DODGERS! The First 100 Years <i> by Stanley Cohen (Birch Lane Press: $19.95; 154 pp.) </i>
As a baseball historian, Stanley Cohen has no hop on his fastball, no dipsy-doodle curves or sinkers or knucklers; he throws batting-practice stuff, straight down the middle. A kid could hit him--and, in fact, the likeliest readers of this book are young Dodger fans who might be interested to know that their heroes once played in Brooklyn, which, in 1890 when the team was organized, had almost 20 times the population of Los Angeles.
Those who want an in-depth or revisionist view should look elsewhere. “Dodgers!” is a brisk, chronological account of the team’s fortunes on the diamond, with an occasional peek into the executive suite. Given what Cohen had to work with, that’s enough to keep the pages turning. The Dodgers have always had one of baseball’s most distinct personalities--first as “Dem Bums” and later as Hollywood types blessed by sunshine, record crowds and pitchers such as Koufax, Drysdale and Valenzuela. They have won more than their share of championships and had more than their share of Hall of Famers as well as daffy characters. They were the first team to break the color barrier (with Jackie Robinson in 1947) and the first to move West (in 1958). Today they are “the sole major league franchise owned by people whose only business is baseball.”
Cohen sprinkles anecdotes through his narrative like powder from a rosin bag. In the 1940s, he says, manager Leo Durocher once changed pitchers on the authority of a note passed to center fielder Pete Reiser from Hilda Chester, a fan notorious for ringing a cowbell in the Ebbets Field bleachers. Everyone knows that Bobby Thomson’s home run against the Dodgers won the 1951 National League pennant for the Giants. Cohen adds that second baseman Robinson, a fierce competitor, didn’t give up when the ball sailed into the left-field stands. “He was following Thomson’s journey intently . . . making sure (he) touched every base.”
Fittingly, “Dodgers!” climaxes with the heroics of Kirk Gibson and Orel Hershiser in the 1988 World Series, barely noting the sub-par 1989 campaign. In Los Angeles, just as they used to do in Brooklyn, fans said: “Wait till next year.” And next year (not to mention the Dodgers’ next century) starts tomorrow with the opening of the season.