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Cincinnati Red and Dodger Blue: Baseball's Greatest Forgotten Rivalry Hardcover – April 13, 2017
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With a rich history that includes a storied rivalry with the San Francisco Giants and New York Yankees, author Tom Van Riper looked beyond traditional history to dive into the 1970s matchups between the Cincinnati Reds and Los Angeles Dodgers in Cincinnati Red and Dodger Blue: Baseball’s Greatest Forgotten Rivalry. (Dodger Blue)
[An] essential summer read if you’re a sucker for baseball history. (New York Post)
Reds fans will certainly enjoy Riper’s dissection of the subject and fully grasp the thesis of the book, articulated in his concluding statement about all the great talent on both teams: 'With that kind of talent supplementing a slew of Hall of Fame-calibre players and three Hall of Fame managers, you’ve got a rivalry for the ages –a rivalry that ought to be remembered more than it is.' (Spitball: The Literary Baseball Magazine)
About the Author
Tom Van Riper wrote about the business of sports for Forbes from 2005 to 2015. His body of work includes two cover stories for Forbes magazine which featured Major League Baseball player Matt Kemp and NFL coach Bill Parcells. Prior to Forbes, Tom covered the business beat for New York’s Daily News.
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The two teams combined for 9 division titles in the 1970’s, with the Giants in 1971 being the only other team to do so. The star players were numerous – Pete Rose, Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan and Tony Perez for the Reds, Steve Garvey, Ron Cey, Don Sutton and Bill Buckner for the Dodgers. The rivalry really took off in the 1973 season, when the two teams battled in a terrific pennant race, one in which the Reds made a big comeback in the second half of the season.
That the author concentrates on the 1973 season was part of what made the book not live up to the expectations for which I had hoped. There is plenty of information on the teams for that year, as well as some of the players for both sides. There are even multiple pages of information on the general managers (Al Campanis and Bob Howsman for the Dodgers and Reds respectively) and even the broadcasters (Vin Scully and a young Al Michaels). Therefore, if one wants to read about these two teams in the 1973 season, this is a very good source.
However, there is little information on the rivalry for subsequent years and that does a disservice to readers who remember how the rivalry sustained itself into the early 1980’s. There is very little mention of any players who appeared for the teams after 1973, such as Tom Seaver who was acquired by the Reds in a trade from the Mets in 1977. Also, the book shares very little interesting stories of the players as their write-ups are factual and statistical with few anecdotes. This format is fine for readers who wish to simply learn this aspect of the players but it lacks the comfort of making the reader feel like he or she is talking to that player. Also, like many other books with a narrow topic, this one will venture off into unrelated topics such as sabermetrics. However, many of these do help the reader get a complete picture of that snapshot of this rivalry.
Overall, this book does get a passing grade for the sheer volume of information written about these two great teams from that decade. However, the very factual style of writing makes it a slow read at times and more of a task than a simple pleasurable read. Baseball historians and fans of one of these teams will enjoy the book and will want to pick up a copy.
I wish to thank Rowman & Littlefield Publishers for providing a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.
(Note: rated 3 1/2 stars, rounded up to four for this site's review)
Author Tom Van Riper goes back in time in Cincinnati Red and Dodger Blue, revisiting the rivalry of these 1970s powerhouses, taking a particularly close look at a game in late September when the Reds visited Dodger Stadium. Cincinnati won that game in extra innings, and refused to relinquish first place the rest of the year. Van Riper spotlights all of the major names from each team: the Hall of Famers (Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan, Tony Perez, Don Sutton), the superstars (Pete Rose, Steve Garvey, Ron Cey), the executives (Al Campanis and Bob Howsam), and even the announcers (Vin Scully and Al Michaels).
Van Riper also touches on some of the off-the-field history revolving around these teams, including the surgery named after Los Angeles pitcher Tommy John, the free agency fiasco involving Andy Messersmith, and the late-‘80s gambling woes of the Hit King.
Covering so many players from two teams, Van Riper is unable to go into much depth in this relatively short volume, just over 200 pages. As such, some of the anecdotes seem disjointed and forced, even if they are relevant to the rivalry. There are better historical accounts of the Big Red Machine out there, and I’m sure the ‘70s Dodgers have had similar superior treatments as well. Cincinnati Red and Dodger Blue is a good primer on both teams, but I would not consider it a must-have if your library already boasts other Cincinnati or Los Angeles team histories.