In the best-selling tradition of The Boys of Summer and Wait ‘Til Next Year, The Last Good Season is the poignant and dramatic story of the Brooklyn Dodgers’ last pennant and the forces that led to their heartbreaking departure to Los Angeles.
The 1956 Brooklyn Dodgers were one of baseball’s most storied teams, featuring such immortals as Jackie Robinson, Pee Wee Reese, Duke Snider, Gil Hodges, and Roy Campanella. The love between team and borough was equally storied, an iron bond of loyalty forged through years of adversity and sometimes legendary ineptitude. Coming off their first World Series triumph ever in 1955, against the hated Yankees, the Dodgers would defend their crown against the Milwaukee Braves and the Cincinnati Reds in a six-month neck-and-neck contest until the last day of the playoffs, one of the most thrilling pennant races in history.
But as The Last Good Season so richly relates, all was not well under the surface. The Dodgers were an aging team at the tail end of its greatness, and Brooklyn was a place caught up in rapid and profound urban change. From a cradle of white ethnicity, it was being transformed into a racial patchwork, including Puerto Ricans and blacks from the South who flocked to Ebbets Field to watch the Dodgers’ black stars. The institutions that defined the borough - the Brooklyn Eagle, the Brooklyn Navy Yard - had vanished, and only the Dodgers remained. And when their shrewd, dollar-squeezing owner, Walter O’Malley, began casting his eyes elsewhere in the absence of any viable plan to replace the aging Ebbets Field and any support from the all-powerful urban czar Robert Moses, the days of the Dodgers in Brooklyn were clearly numbered.
Michael Shapiro, a Brooklyn native, has interviewed many of the surviving participants and observers of the 1956 season, and undertaken immense archival research to bring its public and hidden drama to life. Like David Halberstam’s The Summer of ’49, The Last Good Season combines an exciting baseball story, a genuine sense of nostalgia, and hard-nosed reporting and social thinking to reveal, in a new light, a time and place we only thought we understood.
©2003 Michael Shapiro (P)2013 Audible, Inc.
The merit of this retelling of a familiar story is that the author does not overdo any of the angles and aspects from which it is properly considered. He makes it clear enough that this is a book about baseball, so that the details, what's and why's of the move to the west coast is treated as back story, although it is really a more interesting aspect. Same for the headline topic of Jackie Robinson and the transition from his debut to the various ethnicities a fascinating aspect of the roster, including Italian, southern, country boys and more very well and without overly dramatizing any of it. The same can be said for giving equal time, so to speak, to the members of a roster packed with truly great baseball players, many of whose stars faded in baseball lore with the move to the Pacific time zone, all but the Duke really, whose Brooklyn days were when he achieved many of his HOF achievements. But, why the interesting detail on the Braves, with little attention to the Reds? And but, if you will, the official scorer would have to call several errors on plays that really jumped out at me--for example, what writer with even a passing familiarity with sports above the sandlot/playground level would refer to the platooning of 2 players at 2nd base as the manager having them "take turns" at the position?
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