Krell, David. Forward by Branch Rickey III. Our Bums: The Brooklyn Dodgers in History, Memory, and Popular Culture. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2015. Pp. 240. Notes, References, Index. $29.95 softcover.
Reviewed by Rich Loosbrock
Baseball and nostalgia go hand in hand. Mentions of baseball in popular culture, be it movies, documentaries, biographies, or memoirs, are bathed in notions of simpler times, of the innocence of youth, of baseball connecting generations. From The Boys of Summer to Field of Dreams and Ken Burns, baseball seems the essence of family and community. No team is more often invoked as an example of that nostalgia than the Brooklyn Dodgers. As a team, they were often lovable losers or the heartbreak kids. Like the residents of Brooklyn, the team toiled in the shadow of Manhattan and the far sexier and more successful Yankees, while the bandbox of Ebbets Field, wedged into the tight confines of Flatbush, paled in comparison to Yankee Stadium or even the cavernous Polo Grounds. The Dodgers always seemed a representation of their scrappy working-class fans.
This book is a rather conventional history of the Dodgers from inception to the franchise’s move to Los Angeles. Baseball enthusiasts will find a familiar story, highlighted by World Series failures (until 1955) and the single most important contribution of the Dodgers to Major League baseball, the integration of the league in 1947 with the signing of Jackie Robinson. Books on baseball are often written by enthusiasts and can often be heavy on game descriptions. Krell, thankfully, holds this to a minimum and focuses on the team in popular memory. The first six chapters are concise, and provide a readable history.
Chapter seven deviates slightly from the narrative. Krell collected more than two dozen recollections of people who grew up associated with the Dodgers or Brooklyn. These reveal a strong sense of attachment and community, and of connections forged in the innocence of youth. Could this be said of nearly all professional sports teams? Yes. But why are these attachments seemingly stronger with the Dodgers? Krell certainly works to provide an answer, but never quite arrives.
Most interesting is the 8th Inning, in which he mines all possible references to the Dodgers in film, literature, and media. The 9th inning summarizes the move to California in succinct fashion, and Krell points towards scholarly studies for a fuller treatment. Krell is more sympathetic to owner Walter O’Malley than previous accounts, which portrayed him as a greedy business mogul chasing profits. Krell recognizes the shifting demographics of Brooklyn as a key factor, as postwar suburbinazation carried many Dodger fans to distant homes on Long Island.
The mystic chords of memory and sports teams always seem to find the strongest manifestation with the Brooklyn Dodgers. David Krell’s book helps to shed light on why that is the case. Even if he does not entirely get there, he makes an admirable attempt. In aiming high, he provides a thoughtful and enjoyable read for a broad audience.
Rich Loosbrock is a professor of history at Adams State University.