Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Dodgers Move from Brooklyn to Los Angeles according to Michael D'Antonio

An article in the March 9, 2009 Sports Illustrated gives Michael D'Antonio's take on what happened when the Dodgers left Brooklyn for Los Angeles, the same year the Giants left New York for San Francisco.

Here are some excerpts, believe them or not. Although, there is really NO reason to think this is something the writer (D'Antonio) made up. I just wonder about a couple of things. Like with the very next paragraph, How'd he get this personal knowledge?

First and foremost is the comment by D'Antonio that Walter O'Malley, the Dodgers' owner, never told his side of the story in any detail because to do so would have violated his (O'Malley's) personal code: A real man didn't explain himself. (It isn't like Women and children first, if someone wrongly accuses you of something, you speak up to inform others of what actually happened. If that takes away my manhood, ya'll can stand in line.)

Walter O'Malley was born on October 9, 1903 and died on August 9, 1979. According to D'Antonio, details of the Brooklyn move were secreted in private files stored away after O'Malley died. Recently opened by his heirs, the archive sheds a new light on the subject.

He wanted to build the iconic ballprk in Brooklyn but instead was maneuvered into the role of baseball's Benedict Arnold by someone named Robert Moses.

O'Malley began his pursuit of a new stadium once he became part-owner of the Dodgers in 1944. Ebbets Field seated a mere 32,000 and was in a state of "elegant decay." On the field the wall in right (field), deflected hits at crazy angles, turning singles into doubles. In left (field), a balcony overhung the field and grabbed dying line drives.

Ebbets Field was where outfielder Hack Wilson (holds all-time record for RBI in one season -1930-with 191) was hit in the head by a fly ball as he argued with a heckler and slugger Babe Herman set his own pants on fire by tucking a lit cigar in his pocket. The eccentricity wasn't limited to the players. In the stands Hilda Chester banged her frying pan and members of the Dodgers Sym-Phony Band tweaked the umps with their sour rendition of Three Blind Mice. Just a couple things that went on at the old ballyard.

On hot summer days, beer-soaked fans could turn violent, starting fistfights, throwing objects at players and even assaulting an umpire. ('Cause you know, Dem fans was loyal!) The Dodgers themselves sometimes went too far. In June 1945, Leo "the Lip" Durocher allegedly lured a loudmouth from the stands into a private room under the seats and broke the loudmouth's jaw. At the Lip's trial for second-degree assault 10 months later, 200 spectators erupted into cheers when the jury foreman uttered da woids, "Not Guilty."

("the Lip" is also acredited with belting the Sultan of Swat, yes, none other than the Bambino himself. When the two were arguing he left the room only to return to argue some more. And seeing the Babe pulling the jersey up over his head he lunged at Ruth and fists flew. Nobody ever accused Leo of fighting fairly.)

If Brooklyn had held on to its autonomy instead of becoming part of New York City in 1898, O'Malley's connections would have guaranteed him his dream ballpark. Instead, his friendships brought him only to the door of Robert Moses, the most powerful unelected official ever to serve in a U.S. city. Educated at Yale, Oxford and Columbia, Moses began his government career in the 1910s as a reformer trying to rid the city of patronage politics. After failing he transformed himself into the ultimate power broker (were steroids involved?).

He once held 12 municipal positions simultaneously- including NY City parks commissioner, head of the State Parks Council, head of the State Power Commission and chairman of the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority. Per D'Antonio, with endless ambition and more self-regard than Caesar, he gained control over vast sums of money for building everything from highways to high-rises. Over five decades mayors and governors came and went, but Moses endured, and through favors, contracts and patronage he grew even more powerful. By mid-century if he wanted something built in New York City, it got built. If he didn't want it, he stopped it.

Moses had picked his own spot for a new municipal baseball park, and it was not in Brooklyn but in Flushing Meadows in Queens (Shea stadium's eventual location).

As early as 1954, Moses privately directed his aides to give O'Malley the brush-off. Two years later he would remind them of his stand against the Brooklyn stadium but remain publicly noncommital because, as he said in a memo to his staff, "it is necessary to show that our opposition is based on something other than prejudice."

