Day 2 of (at least) 30 baseball book reviews in 2021: Questioning a not-so-trivial pursuit of Dodger history, albeit a bit trifling in finding an answer


“The Ultimate Los Angeles Dodgers Trivia Book: A Collection of Amazing Trivia Quizzes and Fun Facts for Die-Hard Dodgers Fans!”

The author:
Ray Walker

The publishing info:
HRP House
163 pages
$9.85
Released October 4, 2020

The links:
At Powells.com
At Vromans.com
At The Last Book Store in L.A.
At PagesABookstore.com
At Amazon.com
At BarnesAndNoble.com
At Bookshop.org
At Indiebound.org

The review in 90 feet or less

Question: You’ve been settling in to watch an exhibition baseball game from Arizona, where you know fans paid three-times face value for social-distanced seating and half of them from the center-field camera shot on home plate are still just looking at their phones, and then finding out these “games” might end after five innings, or seven innings, or after two outs in an inning … does that make the overall viewing experience from afar seem terrific, tolerable, terrifying or trivial?

There is no “none of the above” option. But if you’ve got one, we’ll listen.

All of which brings up today’s trivia question (in our best Ross Porter voice): In 2020, during that abbreviated 60-game schedule, the Dodgers won a league-best 43 games. They did so using 21 pitchers. Of that group, only one hurler won more than three games. Who was it and how many did he win?

The correct response is below, somewhere, so keep aimlessly scrolling.

Next query: Is that the sort of question you’d hope to find in the newest Dodgers’ book of trivial history?

No. As a matter of fact, we pulled that from an essay highlighting the quirkiness of the 2020 season in the 2021 Bill James Handbook. Even knowing that many find pitching victories the most trivial of any standard stat used by James or anyone else in baseball parlance.

So if we were to extract an actual question from this particular book in question — let’s go to Chapter 1, Page 3:
The Dodgers have won numerous NL pennants and World Series in their illustrious history. How many World Series championship have they won, to be exact?
a. 4
b. 6
c. 9
d. 12

To be exact? None of the above.

At the time this book was published in late November of 2020, the answer was six — 1955, 1959, 1963, 1965, 1981 and 1988. Now, it’s seven. Get off the meth. Do the math. Wear the jacket straight.

Seeking out an interesting and entertaining way to learn a team’s history based facts, data, trends, and all other quirkiness, there’s the balance to find what might best satisfy both the novice trying to be enlightened as well as the seasoned historians looking for a test their resolve. We’ve seen odds and ends over the decades attempt this temptation. Many fall short, because they didn’t invest the time to get the right balance, or seemed too loaded down with editing mistakes to trust their credibility.

Jon Weisman’s “100 Things Dodgers Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die” (Triumph Books, 320 pages, last updated in 2013, and it would be fantastic to have another refresh) has by far done the most credible, dependable and curiosity-seeking work in the last decade, trying to collate and prioritize team history, blending in some off-beat fun in between to achieve the purpose. Its intent is not to be formatted as a quiz, however, but as a better way to consume team history and make it more memorable when those pop quizzes or other opportunities during a game-watch come up and provide a few minutes to show off what you know.

Plus, from what we hear, no one wants to die stupidly, either.

“The Dodgers Trivia Book,” a 1993 entry from St. Martin Press  composed by a very noteworthy team of historians David S. Neft, Bob Carroll and Richard M. Cohen), has somewhat stood a test of time as a test challenge, but really is in need of a refresh. This was before the time of Internet searches, and these types of books might often mirror a team media guide, used often by those in the business to reference on deadline writing and often wasn’t available to the public. The format for this is quiet extensive: After about 50 pages of team history – followed by 100 questions to test your knowledge on the material — there are word search and crossword puzzles, finishing off with all sorts of team historical record lists and an up-to-date roster of everyone who ever wore the jersey.

While we’re waiting for a reboot, we’ve found this “Ultimate” try to stay engaged and keep our gray matter in working condition. There has to be something better than a rag-tag, mass-produced, independently published, problematically edited and artificially fortified.

