Andy McCue has devoted a good chunk of his life to working on a biography of one of baseball's most important, and perhaps, most divisive figures, Walter O'Malley. His book, Mover and Shaker: Walter O'Malley, the Dodgers, and Baseball's Westward Expansion, came out from the University of Nebraska Press on May 1, although it was available in April in Kindle format, which is how I read it while vacationing in Denmark (where Dodger games were not blacked out on MLB.tv.)
The most important difference between McCue's book and Michael D'Antonio's Forever Blue: The True Story of Walter O'Malley (2009, Riverhead) is that McCue's work did not receive any cooperation from the O'Malley family, while D'Antonio received the family's imprimatur.
A good chunk of the book, as you would expect, covers the Dodgers move from Brooklyn to Los Angeles, which ends up telling you a lot about the political culture in New York in the 1950s and how politics in Los Angeles and California has always been, for lack of a better phrase, somewhat confusing.
Since I'm a friend of Andy's and listed in the acknowledgments, I don't feel right in doing a review of the book, but I will link you to Paul Dickson's review of the book in the Wall Street Journal.
I did email Andy some questions I had about the book and O'Malley, which I can share here.
Q. How long have you been working on this book?
A. Off and on, mostly off, for 20 years, much more intensively the last three or so years.
Q. How much has your impression of O'Malley changed during the process of writing this book?
A. I gained a lot more respect for his ability to manage people and organizations, but I also found some situations where I thought he hadn't shown the flexibility the situation called for. All of this, of course, is the benefit of hindsight. I also came to a much greater appreciation of his concern for his family and the future of the asset he was handing on to them.
Q. Has any other baseball owner had as divergent opinions held of him as O'Malley? Perhaps George Steinbrenner?
A. In modern times, probably only George. I think Steinbrenner's rehabilitation came after his death. Before that, my impression from California was that he was pretty roundly held in contempt except for the NY fans who were willing to focus only on his willingness to spend money. I think many owners in the early days, when they were in the grandstands every day, had much closer relationships with the fans. And, depending on how the team was going that could change. I certainly saw plenty of evidence that Charles Ebbets didn't lack for verbal battles with unappreciative fans.
Q. Would O'Malley be surprised at how much the Dodgers sold for when
the Guggenheim group bought them?
A. Probably, yes. If you'd asked him a little before his death, I think he would have been astounded. But, had he lived, he would have kept track of the value of baseball franchises and wouldn't have been all that surprised depending on how his attitude toward television had evolved.
Q. What would O'Malley think of the Dodgers television situation now?
Would it worry him now that it is harder for people to see his team on
TV or would he be happier since he is getting far more TV revenue than
he ever imagined could exist?
A. I think he would be much more flexible than we're seeing now. The current situation is being portrayed as Time Warner fighting with the other cable and satellite providers. I think O'Malley would have recognized that the real chain is taking money from the fan and transmitting it through the TV people to the Dodgers. There are no virgins in this debate. Thus, the Dodgers might be able to resolve the current impasse by being willing to accept less money from TWC (at least in the short term) or from other providers. From the vibrations I'm picking up, the fans don't seem upset enough to move the non-TWC providers to pay more. We certainly hear from the upset hardcore, but there's a lot of silence out there as well.
Q. Would O'Malley have gotten along with Frank McCourt?
A. I don't think so. O'Malley's whole business philosophy was building a long-term asset for his family. He did this be creating an organization which could deliver a reasonably priced, competitive product to his fans. McCourt's business philosophy appears to have been getting as much money out of the franchise as quickly as possible. Without the fortuitous timing of the cable TV deal, the franchise might have sold for less than he paid for it.