Hi again. Next in this series of teases for the May 1 release of Brothers in Arms: Koufax, Kershaw, and the Dodgers’ Extraordinary Pitching Tradition (pre-order now!) is a preview of “Part One: The Kings of Brooklyn,” focusing on the beginnings of the Dodger pitching tradition and running through the man who finished off the franchise’s first World Series title.
Hi there! To get you warmed up for the May 1 release of Brothers in Arms: Koufax, Kershaw, and the Dodgers’ Extraordinary Pitching Tradition (pre-order now!), from time to time I want to share some behind-the-scenes tidbits about, for lack of a better phrase, “The Making of Brothers in Arms.” Think of these as if they were the DVD extras. Ideally, you’ll find them of interest even without the book in your hands.
I can’t tell you how excited I am to share this news: Triumph Books has officially scheduled a May 1 publication date for my new book, Brothers in Arms: Koufax, Kershaw, and the Dodgers’ Extraordinary Pitching Tradition, and it’s ready and available for pre-order at sites including Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Triumph.
To paraphrase a famous saying, everybody talks about the Dodger pitching tradition, but nobody’s ever written anything about it — not a book, anyway. So beginning while I was still working for the Dodgers, I did the interviews and research that ultimately led to this fascinating and comprehensive journey through the formation and flowering of that tradition, from its birth to its current heights in the form of a certain left-hander wearing No. 22 in Los Angeles.
Starting with the earliest days of baseball in Brooklyn, Brothers in Arms lays out how a scattershot franchise, occasionally and almost coincidentally graced by great hurlers, became a focused organization generating superb pitchers almost at will. Divided into nine parts (I was tempted to call them innings), the book takes a deep dive into the exploits of the most important pitchers to wear the Dodger uniform since the pitching tradition began to take hold near the end of World War II.
With each chapter, I tell the story of how each athlete came to be the type of pitcher (and personality) that he was and place their accomplishments into context, individually as well as in the pantheon of Dodger and baseball history. I wanted to bring to life those who pitched too long ago for contemporary fans to have seen, and provide new insight into those who are more familiar. To do so, I conducted more than 25 interviews with names from Carl Erskine to Clayton Kershaw, and worked my way through thousands of pages of books, periodicals and websites.
Each chapter became a portrait of a pitcher that stands on its own — you can feel free to jump around the 384-page book if you like — but also holds a specific place in the narrative of baseball and the Dodgers. In addition, several of the section introductions delve into less prominent but incredibly crucial contributors to the Dodger pitching tradition, including catchers, pitching coaches, managers, scouts and the front office.
While the Dodgers were rushing headlong toward the World Series in 2017, my free moments were largely spent diving into the past, working to tell the tale of Dodger pitching in the most meaningful way possible. I’m really grateful to those who spoke with me and helped me along the way, as well as Dodger announcer Joe Davis for writing the forward. I can barely wait for you to see the book, and am happy it will be out in time for Mothers’ Day and Fathers’ Day gifting, among other things. (However, I like to think it’s good for any occasion …)
“The Bad News Bears” is my favorite baseball movie. “The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training” is … not.
Nevertheless, my interest in the sequel has shot through the roof thanks to the fact that Cardboard Gods author Josh Wilker has a new book out about it: “The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training (Deep Focus).” From the product description at Amazon:
In 1977, The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training had a moment in the sun. A glowing junk sculpture of American genres—sports flick, coming-of-age story, family melodrama, after-school special, road narrative—the film cashed in on the previous year’s success of its predecessor, The Bad News Bears. Arguing against the sequel’s dismissal as a cultural afterthought, Josh Wilker lovingly rescues from the oblivion of cinema history a quintessential expression of American resilience and joy.