It isn’t so much this one we came across from October of 2020.

Someone under the name Ray Walker performed a somewhat prolific publishing dump – nearly four dozen “Ultimate (Fill In the Team Name) Trivia Book” titles based on the pick-and-choose history of various MLB, NFL, NBA and NHL teams. The publishing company is one we aren’t even sure how to locate so we can’t even give you a link to it. The “author” website is something less vague — https://raywalkermedia.com – but even less helpful.

In this collection, the Dodgers are included, but the Angels aren’t. The Lakers and Kings are in the series, but the Clippers, Rams, Chargers or Ducks are not. All paper-bound books go for less than $10. Less than a buck for a Kindle Edition.

Here is 15 chapters with 20 questions each, followed up each time with a list of somewhat interesting tidbits that seemed to be left on the cutting room floor. Which is too bad. Most of the better stuff was pushed to the outer reaches.

How it goes in the scorebook

A 2-1-8 put-down.

Which may make no sense, but in our scorebook, we were correct on 218 of the 300 questions here, or just less than 75 percent.

Did we feel any smarter? Not so much.

Too much of it was trying to re-remember our old SAT test-taking skills — eliminating as many that were obviously wrong (too often, that was too easy) and then guessing correctly by rotating where the choices fell in the list. If we took it a second time, it could have easily been less than 200 correct, or up to maybe 230, based on coin flips predicated on the superficial knowledge of obscure numbers or dates that, if actually stored in our data bank, would have rendered us exhausted.

There is far too many randomness here, resulting in too much guessing, which is hardly satisfying.

Yet as for the information Watson threw at the end of some chapters, we were surprised to find out stuff like:

== Don Sutton had 1,354 career at bats without a home run.

== Sutton threw nine scoreless innings in a game without earning a decision seven times in his career. Think about that one: He finished tied with Nolan Ryan on the all-time win list with 324, 14th all-time. Give Sutton just six more wins there, and 330 ranks at No. 11, ahead of Steve Carlton. And with six more shutouts, he goes from 58 (10th all-time) to 64 (one more than Warren Spahn, and sixth all time on the list). If only Sutton could have hit a solo-homer in any of those games …

== Wee Willie Keeler’s birth name is William Henry O’Kelleher Jr.

== Dazzy Vance never won a title with the Dodgers, but was to the Cardinals and won a World Series with them in 1934. That would have put him on a a roster that included Dizzy and Daffy Dean, Spud Davis, Pepper Martin, Ripper Collins, Kiddo Davis and Ducky Medwick. We can’t name that roster in one or two notes, but we like to hum a few verses.

Ultimately, an “ultimate” collection of trivia (does a book do it justice, with all the multi-media available now that’s far more engaging?) should do more than just try to stump the reader with esoteric questions that no one in their right mind even knows – including the author if asked about it years later.

See if you can create a possible question with a little limited research and achieve the goal, as we try here:

Q: On the Dodgers’ list of season-by-season home run leaders, which player showed up at least once led or in sole ownership of the team title:
a) Casey Stengel
b) Goody Rosen
c) Candy LaChance
d) Hi Myers
e) Babe Phelps
f) John Roseboro
g) Len Gabrielson
h) Billy Grabarkwitz
i) Dick Allen
j) Frank Robinson
k) Davey Lopes
l) Franklin Stubbs
m) Kal Daniels
Answer: All of them.

