January 12, 2007


Got a letter from Willie Drye, author of Storm of the Century: The Labor Day Hurricane of 1935 and commentator on the History Channel's "Nature's Fury: Storm of the Century" episode of the series "Violent Earth."

Apparently he took time off from manning the Side Salad North Carolina Doppler 12,000,000 Weather Center to visit the Empire State recently.

As a baseball fan, Willie was chagrined to see how the rich baseball history of Brooklyn has been besmirched.

Hey guys:

I'm wondering if Brooklyn is finally forgetting the Dodgers. A couple of things during the annual post-Christmas trek to New Jersey/New York gave me that impression.

But first, some background.

The Dodgers -- who got their name because Brooklyn residents often had to dodge passing trolley cars -- played in Ebbets Field from 1913 through 1957, then headed west for the 1958 season. With the possible exception of the Baltimore Colts' midnight sneakaway to Indianapolis, I don't think any pro sports franchise shift has been as lamented as the Dodgers' departure for sunny southern Cal.

It was a stunning move that nearly ripped the heart out of New York baseball. Walter O'Malley, who owned the Dodgers at the time, was insisting that he needed a new stadium to keep the team in Brooklyn, even though the Dodgers reportedly were one of the most profitable teams in Major League baseball. But O'Malley got into a struggle of wills with New York city planner Robert Moses, whose stubbornness is legendary. Moses wanted O'Malley to build his new ballpark in Flushing Meadow in Queens.

O'Malley also smelled a gold mine in L.A.and wanted to tap it.

O'Malley knew the Dodgers' intense National League rivalry with the crosstown New York Giants was a major part of the team's appeal, and moving the Dodgers to the West Coast would greatly dilute or maybe even extinguish that venerable and valuable rivalry.

Some say O'Malley persuaded Giants owner Horace Stoneham to abandon the Polo Grounds and move his team to San Francisco. And so in one breathtaking stroke, one of sports' greatest rivalries was uprooted and New York no longer had a team in the National League. From 1958 through 1961, the American League Yankees had the city to themselves. In 1962, the New York Mets joined the National League, and in 1964 the Mets' Shea Stadium opened in Flushing, where Moses wanted the Dodgers to build a new ballpark.

HildaChesterBrooklynDodgersBaseballFanHildaIsHereSign.JPGThe Brooklyn Dodgers had some of the most colorful and quirky fans in the game's history. There was Hilda Chester, always somewhere in Ebbets Field with her clanging cowbell. There was the Dodger Sym-Phony Band, a group of local wiseguys with kazoos and a bass drum who serenaded the fans and razzed the opposition.

And there were kids like Maurice Savion, a teenager who sneaked into Ebbets Field without buying a ticket for a Dodgers game in 1947. A cop spotted Savion and took off after him, but the kid was too quick. The relentless cop chased Savion off and on throughout the afternoon, but the kid was always a few steps ahead. He watched the entire game on the run and dashed away after the last out.

So that's what the Dodgers left behind when they pulled out of Brooklyn. Ebbets Field was torn down to make way for a massive public housing complex in 1962. If there's anything baseball fans love more than the game, it's nostalgia, and after its demolition, Ebbets Field became a symbol for a bygone era, a sort of ultimate Quaint Ballpark in the Sky.

Fast forward to December 2006. I'm spending New Year's weekend with my in-laws in Glen Ridge, New Jersey. We're visiting my niece, Alice Gougan, who lives in an apartment overlooking Brooklyn's Atlantic Avenue. I feel compelled to make a pilgrimmage to the site of Ebbets Field. So my brother-in-law, Bob Morrow, and his 12-year-old son, John, and I head for Bedford Avenue.


We spot the housing complex -- a sprawling, monolithic, 20-story thing with not a smidgen of character. On a brick wall in front, in big letters, it says "Ebbets Field." It might as well say "Robert Moses Was Here," because he was notorious for creating these kinds of massive, soulless edifices. It was so big I could get only one wing of it into the viewfinder of my digital camera.

Somebody spots a corner of a small slab of concrete, nearly obscurred by a bush. We find a parking spot, pile out of the car, peek behind the bush, and find New York's tribute to Ebbets Field -- a concrete slab, resembling a tombstone embedded in a brick wall, engraved with a baseball and "1962 This is the former site of Ebbets Field."


That's it. My nephew, John, is much more photogenic than I am, so I snap a picture of him in front of the tombstone-like marker.

While I'm shooting the photo, a woman comes out of the apartment complex and pauses for a moment. This isn't the first time she's seen people taking pictures of kids in front of the Ebbets Field marker. "Is this for the Internet?" she asks.

As near as we could tell -- but we weren't certain -- the marker stands about where the ballpark's right field wall was. That's where the ads for Burma Shave and Gem razor blades were.

Meanwhile, my wife Jane is visiting the Brooklyn museum of history with her mother, sister-in-law Ann Marie, and nieces Emily and Caroline. They know we're chasing the ghost of Ebbets Field, so they're looking for Dodger stuff in the museum. They don't see anything, so they ask a worker.

Turns out there's nothing about the Dodgers on display. Jane said a museum worker told them that the Dodger exhibits "aren't up."

In 1998, when the O'Malley family put the Dodgers up for sale, there was talk of the city buying the team and moving it back to Brooklyn. But the story goes that the family accepted a lower offer from Rupert Murdoch rather than allow the team to go back east. Walter, O'Malley, despised by millions of baseball fans after he moved the Dodgers, apparently needed to believe that he was chased out of Brooklyn and was therefore the offended party.

But now, maybe the cosmic balance has shifted as the team starts its 49th year in La-La Land. Now they've been in L.A. longer than they were in Brooklyn. A tombstone plaque nearly hidden by bushes and nothing about the Dodgers in the Brooklyn history musuem make me think that the long-ago heroes of Flatbush are fading into history in New York.



Posted by Jeff at January 12, 2007 08:11 AM | TrackBack
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