The True Story of Walter O’Malley, Baseball’s Most Controversial Owner, and the Dodgers of Brooklyn and Los Angeles
Published: March 19, 2009
From the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist comes a revealing biography of “one of the most polarizing figures in baseball history” (The New York Times).
If ever there was a figure who changed the game of baseball, it was Walter O’Malley, owner of the Dodgers. O’Malley was one of the most controversial owners in the history of American sports, altering the course of history when he uprooted the Dodgers and transplanted them from Brooklyn to Los Angeles. While many critics attacked him, O’Malley looked to the future, declining to defend his stance. As a result, fans across the nation have never been able to stop arguing about him and his strategy–until now. Michael D’Antonio’s Forever Blue is a uniquely intimate portrait of a man who changed America’s pastime forever, a fascinating story fundamental to the history of sports, business, and the American West.
Michael D’Antonio’s newest book, A Full Cup: Sir Thomas Lipton’s Extraordinary Life and His Quest for America’s Cup, is now available from Riverhead Books.
Hardball Times Book Review: Forever Blue
by Brian Borawski
May 13, 2009
Few teams have as rich of a history as the Dodgers, whether in Brooklyn or in Los Angeles. From 1947 through 1966, the Dodgers won 10 pennants and four World Series and they did both on the east coast and the west coast. The Dodgers are the team that finally broke the color barrier when Jackie Robinson made his debut in 1947, and the Dodgers joined the San Francisco Giants to introduce major league baseball to the state of California. All of these things, and more, happened on Walter O’Malley’s watch and are documented in Forever Blue, by Michael D’Antonio. O’Malley is also a very polarizing figure because on the one hand, he’s credited with bringing baseball to the west coast, and on the other hand, he uprooted a beloved team from the borough of Brooklyn.
An established author, D’Antonio’s work prior to Forever Blue includes a biography of Milton S. Hershey (think chocolate) as well as the State Boys Rebellion, a documentary on a 1957 incident that took place at a state institution for mentally handicapped children. This is his first foray into baseball, but he has a Pulitzer Prize on his resume and that’s where D’Antonio stands out. While he may have had to do his homework in researching O’Malley, his writing style is excellent. In order to write the book, he talked to a number of people affiliated with the Dodgers, including former Dodgers general manager Buzzie Bavasi, who he said always wore a suit to their interviews, and former Dodger pitcher Johnny Podres. He was also given access to the family archives by Walter O’Malley’s children, Peter O’Malley and Terry Seidler.
Entire Review: http://www.hardballtimes.com/main/article/bob-book-review-forever-blue/
Praise and a Starred Review from Booklist for Forever Blue:
“…a wonderfully readable, insightful and — for anyone
interested in baseball history — important biography…”
New York writer Jack Newfield called Walter O’Malley one of the three worst people who ever lived. The others were Hitler and Stalin. O’Malley’s transgression? He moved Brooklyn’s beloved Dodgers across the country to Los Angeles after the 1957 season.
D’Antonio was accorded unprecedented access to more than 30,000 documents previously unreleased by O’Malley’s heirs. Additionally he conducted hundreds of interviews with O’Malley’s family and associates, many who spoke about O’Malley for the first time. The O’Malley he reveals here is neither hero not villain — sorry Mr. Newfield — but rather an extraordinarily astute businessman and baseball visionary. After working for the Dodgers for years O’Mallley was able to buy the team but at unfavorable terms due to a struggle for control with another potential owner. He had no animus toward Brooklyn: the move to Los Angeles was his best business option. He also opened the door to baseball’s expansion from the strictly east-of-the-Mississippi endeavor to a coast-to-coast enterprise. There are also revealing personal insights. For example, O’Malley’s wife essentially lost her ability to speak during their courtship. He never wavered in his devotion, and she communicated for the rest of her life through notes, facial expressions and slight whispers.
