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Devoted to the Dodgers: ‘Wait Till Next Year’ Book Review

by | November 8, 2023 | Baseball, Books & Literature

Doris Kearns Goodwin, Wait Till Next Year: A Memoir. First published by Simon & Schuster, October 1, 1997.

Why does someone become a historian? In the case of Doris Kearns Goodwin, she credits her close-knit family and neighborhood, her love of books, some excellent teachers—and baseball.

In this warm and heartfelt memoir, she describes her near-idyllic childhood in suburban Rockville Centre on Long Island in New York. The neighborhood was like one big family that enlarged her world. “For the lives within these homes, the stories of each family, formed a body of common lore through which I could expand the compass and vividness of my own life.”

Wait Till Next Year book jacket

Books expanded her world even more. “The books I read filled my imagination, multiplying my daydreams, allowing me to supplement my own collection of stories, previously drawn mostly from my family and my neighbors, with characters and events far removed from the realities of Southard Avenue and Rockville Centre.”

From the time she was a little girl, Doris was a devoted Dodgers fan like her father, who had grown up in Brooklyn, two blocks away from Ebbets Field, the Dodgers’ ballpark. By 1949, when she was six years old, she learned how to keep a detailed scorecard, and she kept one for every game as she listened to it on the radio. She enjoyed visualizing the games and loved listening to her father’s stories of great players of the past.

When she was in the third grade, her parents took to her to Franklin Roosevelt’s home in Hyde Park. There she was fascinated by the details of FDR’s life.

“I realized that day I could play an inner game with history just as I did with baseball. If I closed my eyes I could visualize Roosevelt in his room with [his dog] Fala, just as, when I listened to the stories my father told, I could see the great players of the past—Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig and Zack Wheat—knock the mud from their cleats, settle into the batter’s box, narrow their eyes on the pitcher, and unleash their majestic swings.”

Doris’s childhood coincided with the golden age of New York baseball, when all three New York teams usually had good seasons and vied for championships. Her neighborhood was filled with fans of all three teams, many as obsessed as Doris. With the innocence of childhood, she believed that she had a personal connection with the Dodgers and could sometimes even influence their play. After she asked rookie pitcher Clem Labine for his autograph while other fans were ignoring him, he won three games in a row. When Gil Hodges was in a hitting slump, she gave him a St. Christopher medal and he promptly ended his slump. 

But such passionate devotion to the Dodgers also meant that her heart was often broken. After all, the title of the book is the classic lament of Dodgers fans of the era: “Wait till next year.” Her worst baseball day, she writes, occurred when Bobby Thomson of the Giants hit his famous “shot heard ‘round the world” home run to beat the Dodgers for the 1951 National League pennant. She couldn’t bring herself to complete her scorecard for that game.

Ebbets Field Brooklyn NY postcard

Ebbets Field, Brooklyn, New York. Postcard published by Acacia Card Company, approximately 1930–1945. (Boston Public Library, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

If the 1951 season ended in the worst way possible, the 1955 season was the best, as the Dodgers finally won their first World Series championship by beating the mighty Yankees. The joy for Doris and all the other Dodgers fans was short-lived, though, as the Dodgers left Brooklyn for Los Angeles after the 1957 season. Doris gave up on the Dodgers and turned her attention away from baseball for a while, until she attended a Boston Red Sox game while she was at Harvard working on her Ph.D. in history.

She was enamored with baseball once again. 

“Addiction or obsession, love or need, I was born a baseball fan and a baseball fan I was fated to remain. Nor could I have found a team more reminiscent of the Brooklyn Dodgers than my new team, the Boston Red Sox. Perpetual bridesmaids, exciters of hope and destroyers of dreams, the Red Sox often seem like Flatbush North.”

(Of course, she wrote this in 1997, when the Red Sox were still stuck in one of the longest championship droughts in baseball. Soon after that, the Red Sox became one of baseball’s elite teams, winning four World Series championships in the first two decades of the 21st century.)

I really enjoyed this book and read it in one sitting. Doris Kearns Goodwin is an excellent storyteller. She’s told a great story here filled with nostalgia about her 1950s childhood. In her case, the story is specifically about being a girl who’s crazy about the Brooklyn Dodgers, so if you’re a Dodgers fan, you’ll especially enjoy it. But I think you’d like it even if you have no interest in baseball, because, even leaving aside the baseball aspect, it’s an engaging story about growing up in America.

Copyright © Brian Lokker 2023.

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