Confessions from Left Field:
A Baseball Pilgrimage
By Raymond Mungo
New York: E.P. Dutton 1983

I wanted to like this book, I really did. I was thinking about buying it for about 10 years, and then I finally did. (It’s long out of print; I got it from R. Plapinger.) Raymond Mungo was a wee little fellow who, back in the sixties, ran Liberation News Service – a sort of Associated Press for leftists. LNS stories were picked up by campus newspapers and the underground press that flourished for a few years at the end of the decade. I knew some people in the underground press who were friends of Ray Mungo, but I never met him. There’s a TV show called Everybody Loves Raymond; well, in those days everybody loved Raymond, the cute spunky little radical. But this book Confessions from Left Field was published in 1983, when all that remained of the Revolution was a few fading embers.
Confessions has enough interesting material for a good magazine article. There’s an encounter with former Yippie Jerry Rubin, who has sold out and become a stockbroker. You might remember our review of Dock Ellis’s book last issue, which told how Dock pitched a no-hitter on LSD? Well, Mungo relates same the tale as a rumor about an unnamed Pirate pitcher (Ellis hadn’t gone public yet.) Interestingly enough, every single detail is different.
Many West Coast fans have a pathological hatred of the LA Dodgers (similar to Yankee-hatred). Mungo, writing from the West Coast, combines Dodger-hatred with leftist politics to tell the tale of the Mexican families who were kicked out of Chavez Ravine so that Walter O’Malley’s Dodger Stadium could be built. He says that "perhaps 250 families" were displaced by "O’Malley and the bulldozers". Well, an account that we read last year said that most of the eminent domain land-taking was done for a Federal housing project. The local voters defeated the project, but the land had already been cleared before the Dodgers got there. You can believe which version you choose.
It’s a quick read, and it moves right along, but a lot of the book is self-involved and doesn’t leave the reader with much. I get the feeling that Mungo padded out a magazine article to reach 169 pages and make a book so that he could get enough money to buy food. Seriously -- the guy was living in abandoned houses and other people’s apartments. This may be romantic when you’re 20, but when you’re 35 – as Mungo was at the time – it isn’t so romantic.
As for the baseball parts, they’re pretty thin. To learn about early-80’s baseball you’d do much better to read Roger Angell. Mungo claims to be a big baseball fan, but first he’s a Giants fan, then a Mariners fan, then he decides to be an Expos fan. In other words, he’s a dilettante. He grew up in Lawrence, Mass. but he says he won’t live in New England because being a Red Sox fan is too intense. "I like to live where I can root for the home team and not suffer too much agony of defeat."
So there you have it, a thin volume that is mostly a historical curiosity. And it really does seem old – in an embarrassing way. Maybe it’s because things that are merely "hip" and "timely" so quickly lose their meaning. (Just wait a few years and see how you regard Britney Spears and Survivor.) Mr. Mungo is the author of 14 other books, none of them about baseball.
Reviewed by David Nevard (2001)
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