They Bled Blue, by Jason Turbow, is the story of the 1981 Los Angeles Dodgers crazy season. Sure, they won the 1981 World Series, during a unique split season, during the longest player strike in baseball history, but is it worth reading about? Let’s see what Shaq says:
RICK “SHAQ” GOLDSTEIN SAYS: FERNANDOMANIA… A LEGEND AT TWENTY-YEARS-OLD… MLB STRIKE… 1981 WORLD CHAMPS LOS ANGELES DODGERS… (DEFEATING THE HATED NEW YORK YANKEES IN THE WORLD SERIES) FOR A DODGER FAN… READING THIS BOOK… IS LIKE EATING CHOCOLATE CAKE AND ICE CREAM!
Though center stage of this… instant classic… baseball gem… is the Los Angeles Dodgers journey to the 1981 World Championship… and every highlight… and pitfall… is covered with absolute delicious quotes… from all involved… including.. the highs… the lows… the knives in the back from their own “Big-Blue” teammates… and ultimately… the quick dismantling… of almost the entire team that fought their way tooth and nail… to the penthouse of 1981 Major League Baseball.
The author… very intelligently… starts off with the 1978 World Series… which the Dodgers lost to the hated New York Yankees… this made back- to- back World Series losses to the Yankees… since they also lost the 1977 Series to the Yanks… the year before. The feeling that existed… and the reader is enveloped… with the shroud… that the window was rapidly closing on a talented… extremely well put together Dodger team… that had played together in unison… almost like no team before.
As an example their starting infield of Steve Garvey… Davey Lopes… “The Penguin”… Ron Cey… and Bill Russell… had played together as a starting infield longer than any such combination in the history of baseball. Leading the team was future Hall of Fame manager…. Tommy Lasorda… and the author… in… what I will term… a stroke of genius… goes waaayy back to Lasorda’s past in great detail… when he was nothing but a waaay below run of the mill… marginal player (mostly minor league) … and followed his transition from player… to a player who on his own started to help coach and motivate his minor league teammates… while still nothing but a journeyman minor leaguer.
The reader will find that years later when Lasorda would wax poetic… and try to motivate… his young players… to literally fight… and scrap… and throw “chin-music”… to their opponents… Lasorda had actually… not only truly done it that way himself… but had done it to such an extreme… he came close to killing his post playing career… before it even started.
The author… is an avowed lifetime Giants fan… who grew up booing Lasorda at Bay Area games… (I’ll get into this more later in my review)… won my untold respect not only as to his writing skills… but with his “true-fan” honesty throughout the book… especially… in the last couple of chapters… entitled “Conclusion”… and “Acknowledgements”. I had read one of Turbow’s other books “The Baseball Codes”… and loved it. His writing is not only written like a “floored” Ferrari without brakes… but his footnotes at the bottom of ninety-per-cent of the pages… are like a parent giving their child a box of candy for each good grade in school. He combines historical quotes… along with new fresh quotes from recent interviews for the book.
There literally… is not… one slow.. portion… from start to finish.
Nothing is held back… it’s all here… the dislike of Steve Garvey by some teammates… some may say it was jealously… others might say they saw through his façade… and due to the extreme due-diligence by the author… both sides are clearly stated… AND I GLOWINGLY MUST ADD… THEY ARE NOT NAMELESS ASSERTATIONS…. EVERY STATEMENT HAS A NAME… FRONT AND CENTER ATTACHED TO IT! The clubhouse fight between Don Sutton and Garvey… comments about Garvey’s wife. The dissatisfaction with Davey Lopes’ comments during the strike. Bill Russell not diving for grounders… Lopes’ hands of stone… and record breaking errors in the World Series… “The Penguin’s” courage in coming back to play in the 1981 World Series after a frightening beaning by Goose Gossage. Drug use during this period in baseball and society… Steve Howe’s abuse… many quotes regarding Dusty Baker’s use or allegations of use…
Through it all… Lasorda… motivating and leading… even if at times it seems cornball… he worshiped the “Big Dodger In The Sky”… and led the heart of the team from the time they were teenagers… till they were grown full-blown stars. Irreverent fun is made of Lasorda’s Hollywood hob-knobbing with the likes of Sinatra and Rickles and everyone in between. And mixed in to the Dodger-Blue-Circus are screwballs like Jay Johnstone and pitcher Jerry Reuss. Reuss… upon being introduced to Frank Sinatra said to Sinatra… “SORRY… I DIDN’T GET YOUR NAME.” And it seemed a unanimous team belief… that the absolute baddest ass on the team was Reggie Smith… as denoted by Reuss in this manner: “Jerry Reuss compared Smith to Reggie Jackson “IF YOU HAVE A REGGIE BAR IN NEW YORK, YOU OPEN IT UP AND IT TELLS YOU HOW GOOD IT IS,” he said. “IF YOU HAVE A REGGIE BAR HERE (L.A.) YOU OPEN IT UP AND IT PUNCHES YOU.”
Along with the Dodgers World Championship run… the two other main storylines… are the strike… and the inner fighting between the players is dissected in great detail… and of course the other main subject is the… once –in- a- baseball -lifetime… of the player who probably affected the popularity of baseball more than any player since Babe Ruth… and that’s the one and only FERNANDO VALENZUELA… the Rookie of the Year AND CY YOUNG AWARD WINNER who started off his 1981 season going 8-0 with seven complete games and five shutouts. His ERA on the season after eight games was 0.50! His absolutely unflappable game day performances were as amazing as his screwball… as he looked up towards heaven on each pitch. His bull-like perseverance regardless of pitch count will be remembered throughout the history of baseball.
As I promised earlier… I’d like to compliment the author… not just on the overall book… but the summation he comes to… and has the INTEGRITY to share with the reader. Despite his booing the Dodgers his whole life… and admittedly wearing demeaning Dodger shirts at games… his detailed research brought him to the conclusion (that he shares) as to… how well run the organization is… and what a remarkable… job… and place in history Tommy Lasorda has played.
NOTE 1: Historical and Statistical mistake: On page 148 the author in discussing Joe Ferguson states: (Ferguson) “”was an integral part of the 1973 World Series team. This is incorrect. The Dodgers were not in the 1973 World Series. They were in many World Series including the 1974 World Series… the 1977 World Series and the 1978 World Series.
NOTE 2: Historical and Statistical mistake. On page 235 the author states: “Joe Ferguson (whose 25 homers in 1973 set a Dodgers record for a catcher)” This is incorrect. I don’t know how the author came up with this… as Dodger Hall of Fame catcher Roy Campanella hit 31 home-runs in 1950… hit 33 home-runs in 1951… hit 41 home-runs in 1953… and hit 32 home-runs in 1955!
In closing… those mistakes do not take away from the quality of this book. I may not like the Mona Lisa’s smile… but I know the paintings worth a few bucks!
Amazon: They Bled Blue
Reviewer: Rick “Shaq” Goldstein