Monday, October 08, 2007

The Dodgers: 50 years in Los Angeles!

50 years ago today, the Dodgers announced they were moving to Los Angeles.

I know: I've not even been alive that long. I was 6 1/2 months old when the Dodgers defeated the White Sox in the '59 World Series. It was their second season in LA, and the Brooklyn crew Roger Kahn would later dub The Boys of Summer had passed their prime. I've never even been a big Dodger fan, though I always enjoyed going to Dodger Stadium, and no one announces a game like Vin Scully (who a few weeks ago kept me entranced listening on the radio as a batter fouled off some 15 pitches in a row).

But I'm an Angeleno, and even to Angels fans, the Dodgers are a part of the background of life. And the background really is important. And yesterday and today, the Los Angeles Times published a nice 2-part series, "50 YEARS AGO: FROM BROOKLYN TO LOS ANGELES." Part 1 is, at least on the web site, found in "business news":
L.A.'s major league play: Dodgers' 50 years in Los Angeles

Fifty years ago, L.A. City Council voted to provide Walter O'Malley with 300-plus acres in Chavez Ravine. The rest is baseball history.

All of 22 years old and fresh out of USC, Rosalind Wiener was looking for ways to attract voters in her bid for a seat on the Los Angeles City Council.

She had 35,000 cards printed up enumerating the standard election promises: strengthen drug laws, improve the economy, eliminate government waste and provide adequate public transportation.

But she needed one more item. Something different. Something original.

Well, her family had always been huge baseball fans, so why not?

Wiener's final item: Bring major league baseball to Los Angeles.

The year was 1953.

"I didn't know about minor league rights," she said. "I didn't know you had to get a vote of the owners. I thought, you just said to somebody, 'Come visit. Come to L.A.' I didn't know how complicated it would be to bring a team here."

Complicated, but not impossible, as Wiener, who married and became Rosalind Wyman, discovered after winning a council seat.

Professional baseball in Los Angeles in those days consisted of two Pacific Coast League teams, the Los Angeles Angels and the Hollywood Stars.

On the other side of the continent, the Dodgers seemed entrenched in Brooklyn, where they had been since their inception in 1890 as the Bridegrooms.

As the Trolley Dodgers and then, simply, the Dodgers, they became the soul of their community and "America's Team" long before the Dallas Cowboys were tabbed with that distinction.

But by 1953, Dodgers owner Walter O'Malley had been exploring alternatives for aging Ebbets Field for seven years. Back in 1946, as a minority owner, O'Malley sent a letter to engineer Emil Prager in which O'Malley said, "Your fertile imagination should have some ideas about enlarging or replacing our present stadium."

O'Malley's imagination was running wild by the 1950s. Having taken over majority ownership of the team, he envisioned building a domed stadium, a concept that seemed inconceivable for baseball at the time, more than a decade before the Astrodome was constructed in Houston.

O'Malley had selected a site at the corner of Atlantic and Flatbush, a couple of long fly balls from Ebbets Field. The property contained a soon-to-be-abandoned meat market and was located at a hub of the New York transportation system that would bring in the Manhattan crowds via subway and those living in the suburbs via the Long Island Rail Road.

There was no question Ebbets Field, built in 1913, its foundation decaying, its opportunities for expansion nonexistent because of the surrounding neighborhood, had to be replaced.

Also in 1953, a seemingly unrelated event back in L.A. would push Wyman's dream one step closer to reality.

Three years earlier, a letter had gone out from the Los Angeles Housing Authority to residents living on more than 300 acres of steep rolling hills near downtown known as Chavez Ravine. It informed them a public housing development for low-income families was to be built on their property, which they would be forced to sell at fair market value under eminent domain. The residents would be given the first opportunity to buy into the new project, to be known as Elysian Park Heights, or would be given public assistance in finding other homes.

"The Dodgers had nothing whatsoever to do with the moving of people out of Chavez Ravine," Wyman said.

With the process underway and families being bought out, the project came to a screeching halt in 1953 with the election of Norris Poulson as Los Angeles mayor. A vehement opponent of public housing, he was the key figure in the killing of the project.
Read it all here. Part 2 is in "sports":
Dodgers' fans were Flatbush-whacked

Losing their beloved 'Bums' seemed inconceivable to Brooklynites. When the team left, a borough's collective heart was broken, and those who were there can still recall the pain.

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.

Yes, Brooklynites 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 Angeles.

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 team:

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 Brooklyn."

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 leave."

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."

Financial details, however, were not the main concern of Brooklyn fans.

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?' "

Current Dodgers 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.

"Unlike Californians, 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 public transportation."

When he couldn't convince Moses to sign off on his dream stadium, O'Malley pushed ahead in negotiations with L.A. officials.
Read it all here. And the sidebars, of both articles, too. Kudos to writer Steve Springer. And the Times.

Oh, and this is interesting. The tired and beat-up Ebbets Field was 45-years-old when O'Malley moved out of it. Now, apart from Fenway Park, Wrigley Field, and the (largely rebuilt) Yankee Stadium, Dodger Stadium is the oldest park in the Major Leagues. 45-years-old. And still a jewell.

No comments: