The Dodgers leaving Brooklyn?
It was as
inconceivable as the Notre Dame Fighting Irish
leaving South Bend, Ind., the Packers leaving
Green Bay or the Statue of Liberty being moved
to Lake Michigan.
understood Ebbets Field was decaying and knew
owner Walter O'Malley was frustrated by his
inability to get New York city commissioner
Robert Moses to approve O'Malley's plan for a
new stadium. They had heard the rumors about Los
And yet when
conjecture became reality, it hit everyone hard,
from fans on the street and in the seats to team
personnel on the field and in the front office.
The resulting emotion
is expressed in the memories that follow of
those tumultuous times for a borough and its
Buzzie Bavasi, former
Dodgers general manager: "Walter's attitude was,
'If it's 30 miles from Brooklyn, it might as
well be 3,000 miles.' Flushing Meadows was not
Billy DeLury, who has
served in the Dodgers organization for over half
a century: "It just wasn't fair. If I want to
build a house and this is where I want to build
it and someone says, 'You don't build a house
unless I tell you where to build it,' I don't
think that's right. And that's what happened
with the ballpark.
"Would you have to
change the name to the Flushing Dodgers? I
really, truly think Moses thought we would never
Bavasi: "None of us
blame Walter because we realized Ebbets Field
needed a lot of work. My sister's father-in-law
was the fire commissioner for Brooklyn. He could
have condemned Ebbets Field, but because of his
relationship with me, he told me to just do a
few maintenance things and it would be all
right. But even with that, it cost us plenty of
money because we had to do a lot of work. To get
it into condition where it would have been
approved by the city would have cost us millions
and we didn't have the millions at that time."
however, were not the main concern of Brooklyn
Boxing promoter Bob
Arum, who grew up in that borough: "When I think
of Brooklyn, the only thing that really mattered
was baseball. Ebbets Field was less than a mile
from where I lived. It was 25 cents for the
bleachers. They used to play a lot of
doubleheaders, so our mothers packed lunches
because we would be there for eight hours.
"The players lived in
the area you lived. [Manager] Charlie Dressen
lived a few blocks away. You'd see the players
in restaurants. There was a pitcher, Freddie
Fitzsimmons, who had a bowling alley. It was
really more than just a team."
TV host Larry King,
another Brooklyn native: "I still remember the
aroma of Ebbets Field. I was at Jackie
Robinson's first game. Sat in the bleachers. It
was a scene I'll never forget. The bleachers
were the best because they were so close.
"The Dodgers were the
symbol of Brooklyn. They gave us an identity,
set us apart from Manhattan and Queens. When you
lived in Brooklyn, everything else was Tokyo."
Joan Hodges, the
81-year-old widow of Gil, the Dodgers first
baseman: "My parents came from Italy and didn't
know a baseball from an onion. But by the time
Gil was managing the Mets, my mother would ask
him: 'How come you take so long to take the
pitcher out?' "
announcer Charley Steiner, another native New
Yorker: "Brooklyn was a conclave of immigrants
of every nationality and religion: German,
Polish, Russian, Irish, Italian, Catholic,
Jewish. Our grandparents had a funny accent
because they were from the old country, but the
one thing they all had in common was the
Dodgers. That was Brooklyn."
But as the 1950s wore
on, that was changing.
Arum: "Many families
were moving to the Long Island suburbs like my
folks did because they could afford it and it
offered a better quality of life. It had nothing
to do with racism. It was less cramped and you
could own your own home out there.
those people were not acclimated to vehicles.
They had no desire to drive back into the city,
so O'Malley needed a stadium that was close to
When he couldn't
convince Moses to sign off on his dream stadium,
O'Malley pushed ahead in negotiations with L.A.
Bavasi: "The office
staff took a vote. It was 8-1 against the move.
Of course, the one vote was O'Malley's.
"We were all New
Yorkers. I lived in Scarsdale, 25 miles north of
the city, all my life. Among the other
front-office guys, Fresco Thompson lived in the
Bronx. Al Campanis graduated from NYU and lived
close to the university, and Harold Parrott
lived in Far Rockaway. Nobody wanted to move.
Most of our players didn't want to go either. We
had children in school. It was depressing.
"But I had one of 16
jobs [as major league general manager] in the
world. I couldn't say no. Where was I going to
get another job like that? We couldn't deny the
fact that we had to go, but I think, if somebody
had come by and offered us similar jobs, we
would have taken them. We wouldn't have gone.
"The boys who were
New Yorkers -- Carl Furillo, Don Newcombe, Roy
Campanella -- were worried about being accepted
in California the way they had been in Brooklyn.