In 1955, the Brooklyn Dodgers defeated the New York Yankees for the World Series title. O'Malley made an even bigger push for a stadium. City officials responded by creating the Brooklyn Sports Center Authority, a commission charged with studying and possibly leading the redevelopment of the 500-acre area with new housing, parking garages and O'Malley's ball field. Moses acted as if he supported the idea, and O'Malley, going full-bore with his bet, sold Ebbets Field to a developer.

The deal allowed the Dodgers to lease Ebbets Field for five (5) more years while the new park was built. This created a hard deadline that would force an end to the political game. If Moses and other officials were serious about keeping the Dodgers, they had to settle the stadium issue.

They weren't serious.

As the summer of 1956 turned to fall, the Dodgers again won the National League pennant and have a rematch with those damned Yankees. The Series will forever be best remembered as the Series in which Don Larsen pitched the only perfect game in World Series history. But it also had an only-in-Brooklyn event that occurred off the field.

It happened in the middle of Game 2, when the Dodgers' Don Newcombe, departed Ebbets Field after getting shelled in the second inning. A parking-lot attendant (named Michael Brown) spied the pitcher, who should have been back in the stadium with his teammates. "What's the matter,Newk?" Brown called out. "A little competition too much?"

What came next would remain in dispute, but Brown claimed that Newk punched him in the gut. Thanks to a police officer, the incident didn't escalate, yet it made the papers. Newk started Game 7 only to be knocked out in the 4th inning as the Dodgers lost 9-0. The unhappy hurler disappeared for 24 hours but made it to the airport for a team flight to Los Angeles, from where the Dodgers would go on to Hawaii and then to an exhibition tour of Japan.

When O'Malley returned from Japan he discovered the stadium authority remained stalled.

On December 7, 1956, Moses wrote to the mayor to suggest that the Brooklyn commission's responsibilities be cut.

Informed by a member of the authority, O'Malley turned to Plan B. A move to the West Coast.

As the new stadium was receiving the kiss of death O'Malley hired Emmett Kelly (the clown) to perform before and after games during the 1957 season to "ease the tension." Kelly's character, Weary Willie, looked very much like the famous Brooklyn Bum drawn by cartoonist Willard Mullin. The difference was that Kelly's character never smiled. "I'm a misfit, a reject," he explained. He made people laugh at their predicaments, which was perfect for Brooklyn.

As the writers followed the team's preparations for the 1957 season, that included the promise of young pitchers such as Don Drysdale and Sandy Koufax, they also covered the drama surrounding the Dodgers' search for a new home. The first big development involved O'Malley and Chicago Cubs' owner P.K. Wrigley, who swapped two minor league clubs. Wrigley got the Dodgers' Texas League franchise in Ft. Worth; O'Malley got the Los Angeles Angels of the Pacific Coast League and their little stadium, the Wrigley Field in California.

Meanwhile, in New York, the Giants' owner, Horace Stoneham, was secretly planning to leave Manhattan.

At the close of spring training O'Malley met with Stoneham, who said he had decided to move his team to Minneapolis (then the Giants triple A location). O'Malley didn't try to persuade him to stay in New York, but he did suggest that the Giants owner consider San Francisco. If he moved there and the Dodgers went to Los Angeles, O'Malley said, they could re-create the fierce Giants-Dodgers rivalry on the West Coast.

And in the end, Walter O'Malley viewed his success on the West Coast as a gift from Robert Moses. According to D'Antonio, it was the only document among his papers that expressed this view of his nemesis. O'Malley wrote: Bob became an enemy when he sabotaged our plans to build a stadium in Brooklyn. He became a benefactor when his opposition became so violent that we left Brooklyn and happily became established in California.

If that's the letter he wrote, that in and of itself proved Walter O'Malley to be a man and not the notion that a real man didn't explain himself. This noble deed to forgive and forget makes him a man, by and large a better person than the male he speaks of.

I owe this entire article to the homework of Michael D'Antonio. Thank you, Mr. D'Antonio.

(I put it in this blog because it concerned our beloved San Francisco Giants and it seemed like Mr. D'Antonio had the facts.)

Kevin Marquez