This is a wonderfully readable, insightful and — for anyone interested in baseball history — important biography of the man who forever changed the course of the game in America. — Wes Lukowsky
Praise for Forever Blue from Library Journal:
This detailed analysis of Walter O’Malley and his financial affairs, based on newly available documentation, does much to dispel myths about the man who moved the Dodgers. D’Antonio provides objective context for O’Malley’s era-transforming decision to move the Bums to California, situating the story within that of broader trends in American migrations west. A splendid account enriched with anecdotes; recommended for all public libraries, especially those near any past or present Dodger dugout.
Forever Blue is “first rate cultural history” according to Kirkus.
From Kirkus Reviews 12/17/2008:
In this revisionist version of the Dodgers’ exodus from Brooklyn to Los Angeles, viewed by many as a journey from Eden to Sodom, the Prime Mover emerges as less like Satan and more like Moses—visionary, flawed and ultimately justified. D’Antonio, who has written on aspects of cultural history from chocolate bars (Hershey, 2006) to spirituality (Heaven on Earth, 1992), enjoyed unlimited access to the huge archive of Walter O’Malley’s papers and has extracted numerous goodies. None, however, is more revealing then what must now be considered unquestionable fact. O’Malley (1903–79) labored assiduously to keep the Dodgers in Brooklyn, but was stymied at every juncture by Robert Moses, New York’s de facto czar of construction.
D’Antonio interviewed myriad surviving participants in the story, players included, to uncover other uncomfortable facts. Even during the Dodgers’ late-40s/early-50s glory years, attendance at Ebbets Field was declining for many reasons: lack of parking, white flight to the suburbs, the rise of television. Meanwhile, large cities across the country craved major-league baseball franchises. Los Angeles and San Francisco were respectively courting the Dodgers and Giants, though Milwaukee scooped them both by acquiring the Braves from Boston. When O’Malley saw LA’s offer, and realized that there was slim hope for help in Brooklyn, he decamped and transferred the franchise to the West Coast. There, as the author notes, it has flourished spectacularly in one of baseball’s greatest stadiums.
D’Antonio spices his forays into baseball business with plenty of baseball folklore. There are several pages on Bobby Thompson’s mythic home run, many on the advent and reign of Jackie Robinson. He sometimes has difficulty with balance, offering only a few swift sentences on Roy Campanella’s career-ending accident, for example. Readers may also wish for more about O’Malley’s private life. We see the franchise owner as a consummate politician, a true mover-and-shaker, but we get few glimpses of his Dodger-blue soul. First-rate cultural history from a writer who touches almost all the bases.
Publisher’s Weekly says Forever Blue is: “…a well-rounded portrayal of one of the most polarizing figures in baseball history.”
From the Dec. 22, 2008 edition:
Although Walter O’Malley has been dead for nearly 30 years, D’Antonio’s latest work is perhaps the most meticulously detailed and comprehensive account to date of the former owner of the Brooklyn and Los Angeles Dodgers. Through research in O’Malley’s letters, documents and myriad interviews with those close to him, D’Antonio (Tin Cup Dreams) presents a well-rounded portrayal of one of the most polarizing figures in baseball history: one New York writer referred to O’Malley as “one of the three worst human beings who ever lived,” while a Los Angeles journalist described O’Malley as a man who “did more for baseball than any commissioner.” D’Antonio paints the whole picture, starting with O’Malley’s early days as a lawyer who originally began working with the club in a “troubleshooting” capacity, to taking total control of ownership in 1950. During O’Malley’s tenure with the Dodgers, the team had some of its most famous moments in history—the debut of Jackie Robinson, the club’s first World Series title in 1955 and, of course, the team’s infamous move to Los Angeles. D’Antonio explores everything—O’Malley’s business dealings, his personal relationships with Robinson and Branch Rickey, the on-the-field fortunes of the Dodgers. With D’Antonio’s access to O’Malley’s most personal documents, even baseball historians will find something to learn.