Little did I know the role the Dodgers would play in our lives when I married Keith. I heard the stories when were were dating about growing up on the same street with his all time favorite Dodger, Ron Fairley (apparently he would use a bucket of golf balls for batting practice) and two other Dodgers, playing ball on the street with their kids and, sometimes, the players themselves. I assumed that was the past. After we married, we moved to Los Angeles and I learned that life changes when the Dodgers play. In the early years, Keith couldn’t understand why my satisfaction with life didn’t float with the Dodger win/loss record. I didn’t understand why we had to get to a game before the third inning and stay after the stretch, it only took me four innings to eat my hot dog and drink my beer. Quickly, we came to a compromise, I would go with him to Dodger games and he would accompany me to concerts at the Hollywood Bowl. This post-season looked liked it would provide Keith with an emotional high, but it wasn’t to be. As part of his long goodbye to the Dodger 2009 season, Keith agreed to write this post:
Fall is my favorite time of the year. It is a combination of the weather finally (if temporarily) cooling down, fires once again being lit in our fireplace, and Kim cooking warm and hearty food for dinner. OK, while all those things are great, the best part of the fall is the World Series. As a life-long Dodgers’ fan, I am disappointed that they didn’t make it all the way, but I take some measure of comfort that they only lost because Philadelphia had a better team who played up to their potential. However, I grew up the son of a Brooklyn Dodger fan so I was looking for a great baseball book to dull the pain of the Dodger’s loss.
My wife’s suggestion was to check out The Entitled by Frank Deford. Deford, of National Public Radio and Sports Illustrated fame, writes a fast moving, engaging novel of a baseball manager who finally gets his chance to coach in the big leagues. The manager, Howie Traveler, had spent his entire life playing, watching, thinking about and talking baseball. From a baseball “prospect,” to an “all most, a fill in, a “tweener,” Howie was destined to never make it as a player because he was cursed with being a right handed batter who lacked power. After spending years in the minors, he only spent 8 days in the majors. Howie’s love for the game transcended his limited abilities as a player. He just loved being around the diamond and was always accepted as a “baseball man.”
It was fairly easy for Howie to become a minor league manager, but his life’s dream was to manage in the big leagues. His problem was that he had spent too much time as a player and then as a minor league coach, and the major league teams were unlikely to give an older guy a first chance to coach in the bigs. No big league executive wants to look like an idiot by hiring a minor league manager that everyone has passed over. Eventually though, Howie is able to navigate through these problems and he gets the opportunity to manage the Cleveland Indians. And manage he did, to the surprise of his own players and the team’s senior management. Howie’s immediate success is partly credited with his ability to get along with the team’s star, Jay Alcazar. However, after a year of hitting the ball well, Jay and the team struggles the next year and Howie is on the verge of losing his job when Howie has the bad luck and the good luck of being a witness to a possible crime by one of his star players. Deford does a nice job of weaving Howie’s close yet distant relationship with his daughter with the crisis, and shows how Howie’s daughter pragmatically helped Howie make some critically important decisions that will impact his career, his relationship with the team and the star player’s future.
The reason the book is such a great read is the effortless way that Deford shows us Howie’s ability to talk and understand his players, the personal sacrifices that Howie makes in order to play baseball, and later to be one of the elite managers, and the importance to Howie of his own integrity. Baseball is the love of his life, but ultimately he is not willing to sacrifice his integrity even for the game.