We weren’t trying to trick you other than find some amusement. But at least that gives one a reason to wonder further:

== When, how and why did Casey Stengel play for the Dodgers? And then manage them?
== The Dodgers had a Babe Phelps on their roster (an all-star catcher) at a time when Babe Ruth was a coach? Oh, baby. Where was Babe Herman then?
== How could Gabrielson hit only 10 homers in ’68, in just 343 at bats over 108 games, and still lead the team that had a roster of Willie Davis, Rocky Colavito, Ken Boyer, Ron Farily and even Don Drysdale?
(Well, because it was 1968 … and even Don Drysdale was 14-12 despite a 2.15 ERA and eight shutouts during his consecutive game scoreless streak. Don Sutton was 11-15 with a 2.60 ERA, while Bill Singer was 13-17 with a 2.88 ERA and six shutouts. Drysdale, who hit 29 career homers in 1,309 at bats with a .186 career average, actually hit seven homers with 19 RBIs during a .300 season in 1965. But in ’68, he hit nary a long ball.)

For what it’s worth

Sometimes, we trust reader reviews posted (and verified) on Amazon.com. For this book, 65 reader reviews gave it an overall grade of four-and-a-half out of five stars. The lone one-star review is one we felt was more accurate:

I picked this up thinking it might be a fun evening’s entertainment for my wife and I. We got about a third of the way through and had to stop. The writing is awful and often flawed, several questions have answers that don’t match up even to their question options, several MORE questions begin with misleading and unrelated anecdotes, and some of the stats — which are easily verifiable in this day and age! — are just plain wrong.
“For example, a question about Mike Piazza’s tenure asks for Piazza’s average “BA and home run” totals during his time with the Dodgers, then lists the answer as .300 and 33 home runs per season. I knew immediately this was wrong. It took me thirty seconds to check this on Baseball Reference. The actual answers? .331 and 29 (or .337 and 33, if you only want to count full seasons, but that wasn’t in the question now, was it?).
“Another refers to ‘former LA slugger Andre Dawson’ in a famous and easily verifiable anecdote about a Vin Scully quote. Andre Dawson spent exactly 0 days as a Los Angeles Dodger ….
“A question that is introduced by talking about the 10-year Battle of Chavez Ravine — a legal battle over eminent domain that cost thousands of LA residents their homes so the city could sell the land to the Dodgers to become Dodger Stadium — turns out to be about the size of the concrete blocks used to build Dodger Stadium.
“And these are just the most egregious examples of misquotes, miscalculations, misinformation, and just plain bad writing that lacks necessary punctuation and regularly frames questions using anecdotes that don’t match up with the topic of the question itself.
“Get this man an editor before he hurts himself.”

As for that earlier quiz answer:

Clayton Kershaw (who appears to be the illustration on the cover of this book) had a team-best 6 wins in 2020. Nine other Dodgers pitchers won exactly three games – Julio Urias, Victor Gonzales, Adam Kolarek and Dylan Floro (each 3-0), Dustin May, Jake McGee, Ross Stripling and Kenley Jansen (each 3-1) plus Blake Treinen (3-3).
Add to that: Of the Dodgers’ 13 playoff wins (out of 18 total games), Kershaw won another four (against one loss). Urias was 4-0, plus a save in the World Series clincher.
Our trivia question for that Game 6 triumph: Who was the Dodgers’ winning pitcher?
Victor Gonzalez, who struck out three of the four hitters he faced over the seventh and eighth innings.

One more trivia question we came up with ourselves

In 2018 — a season when the Dodgers played 163 games, and won 93 – only one pitcher finished in double-figure victories. Who was it and how many?
Answer: Rich Hill, 11. Even then, the 38-year-old had to go 5-0 in the last month of the season and didn’t pick up wins No. 10 (on Sept. 22) or No. 11 (on Sept. 30) until after team’s 154th game of the season. The others closest to double-digit wins: 9 by Kershaw (fighting injuries) and Alex Wood, 8 by Walker Buehler, Kenta Maeda and Ross Stripling, and 7 by Hyun Jin Ryu and Caleb Ferguson.

Some real, honest history/trivia

We asked Dodgers team historian Mark Langill to give us his favorite pieces of team trivia that he’s collected over the years.

