Sixty years ago: As a young teenager I actively cruised the radio dial until coming upon my favorite tunes of 1957: Pat Boone’s “Love Letters in the Sand” and Sam Cooke’s “You Send Me.”
The most popular movie in Jewish communities around the country was “The Ten Commandments,” starring Charlton Heston as Moses. The top eight television programs belonged to CBS, ranging from “I Love Lucy” to “Gunsmoke.”
Brooklyn fans weren’t so concerned about what place the Dodgers occupied in the standings – they were much more worried about reports the team would be leaving its homey little ballpark, Ebbets Field, for a new home on the other coast.
In late August we Chevied from Detroit to Brooklyn for a family wedding. My father and his cousin Dave shared the driving while my younger brother and I shared the back seat. We were staying at my parents’ cousin Harry’s place and he offered to show us around. Dave moved to the back with us.
Soon a beautiful sight came into view through the front windshield. We were approaching Ebbets Field, driving slowly along Bedford Avenue behind the famed high right field wall. The light towers were lit since it was half an hour before a night game.
My father would have taken us to the game but I declined because the Dodgers would soon leave Brooklyn and Ebbets Field would no longer house a major league team, so who cared? Like most teens who think they’re smart and make wrong decisions, I always regretted not going as Ebbets Field, and the Brooklyn Dodgers became one of my main baseball interests in the later innings of my life.
As we were passing Ebbets Field, cousin Harry suddenly said, “The Dodgers will never leave Brooklyn.” My father countered with, “The papers have them going to Los Angeles.”
“It will never happen,” Harry exclaimed.
As we slowly passed the ballpark, I turned around and gazed through the back window until Ebbets Field disappeared in the distance. But the scene replays often in my mind 60 years later.
Brooklyn had its heart ripped out a month or so later when it became official that the Brooklyn Dodgers would become the Los Angeles Dodgers for the 1958 season. The players were part of the body and soul of Brooklyn. Many lived in the borough year-round and had off-season jobs in local businesses.
While the Brooklyn Dodgers died 60 years ago, the names of many players and even fans live on (the team itself was immortalized by Roger Kahn’s 1972 classic book The Boys of Summer, still in print 45 years later).
Hilda Chester, a large woman who wore print dresses and owned a booming voice and loud cowbell, made her presence known before game time from her perch in the upper left-center field bleachers.
Abe Stark became famous as a politician through the long, low advertising panel located on the bottom of the right field scoreboard which hugged the warning track. The sign trumpeted Stark’s men’s clothing store on Pitkin Avenue and promised batters at the plate, “Hit Sign Win Suit.”
And then there was the Sym-Phony, aptly named by play-by-play man Red Barber. Four guys dressed in shabby tuxedos and battered top hats taunted rival players with their instruments and big drum moving through the stands.
Happy Felton, an oversized man with big black horn-rimmed glasses and wearing a Brooklyn uniform, hosted a daily pre-game television program called “The Knothole Gang” from foul territory down the right field line. Youngsters had the opportunity to work out with and get baseball tips from their favorite players.
Vin Scully was the constant voice in the broadcast booth in the 1950s and fans followed their favorite team through the old Brooklyn Eagle newspaper (which folded a couple of years before the Dodgers left town).
Talented, well-dressed organist Gladys Gooding played through many seasons and continued playing on after the Dodgers’ last home game as teary-eyed fans sat in their seats staring at an empty field filled with memories.
Ten years earlier, in 1947, Jackie Robinson had broken the color barrier by becoming the first African American player in the major leagues. Gil Hodges and Duke Snider were also rookies that season. Hodges and Snider roomed together on Bedford Avenue less than three blocks from Ebbets Field. Snider eventually moved to Brooklyn’s Bay Ridge section, joining the families of teammates Carl Erskine, Pee Wee Reese, and Dixie Walker, while Hodges moved to East 32nd Street between Avenues K and L in Flatbush.
Hodges, an Indiana boy, married a Brooklyn girl named Joan Lombardi and made Flatbush his permanent home. He was regularly seen playing with his kids in Prospect Park and worked as an auto salesman at Brooklyn Century Chrysler.
A decade after the Dodgers left Brooklyn, Hodges was hired to manage the previously hapless New York Mets. In 1969, his second season at the Mets’ helm, he led the team to the most improbable World Championship in baseball history.
Every Jewish kid lived through Sandy Koufax. A star athlete at Brooklyn’s Lafayette High School, the lefthander from Bensonhurst was wearing a Dodgers uniform at age 19 in 1955.
Koufax was a mediocre pitcher while the Dodgers were in Brooklyn but a few years after the team moved to L.A., he suddenly blossomed into one of the game’s all-time great pitchers, dominating baseball from 1962 through 1966; in those five seasons he compiled a mind-boggling 111-34 won-lost record with four no hitters – one of them a perfect game – and earned three Cy Young awards.
There has never been and never will be a bond between a team and a city quite like the bond that tied Brooklynites to the Dodgers. Only we old-timers who lived through the 1950s and followed baseball during that era can understand what the loss of the Dodgers meant to Brooklyn.