|Kirk Gibson celebrating his famous home run in the 1988 World Series.
The Dodgers have had a rich history in their 60 years in Los Angeles, and two books delve into one of their best seasons, when they won the World Series in 1988, and their rivalry with the Cincinnati Reds in the 1970s.
The 1988 Dodgers: Reliving The Championship Season
By K.P. Wee
Rowman & Littlefield Publishers; hardback, $36.00; eBook, $34.00
The 1988 Dodgers season was defined by Kirk Gibson’s dramatic home run off Dennis Eckersley in the first game of the World Series, and the excellence of their ace Orel Hershiser, who had a record shutout streak and dominated in the playoffs.
In The 1988 Dodgers: Reliving the Championship Season, K. P. Wee tells the story of this incredible year that produced the last World Championship for the Dodgers.
More than just Gibson or Hershiser, the team’s success came from a true collective effort in which all 25 players on the roster made significant contributions throughout the season.
Wee provides a refreshing view of the 1988 season through dozens of interviews with players, coaches, scouts, and general manager Fred Claire, who shared personal stories and little-known anecdotes told to him by the players and staff.
The Dodgers' deep bench played a major part in their championship, and they came to earn a moniker that fit the city they played in, in the shadow of where they make movies, "the Stuntmen of LA."
"World Championship and pennant-winning teams throughout the history of baseball are remembered for their great nicknames," writes Wee. "Say 'Murderers' Row,' and fans know you're talking about the 1927 Yankees. The 'Big Red Machine'? That's the 1975-1976 Cincinnati Reds. Even those not around then have heard of the 'Gashouse Gang' - a nickname given to the 1934 St. Louis Cardinals - if you've read up on baseball history. In a more recent era, there were 'Harvey's Wallbangers,' a potent Milwaukee Brewers club under manager Harvey Kuenn that simply hit the cover off the baseball during its 1982 pennant-winning season. There were the 'Amazin's,' the 1969 Miracle Mets. There were also the 1979 'We Are Family' Pirates, the last Pittsburgh team to be crowned champions in baseball in the 20th century. Even the Dodgers had their own moniker, 'Boys of Summer,' in their Brooklyn days in the 1950s, when they were the National League's most talented team.
"Fast forward to 1988, and Oakland won 104 regular-season games thanks in part to the 'Bash Brothers,' the mashing duo of Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire. In the National League, Cincinnati was two years away from becoming world champions, with an unhittable bullpen trio of Norm Charlton, Rob Dibble, and Randy Myers, known as 'the Nasty Boys.' In Los Angeles, meanwhile, there were the 'Stuntmen of LA,' a nickname coined by Dodgers utility man Mickey Hatcher during spring training, referring to a group of reserve players who were nameless and faceless but necessary if the show were to go on. The Stuntmen, a group of blue-collar bench players who seamlessly stepped in whenever called upon to pinch-hit or fill in for injured regulars, were not household names by any means like Canseco or McGwire. Made up of nonstarters such as Hatcher, Rick Dempsey, and Danny Heep, these Stuntmen somehow had an uncanny knack for making the right play and getting a big hit at key moments. Because of their contributions off the bench during the course of the season and the postseason, the Stuntmen were integral members of the 1988 Dodgers...
"The Stuntmen? Who the heck were these guys? 'The Stuntmen were an intergral part of that '88 team,' Dodgers closer Jay Howell says emphatically today. 'Without them, we don't win.'
"Catcher Rick Dempsey can only smile when the Stuntmen are mentioned all these years later. 'We went through that season as a team of platoon players, the way Fred (Claire) put it together,' Dempsey, now a Baltimore Orioles broadcaster, says today. 'We had a lot of backup players, guys that didn't play every day. We had only three regulars, and that was Kirk Gibson, Mike Marshall, and Steve Sax. I can't think of anyone else that was a regular player! The rest of us were Franklin Stubbs and myself, Dave Anderson, Danny Heep...We called ourselves the Stuntmen. That started in spring training. And it was a bunch of guys who knew how to play. We weren't big names by any stretch of the imagination."
30 years later, the players also reflect their careers following the World Championship, and life after baseball, giving readers a complete inside look at a season and team to remember.
The Dodgers made the World Series last season, losing the World Series in seven games to the Houston Astros, and are primed to make a run once again this October.
