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Red Reporter Reviews: “Cincinnati Red and Dodger Blue: Baseball’s Greatest Forgotten Rivalry”

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Tom Van Riper’s new book gives us a trip down memory lane to look at one of the most competitive rivalries in baseball history.

86th MLB All-Star Game Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

Depending on the era that you became a Reds fan, the word “rivalry” can bring up two completely different meanings. If you are like me, who was born in the 1980’s and began following the team in the 1990’s, the team to hate would lie somewhere in Middle-America, such as in Chicago or St. Louis. However, if you’re a fan from the era of The Big Red Machine, your ire was directed all the way out to Los Angeles.

When you think of the hottest rivalries across Major League Baseball today, match-ups such as the Cardinals vs. Cubs and Yankees vs. Red Sox are the first ones that come to mind. But if you were alive and followed baseball during the 1970’s, the Cincinnati Reds vs. the Los Angeles Dodgers would be the first to cross your mind. Tom Van Riper, a long-time sports business writer for Forbes Magazine, brings us his new book titled “Cincinnati Red and Dodger Blue: Baseball’s Greatest Forgotten Rivalry” and gives us a very detailed look at one of the most competitive match-ups in baseball history.

While most rivalries are born out of proximity, such as the ones listed above, this one was born largely through the timing of divisional realignment. When the National League West was formed in 1969, the Reds and the Dodgers were two of the best teams in baseball. A look back at the numbers from that decade shows just how dominant those two teams were:

  • A stretch from 1972-1977 saw either a Red or a Dodger take home the NL MVP each year;
  • At least 5 members of the Reds or Dodgers were starters in the All-Star game in each season from 1974-1978;
  • Eight of the first nine years of the division saw these two teams finish first and second in the NL West;
  • And finally, eight of the first twelve years of the rivalry saw either the Reds or the Dodgers in the World Series.

Van Riper’s book takes the reader through the ins-and-outs of this rivalry, focusing on the 1973 season when the two teams were arguably at their peak, and gives an account of a late-September matchup that is so detailed that you might as well have been watching it on TV. He interviews players such as Ron Cey, Tommy John, and Claude Osteen and takes a dive into advanced statistics such as Wins Above Replacement (WAR) to look at which players were most valuable at the time, an evaluation tool that was unheard of during the time of the rivalry.

While the primary focus was on that 1973 season, the detail that Van Riper spends in describing the rivalry’s influence on the future of baseball is also appreciated. This rivalry saw Major League Baseball’s first free agent in Andy Messersmith, a managerial style from Reds’ manager Sparky Anderson that began to shape the way teams manage their bullpen today, a player in Bill Buckner who is still mostly remembered for one of the more infamous plays in World Series history, and Tommy John, the first recipient of an elbow surgery that has saved the careers of hundreds of pitchers since.

While this rivalry may not have had the longevity of some of the other well-known baseball rivalries, but a read-through of this book shows that it ranks up there with the best of them.