By Marty Appel
The celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Brooklyn Dodgers only world championship (The Marlins have already won two!) also creates an opportunity to look back at some of the literature surrounding this colorful franchise.
Remarkably, especially when you look at all the books that followed the Red Sox championship last year, there were no books published in 1956 that specifically saluted “Dem Bums” winning. From a historical standpoint, the 1995 40th anniversary tribute published by the New York Daily News, including original writing by the likes of Dick Young and others, is a strong reference work, although it is more a magazine than a book. Readers will be amused to find that Dodger writers continued to call the team “The Flock” even in the ‘50s, a term that derived from their days as the “Robins” (get it?) after manager Wilbert Robinson (1914-31).
And while Roger Kahn’s classic “The Boys of Summer” seemingly heralded in an era of mainstream appreciation for baseball books, and poignantly told the story of the star-crossed Dodgers of the early ‘50s, it was not the first “breakthrough” book of Dodgers lore.
In the days when the public was still being fed sugar-coated baseball reading, Arthur Mann produced a 1951 volume called “Baseball Confidential: Secret History of the War among Chandler, Durocher, MacPhail and Rickey.”
It was a surprisingly candid look behind the scenes of baseball into an area where only a few enterprising newspapermen were treading. It was, in fact, a “reporter’s book,” not so much the work of a literary figure as it was the work of an insider with stuff to tell and a publisher willing to print it.
Mann was a newspaperman by training. Born in 1901, he started out with the New York World, the Herald Tribune and the Daily Mirror, and in 1926, became the baseball writer for the Evening World, covering the heyday of the Yankees’ Murderer’s Row. He free lanced magazine pieces and was frequently seen in the Saturday Evening Post, Collier’s and Liberty.
He met Branch Rickey in 1942, and became Rickey’s assistant four years later. While continuing to freelance, he was now in a unique “insider” position. When Rickey decided to sign Jackie Robinson, it was Mann who was given the inside story for Look Magazine, only to have Rickey then “scoop” him by announcing it himself. It was an odd arrangement, with Mann serving as the team’s press secretary while continuing to write. (We also learn from team insiders that Mann did a terrific impersonation of Rickey, when the boss wasn’t around).
He remained in the Dodgers employ until 1950 and then served as a producer, technical supervisor and writer for the film, “The Jackie Robinson Story.” He had done a long story on Robinson for the Saturday Evening Post, and then a book version.
“Baseball Confidential” was a remarkable tale of gamblers, suspensions, politics, race, and even manager Leo Durocher’s affair with actress Lorraine Day. It also covered conflicts between Rickey and the flamboyant Larry MacPhail, who seemed to defy Rickey’s sensibilities.
Mann’s characterization of Durocher is powerful; he was on the scene when Leo played shortstop for the Yankees in the late ‘20s, and portrays him even then as hanging out with undesirables.
“It required no time at all for Durocher to attract a coterie of limelight followers in New York,” he wrote. “The Yankee uniform was a pass to everywhere. Even his cacophony of words took on importance to listeners. He was a pushover for flattery and a flashy wardrobe, though his rookie salary was scarcely enough to clothe him in overalls. Wear now and forget the cost. You’re a champion- dress like one. Always travel first class. Meet big people. And it was in prohibition days when you never asked your friend how he made his money for fear he would tell you.”
Durocher was hitting .312 after 37 games in his rookie year with the Yankees. Mann continues:
“This early success moved his new-found ‘friends’ to organize the ‘Leo Durocher Day’ for June 23, 1928, at Yankee Stadium, where he had appeared in exactly ten games! A lengthy brochure was printed to introduce their pride and joy as ‘The Regular Yankee Rookie.’”
Alas, by “Durocher Day,” his average had sunk and Miller Huggins didn’t even have him in the lineup. The team lost a doubleheader to the Red Sox before only 15,000 fans.
“He arrived at the 1929 training camp with his blazing wardrobe and screaming confidence untempered by the winter layoff,” wrote Mann. “He was going to win somebody’s job and he wasn’t particular about the loser.
“The press was informed by whispered word that the kid was definitely a phony; that he hung out with gamblers and was actually seen in the company of Meyer Boston, the big baseball bettor. By the time the 1929 season began, he was accused – behind his back of course – of every crime on the calendar.”
Since Durocher was very much active in the game when the book was published, this was very hard hitting account by contemporary standards. (There is no mention of the long rumored tale of Durocher caught, stealing Babe Ruth’s watch). And Durocher is the central character throughout the book, always seemingly a step ahead of the law for his gambling and mobster ties. Even when Commissioner Happy Chandler suspended him for the ’47 season (Jackie Robinson’s debut season), the reasons were never publicized. Mann however, leaves little doubt as to it being caused by a lifetime of nepharious underworld connections. He even writes of the Brooklyn District Attorney putting a wire-tap on Durocher’s telephone.
There were other books that predated Kahn’s. In 1953, David McKay Publishing, which had done Mann’s book, issued “Dodger Daze & Nights,” by Tommy Holmes (not the ballplayer), a very good history of the franchise back to its origins, with an important stop at the “Daffyness Boys,” when the Dodgers (or Robins), like the original Mets, were lovable losers.
The Putnam team history series produced their Dodger version, by Frank Graham, in 1945. Tom Meany’s “The Artful Dodgers” was published in 1953. Former team officials Harold Parrott, Buzzie Bavasi, and Irving Rudd did remembrances in 1976, 1987, and 1990 respectively. There have been scores of Jackie Robinson books, a couple of Rickey books, a few Durocher books, and biographies or autobiographies of Pee Wee Reese, Don Zimmer, Johnny Podres, Tom Lasorda, Duke Snider, Don Drysdale, Carl Erskine, Roy Campanella, Gil Hodges, Sandy Koufax and manager Walt Alston, all of whom were part of the ’55 team. It was a pretty good accounting for one team, from a borough not noted for speaking the “King’s English.” (Roger Craig also did one, but based on the 1984 Tigers).
“The Boys of Summer” will always be the book that defines the team that ultimately won the ’55 World Series (with a few roster changes), but Mann, who died in 1963, captured the frenzy in the years predating that, which really began the Dodgers run of glory, and was years ahead of its time in detailing off the field scandals and controversies that were certainly the talk of the clubhouse.