Cincinnati Red and Dodger Blue: Baseball's Greatest Forgotten Rivalry
By Tom Van Riper
Rowman & Littlefield; hardcover, $38.00; eBook, $36.00
One of the fiercest rivalries in baseball that has now been forgotten is the intense battles between the Cincinnati Reds and the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 1970s.
They boasted the biggest names of the game, including Johnny Bench, Steve Garvey, Pete Rose, Don Sutton, Joe Morgan Ron Cey, and George Foster to name a few; and appeared in the World Series seven out of nine years.
In Cincinnati Red and Dodger Blue: Baseball's Greatest Forgotten Rivalry, Tom Van Riper provides a fresh look at these two powerhouse teams and the circumstances that made them so pivotal. Van Riper delves into the players, managers, executives, and broadcasters from the rivalry whose impact on baseball continued beyond the 1970s—including the first recipient of Tommy John surgery (Tommy John himself), the all-time hit king turned gambling pariah (Pete Rose), and two young announcers who would soon go on to national prominence, Al Michaels for the Reds and Vin Scully for the Dodgers.
In addition, Van Riper recounts in detail the 1973 season when both teams were at or near their peak form, particularly the extra-inning nail-biter between the Reds and Dodgers that took place on September 21 and effectively decided the divisional race.
Van Riper writes of how this rivarly fit its times, "Fans of old television sitcoms might remember a popular show of the 1970s called Chico and the Man. Set in East Los Angeles, the show starred Jack Albertson as Ed Brown (the man), a grumpy old white auto-repair shop owner, and Freddie Prinze as Chico, a young Hispanic who Brown reluctantly brings in as a business partner. Despite their ethnic and generational differences, the two manage to form a bond - except in one episode, when Chico tries unsuccessfully to convince Ed to join him and his friends for a night out after work. Ed prefers to stay in and watch the ballgame. 'The Dodgers...and Cincinnati' (his emphasis), he tells Chico. Viewers of the time knew he had no reason to say more. A true Dodger fan of that era didn't miss those games. And neither did a true Reds fan.
"Bring up the topic of baseball rivalries, and what comes to mind? Probably three sets of teams: Yankees-Red Sox, Cubs-Cardinals, and Dodgers-Giants, the last of which has a long history on both coasts. The Dodgers and the Reds? Not really. There's no geographic proximity to bond the teams over the long haul. These days, Cincinnati and Los Angeles don't even play in the same division. To the current young generation, the matchup is nothing special. But in the pre-wild card, four-division era of the 1970s, they were the division rivals that dominated on the field and produced the game's highest-profile stars, pushing Major League baseball toward a new era of record attendance, labor upheaval, free agency, postseason night games, and big television money. Both came together at the right time - just as baseball was making its way through a stretch of declining attendance, a sputtering Yankee dynasty, and a new crop of strong teams - Oakland, Baltimore, and Pittsburgh - playing in disinterested markets and struggling to draw fans despite regular trips to the playoffs. The Dodgers and Reds had no such problems.
"'We would get into Cincinnati on a Sunday night and then have three straight sellouts for the series,' reflects Steve Garvey, the first baseman who broke into the Dodger lineup full-time in mid-1973 and shot all the way to National League MVP in 1974. 'In L.A., the celebrities would really be out. The Dodgers-Giants rivalry was a little dormant then.'
"Both clubs averaged over 90 wins per year during the 1970s. One or the other played in the postseason in nine of the decade's 10 seasons, including seven World Series. The only playoff miss came in 1971, when the San Francisco Giants nosed out the Dodgers in the National League West by one game. At the gate, both Cincinnati and L.A. were outdrawing the rest of the league by big numbers...
"During the six-year stretch from 1972 to 1977, a Red or a Dodger (usually a Red) took the National League Most Valuable Player Award in every season: Bench, Rose, Garvey, Morgan (twice), and Foster. Bench had also won the award in 1970, making it seven or eight MVPs from 1970 to 1977. Only four Dodgers or Reds have won the award since: Kirk Gibson (1988), Barry Larkin (1995), Joey Votto (2010), and Clayton Kershaw (2014)."
Cincinnati Red and Dodger Blue includes never-before-published interviews with former players from the rivalry, providing a personal and in-depth look at this decade in baseball full of upheaval and change.
It is a very entertaining read on a great part of baseball history, and it is sure to be enjoyed by fans and historians of all generations.