Review of Baseball Goes West

Mitchell, Lincoln A. Baseball Goes West: The Dodgers, the Giants, and the Shaping of the Major Leagues. Kent, OH: Kent State University Press, 2018. 8 b/w photographs, 10 tables, acknowledgements, chapter notes, index. Pp. 264. $39.95 softcover.

Reviewed by Michael T. Wood

Lincoln A. Mitchell, a political science faculty member and research scholar at Columbia University, offers his second book on baseball with Baseball Goes West: The Dodgers, the Giants, and the Shaping of the Major Leagues. As the title suggests, Mitchell’s central focus is on the movement of the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants to Los Angeles and San Francisco in 1958, and the impact the relocation of these franchises had on Major League Baseball (MLB). He asserts that these decisions were “absolutely central to the making of the modern MLB, and those moves helped baseball grow domestically, maintain a singularly important niche and role in American culture, and become the increasingly global institution that it is today” (4).

Kent State University Press, 2018.

Even though both franchises were deeply rooted in the local communities, especially the Dodgers in Brooklyn, Mitchell attempts to separate his analysis from New York City nostalgia by examining the complex mix of economic, demographic, geographic, media, and infrastructural considerations that factored into relocation. In short, Walter O’Malley and Horace Stoneham, the owners of the Dodgers and Giants respectively, responded rationally to post-World War II macro- and micro-level changes within the United States and in professional baseball. And their decisions did not occur in a New York vacuum. Developments in Los Angeles and San Francisco also played a role in this process. Mitchell supports his position with quantitative sources, such as population changes and attendance figures, and references to primary sources and secondary literature.

But, this is not just a clinical analysis of the decision-making process. Mitchell weaves his evidence into a broader chronological narrative of professional baseball history through the lens of the Dodger-Giants rivalry and examines how both franchises, their new communities, and the league changed after the move. The use of the Dodgers-Giants rivalry as an organizing vehicle was particularly effective because of their long history as National League competitors, the contrasting fortunes of the franchises overtime, how both teams became overshadowed by the New York Yankees prior to the move, and how their rivalry continued on the West Coast.

Mitchell touches on the racial and social politics of each franchise after relocation. The construction of Dodger Stadium and Candlestick Park highlight relations with the Mexican-American community in Los Angeles and African-American and working-class community in San Francisco. Both ballparks also display a shift in priorities from public transportation to highway access. The demographic composition of each team changed overtime, with an overall increase in foreign-born players, especially the Giants from 1958-1966 (153). This development places both franchises on the leading edge of the globalization of the MLB, particularly with respects to Latinx and Asian communities. In regards to labor relations, Mitchell positions Dodgers pitchers Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale on the vanguard of challenging the reserve system with their spring training holdout in 1966 (157-159), and stretches the long-term effect to include the achievement of free agency by West Coast players Andy Messersmith and Catfish Hunter. As he brings the narrative closer to the present, Mitchell did not shy away from controversy by addressing the role Barry Bonds and BALCO played in the Steroids Era of professional baseball.

But, this book is not without flaws. Despite its evidence, the author’s thesis appears slightly over ambitious. Perhaps it has to do with issues of causation and correlation. Did the relocation of the Dodgers and Giants change MLB or was it consistent with changes already occurring in MLB? Overall, the book works far better as a narrative of the Dodgers-Giants rivalry since the 1950s. As for sourcing, it would benefit from more engagement and incorporation of scholarly sport history works. Many of the myths or misconceptions the author addresses have already been debunked in the historiography. With that said, citing comedian and self-proclaimed baseball fanatic Greg Proops warmed this reviewer’s heart.

Ultimately, Baseball Goes West is a well-organized, accessible presentation of the motivations and factors involved in the relocation of the Dodgers and Giants to California and a survey of the franchises’ histories since the move. It would be most appropriate for baseball fans and provides scholars with numerous topics for further research and development.

Michael T. Wood teaches sport-related courses as an instructor in the Department of American Studies at the University of Alabama. His research focuses primarily on American football played between teams from the U.S. South and Havana in the first half of the twentieth century. You can contact him at: michael.t.wood@ua.edu.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s