Langill, author of “Los Angeles Dodgers,” “Dodger Stadium” and “Dodgertown” as part of the Arcadia Press’ Images of Baseball series, and also co-auhtor of “Lost in the Sun: Roy Gleason’s Odyssey from the Outfield to the Battlefield,” had these to offer up with his fungo bat:

== In the summer of 1968, a Michigan State student took a summer school class conducted by a student teacher. And six years later, that student and the doctoral candidate were teammates in Los Angeles as the NL’s MVP and Cy Young Award recipients. Who were they?
== In the summer of 1958, Vin Scully interviewed Jack Norworth on the pregame show at the Coliseum and learned there was both a chorus and verse to a famous song. What song?
== In his first week as a Dodger, infielder Jerry Royster was invited to a backyard BBQ in Atlanta by Braves outfielder Dusty Baker. They were both from the Sacramento area. What was the purpose of the gathering?

Answers:
== Steve Garvey took a class taught by Mike Marshall.
== Norworth, a song-and-dance man from Philadelphia, wrote “Take Me Out To The Ballgame” in 1908 with Albert Von Tilzer and the additional chorus and verse focused on a fan named Katie Casey who demanded her beau take her to a baseball game instead of going out to a show. The first verse was included and sung by Frank Sinatra and Gene Kelly in the 1949 movie, “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.” Norworth, who also co-wrote “Shine On Harvest Moon,” was 80 years old in ’59 when he was interviewed by Scully. Norworth died in September of that year in Laguna Beach and is interred in Melrose Abbey Memorial Park in Anaheim not far from Angel Stadium.
== The purpose of the BBQ was to distract Baker’s teammate, Hank Aaron. Before the Dodgers and Braves were to open a three-game series in April, 1974, the teams know there would be a FBI briefing as Aaron was facing death threats as he closed in on Babe Ruth’s all-time career home-run record. Baker threw that gathering for Aaron to have a peaceful afternoon with friends.

Also for what it’s worth, Langill says he considers it a personal treat when he’s able to dig through old issues of The Sporting News to answer odd questions he uncovers during history searches.

Such as: To start the 1967 season — the year after Sandy Koufax’s retirement — the defending NL champion Dodgers’ pitching staff included Don Drysdale, Claude Osteen and Don Sutton. But why of all people did Bob Miller end up getting the Opening Day start on the mound at Cincinnati?

(Perhaps they’ll be asking the same about how Dustin May was the Dodgers’ Opening Day starter in their 2020 World Series season).

Langill produced a copy of the April 22, 1967 Sporting News where writer Bob Hunter explained Dodgers manager Walter Alston decided that Miller was “the best pitcher in camp since the very first day.” But there was a bit of a quirk: This was when MLB tradition allowed the Reds to have the first official game of the season, falling on April 10. Four days later, the Dodgers’ season continued with a road trip in St. Louis and Atlanta. Miller was the losing pitcher in a 6-1 decision at Cincinnati (4 innings, 3 ER, 7 hits, giving up homers to Vada Pinson and Deron Johnson in the first inning among the first four hitters.

Osteen, Sutton and Drysdale also lost their first starts for the 0-4 Dodgers.

Miller only made four starts that season, finishing 2-9 with a 4.31 ERA. His spot in the rotation eventually went to Bill Singer, while Miller was back in the bullpen with Jim Brewer, Phil Regan and Ron Perranowski. The Dodgers’ 73-89 record was eighth in the NL.

From the Dodgers more recent history

== The Turner brand 2021 desk calendar of Dodgers trivia ($15.99)
== “True Blue: The Los Angeles Dodgers’ Unforgettable 2020 World Series Season,” by the staff of the Los Angeles Daily News, released Nov. 10, 2020.
== “Dodgers: 2020 World Series Champions,” by the staff of the Los Angeles Times, released Nov. 6, 2020
== “Los Angeles Dodgers 2021: A Baseball Companion,” by the Baseball Prospectus, $11.99, to be released March 30, 2021

1 thought on “Day 2 of (at least) 30 baseball book reviews in 2021: Questioning a not-so-trivial pursuit of Dodger history, albeit a bit trifling in finding an answer”

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