he hadn't pitched into the eighth inning in more than three months. Roy Campanella gave Podres two runs on a homer with Pee Wee aboard in the first, but Podres gave the runs right back in the top of the second. However, Brooklyn tallied two more in the bottom of the second and again in the fourth, and thus buoyed, Podres cruised to an 8-3, complete game victory.

"After the starts by Erskine and Roger Craig in the victories of Games 4 and 5, and Spooner (who  lasted one-third of an inning) in the Game 6 loss, the Dodgers conceivably had a choice for Game 7. Loes, the righty who had pitched Game 2, could have gone on four days' rest, or Podres the lefty could go on three. Alston led Podres know before Game 6 that if there was a Game 7, it would be his.

"'Podres was so young,' John Thorn says. 'He would not have been the Dodgers' ideal candidate to start Game 7 - you would want a veteran instead. And I'm sure that some consideration was given to others, but a lot of pitchers got their ears pinned back. The Dodgers had a starting pitching staff that year that did not perform very well...Podres would have been something of a crapshoot choice.'

"When Podres got the nod, his pregame determination was mythic - but true all the same, as multiple sources recount. 'Give me one fellas,' Podres said. 'That's all I need. Give me one today.'

"Said Podres later: 'The guys were down after that sixth game, especially Reese. I had to say something, so I told them not to worry, I'd shut them out tomorrow. What the hell? You've got to say something at a time like that.'

"Hodges' RBI single in the fourth and sacrifice fly in the sixth handed Podres his requested run plus a bonus. The incredible catch by defensive replacement Sandy Amoros of a Yogi Berra drive to the left-field corner in the bottom of the sixth preserved the lead. In the bottom of the eighth, with runners at the corners, Podres got Berra to fly out to right before striking out Hank Bauer. There was one inning to go.

"Moose Skowron slammed a comebacker at Podres, who bobbed and weaved from the blow before throwing to first for the first out. Bob Cerv popped to left.

"The final at-bat lasted 10 pitches. Elston Howard fouled off five 2-2 fastballs. Campanella called for another but Podres shook him off, throwing what Creamer called 'a big, fat arrogant changeup.' Howard grounded to short, Reese threw wide - but Hodges snagged it with a toe on the bag.

"A hurricane touched down in Brooklyn, with Podres the eye.

"'Podres is the street-smart Eddie Haskell,' Mark Langill says. 'He's only 23 years old in Game 7 of the World Series, but he's already got a big number on the odometer in terms of the type of guts he has. his line to me was, 'When you're that young, you think you can do anything.' I his mind, he was not nervous at all. It was something that he knew he could do in his mind.'

"'I won the car, the Corvette, after they voted me Most Valuable Player in the World Series.' Podres said. 'I was flying for days. I didn't really come down until a few weeks later. I was at a deer camp ion the Adironacks walking in the woods by myself. It was silent. You couldn't hear a thing except the rustle of the leaves. All of a sudden I stopped and said to myself, 'Hey, Podres, you beat the Yankees in the World Series!'"

Brothers in Arms is an essential read for baseball fans, especially those who still cherish memories of the Dodgers in Brooklyn.

About Jon Weisman: he is also the author of 100 Things Dodgers Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die, as well as The Best of Dodger Thoughts. For more than 30 years, he has written about sports and entertainment for the Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Daily News,,, Variety and other publications. Weisman lives in Los Angeles with his wife and three children.

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