MOVER & SHAKER: Walter O’Malley, the Dodgers, &
Baseball’s Westward Expansion By Andy
. University of Nebraska Press, 2014. HB, 468 pp., $34.95.
Any baseball bibliophile
worth his weight in dust jackets is familiar with the rich history of the
Brooklyn Dodgers, and in particular the wonderful anecdote in Peter Golenbock’s
Casey winning evocation, BUMS, in which Walter O’Malley is lumped by a
pair of Brooklynite literary stars named Jack Newfield and Pete Hamill with
Stalin and Hitler as one of the three worst human beings in history.
Now, it should be noted that
O’Malley finished third on both independently produced lists, but still, if
there was ever a figure in baseball in need of a comprehensively objective
treatment, it was the Big Oom. (Michael D’Antonio’s fine 2009 effort, True
Blue, is a solid but perhaps overtly laudatory treatment). And for the
better part of the last two decades (!), former SABR President Andy McCue had
been dedicated to the task of ferretting out the truth from the vitriol, to
present a picture of the man who changed the landscape of professional sports
in America and almost singlehandedly dragged the business of baseball into the
In MOVER & SHAKER,
we are treated to McCue’s meticulous research (nearly 300 separate sources are
listed, and the 76 pages of endnotes include a page guide to the text being
annotated, an extremely useful addition) that begins with O’Malley’s Irish
ancestry, winds its way quickly through the New York City Tammany Hall
political connections of his grandfather Thomas and father Edwin, and digs
deeply into his childhood and college years.
The book details O’Malley’s
rise to power within the Dodgers’ muddled hierarchy, his battles with Branch
Rickey for control of the franchise, and completely fleshes out the case that
the cross-country move from Brooklyn to Los Angeles was far less Machiavellian
than the popular sentiment asserted by the Boys of Summer crowd.
O’Malley was, first,
foremost, and always, a practical, pragmatic, and unemotional businessman, as
opposed to the romantic, privileged sportsmen that had dominated the ownership
ranks of baseball. And upon entering the fray, he immediately recognized the
inherent dangers of crumbling Ebbets Field and the changing face of Brooklyn,
and tried to work with the city for years to find an equitable solution.
Meeting resistance at every turn, McCue makes a strong argument that O’Malley
had little choice but to move his franchise.
The fact that his landing
point became California was obvious from the fabulous offers presented, but
McCue also delves into Los Angeles politics to show just how many promises
weren’t honored, and how the Chavez Ravine site that Dodger Stadium was
eventually built upon was filled with unforeseen issues and problems that took
years to overcome. Yet through it all, O’Malley simply persevered, staying true
to his vision and his business principles, and eventually built the ideal model
of all baseball franchises.
One established in LA,
O’Malley becomes the most influential and visionary owner in the game, ushering
the era of big television contracts and free agency, all the while campaigning
for the end of self-destructive League bipartisanship that had been holding the
game back for generations. In the end, it’s abundantly clear that O’Malley more
than deserved his 2008 Hall of Fame election.
What seems lost to history,
as McCue freely admits, is a real sense of O’Malley’s authentic personality.
Just as his Dodger legacy is split upon coastal attitudes and memories, so is
the polarity of his personal interactions. He could be generous to a fault, yet
stiffly penurious. He was a glad-handing life of the party when being so was
beneficial, yet he was difficult to know personally. He feuded with many of the
major figures in his professional career – Rickey and Jackie Robinson, among
many others, yet was fiercely loyal, especially to his family, and McCue
concludes that his main mission was to establish the Dodgers franchise as a
continuing legacy for the benefit of his family.
MOVER & SHAKER,
McCue’s magnum opus, will soon assume its rightful place among the best in the
annals of baseball’s biographical literature, and has set the record straight
about O’Malley, perhaps the best pure businessman baseball
has ever seen.