Furillo never understood what it was like to be
a Californian. There was nothing like a New
Yorker to Furillo. It affected his game.
"We should have given
the players more money for coming out to
California, but I wasn't about to give anybody
Dodgers pitcher Don
Newcombe: "I wanted to move because I was in the
midst of a divorce and I wanted to get out of
Duke Snider, who was from Compton: "I was not
happy to move because I was born in Brooklyn as
far as baseball was concerned. But it was a good
move. No question about that. If the team had to
move somewhere, I'm glad it was Los Angeles."
While the Dodgers
grudgingly accepted the inevitable, the fans,
one fan in particular, resisted.
Steiner: "I had been
hearing that the Dodgers might move, but, at 8
years old, what did I know about a team moving?
Where are they going? The West Coast was
somewhere over the rainbow to me. L.A. might as
well have been Saturn, it was so far away. It
"Late in September, I
called Walter O'Malley's office. I was scared to
death. I went upstairs, picked up the phone in
my parents' bedroom, called information and got
the number of the Brooklyn Dodger offices. I got
through to a woman who was presumably his
secretary, and told her I'd like to talk to
Walter O'Malley. 'What would you like to talk to
him about?' she asked. 'They shouldn't move. I
think this is bad,' I said, and then rambled on
incoherently. She said, 'We will try to have Mr.
O'Malley get back to you.' Needless to say, I'm
still awaiting the call."
The response from
O'Malley that Brooklynites had been dreading
finally came 50 years ago today, Oct. 8, 1957,
one day after the Los Angeles City Council
approved a contract with the Dodgers.
It came in the form
of a press release handed out to reporters in a
Brooklyn hotel by public relations director Red
Patterson with no other Dodgers official in
It was official. The
Brooklyn Dodgers would become the Los Angeles
wanted Moses at the press conference, but he
wouldn't show up. None of us showed up."
identified with Dodger blue for more than 50
years: "I was driving my car on my way to Key
West, Florida, to go to Cuba to play winter
baseball when I heard about the move on the
radio. I could not believe it. I was dumbstruck,
but it turned out to be the greatest move that
ever happened in baseball. It showed the vision
Mr. O'Malley had to bring the team here."
Bavasi: "I guarantee
you, if you walked down Montague Street, where
our offices were, on Oct. 7, you wouldn't have
found two people who believed we were going to
move. They laughed at the idea. No chance."
But the laughter
quickly dissolved into tears.
Bavasi: "The day we
announced we were leaving was my mother's
birthday. We took her to Leone's restaurant in
New York. I forgot about California for the
night. My mother knew I was depressed. She said
a Hail Mary that maybe something would happen so
we wouldn't be going to California."
prayers were not to be answered. And reality
It was O'Malley who
received the harshest treatment from
King: "I'm going to
tell you a popular joke from that time, and, if
you were in Brooklyn in the late '50s or early
'60s, you'll know the punch line before I
"You're in a room
with Adolf Hitler, Josef Stalin and Walter
O'Malley. You have a gun with only two bullets.
What do you do?
"The answer: You
shoot O'Malley twice."
O'Malley was the guy in the black hat who led
the wagon train out of town."
Joan Hodges: "That's
all changed. People realize it was Moses, not
Walter O'Malley. They come up to me now and say
they almost feel like they have to apologize. I
tell them, it's never too late."
But even absolving
O'Malley doesn't ease the pain the faithful
still remember from Oct. 8, 1957, the blackest
day in Brooklyn sports history.
Arum: "You felt an
emptiness. Now it was final. Something that had
been an integral part of your life from the time
that you were a young kid, from the time you
started to go to school, was now gone, never to
be returned. But that time, my folks were
leaving Brooklyn to go live on the island and I
was leaving Brooklyn to go live in a Manhattan
apartment. The Brooklyn boat had sunk and
everybody was leaving the ship."
Steiner: "It was
always fascinating to me that, after the Dodgers
left, there was an emotional pain, an emotional
connection that lives to this day for the
survivors, but never existed when the Giants
left New York or when the Braves left Boston.
Here it is 50 years later and there is still
that bridge, that rope, that tie, whatever it
is, between the Dodgers and Brooklyn. The
Dodgers are one of many entertainment options in
this megalopolis called Los Angeles. The
Brooklyn Dodgers were the lifeblood of the
community. That's the difference.
"It was so sad when
they left. The Dodgers were like family. I felt
like an abandoned child. Then, suddenly, opening
day '58, they're not there. That's when it
really hit me."