Rushed into theaters by Paramount when the beleaguered film industry was suffering from “acute sequelitis,” the (undeniably flawed) movie miraculously transcended its limitations to become a gathering point for heroic imagery drawn from American mythology. Considered in context, the film’s unreasonable optimism, rooted in its characters’ sincere desire to keep playing, is a powerful response to the political, economic, and social stresses of the late 1970s.
To Wilker’s surprise, despite repeated viewings, The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training continues to move him. Its huge heart makes it not only the ultimate fantasy of the baseball-obsessed American boy, but a memorable iteration of that barbed vision of pure sunshine itself, the American dream.
For an example of what Wilker can do with this subject, just take a read of this piece at his website on Rudi Stein. And while you’re there, make sure you don’t miss the Chico’s Bears with Charlie’s Angels.
Readers of this site will know of my evangelism for Josh Wilker’s website, Cardboard Gods. That appreciation redoubled when I read his book, Cardboard Gods: An All-American Tale Told Through Baseball Cards, which I couldn’t recommend more highly to you all. It is at once entertaining and deeply affecting – kind of magical, really.
Wilker’s book tour reaches Southern California on Thursday with his 7 p.m. appearance at the South Pasadena Library, co-hosted by the Baseball Reliquary. (This takes place in conjunction with the Reliquary’s exhibit, “Son of Cardboard Fetish.”) This seemed like a perfect time to talk with Wilker about a few of the many things that make his writing so compelling:
A big part of Cardboard Gods that migrated from the site to the book is the importance of what you think a player’s pose or expression on the card is telling you. Obviously, these are guesses on your part, but do you think the photos on the cards are nevertheless windows to the gods’ souls – a veritable truth you wouldn’t necessarily get any other way? Or are they more just windows to our own souls?
Lookin’ sharp, Steve
I don’t know if they get me to any truths, but they definitely have always been able to get me to start wondering. The moments captured in my cards from the ’70s would seem to most people to be flat and trivial, the kind of thing that no one, not the player, not the photographer, not the great majority of people who would ever look at the card, could ever care much about. But because I cared about them as a kid, the stiff poses and enigmatic expressions continue to have a hold on me now, especially because many of them seem to include the same element of aimlessness and absurdity that has threaded through my post-childhood years. So they exist in two worlds for me, the adult world and the child world, and so it’s no wonder I’m drawn to them, since I’m an adult who has been kind of perpetually haunted and fascinated by his own childhood.
Aimlessness is an important theme in the book, especially after your brother put up boundaries between the two of you as he got older. But one thing about your family is that it seemed passionate about intellectual pursuits – your dad, your mom, Tom, even Ian with all the reading he seemingly did. And even in your aimless days, you were thoughtful and imaginative to say the least. How come that didn’t translate for you into more interest or dedication to schoolwork as a kid? Was life just too painful to allow you to focus on school, to allow that to be an outlet?
Here on this first day of March, I thought I might try to bulk up your reading lists.
First, if you haven’t already, please consider purchasing 100 Things Dodgers Fans Should Know and Do Before they Die. Other than missing Orlando Hudson’s cycle, Russell Martin’s stumbles and the latest drama surrounding Manny Ramirez and Frank and Jamie McCourt, everything’s still very much up to date and worth your reading. At a cost of barely $10 online, I really think it qualifies as a bargain.
Second, here’s a reminder to get the 2010 Maple Street Press Dodgers Annual. The first reader reviews have started to come in, and the reaction is as good as I expected, considering the first-rate content the writers and statisticians provided. (Here’s a link to some PDF excerpts.) You simply won’t find a better yearbook about the Dodgers anywhere.
Third, I got a copy of 2010 Baseball Prospectus, which offers insightful essays on all 30 teams plus detailed player capsules on roughly 1,000 major and minor-leaguers. This book could keep you company all season, providing answers to almost any question you have about this year’s pros.
Finally, I’m most pleased to pass along the news that Cardboard Gods: An All-American Tale Told Through Baseball Cards, written by Josh Wilker, is available for pre-order. And it figures to be simply sensational.