The year was 1957. Times were good here in America. The world seemed more peaceful. Taking an airline flight was a lot more fun and much less of a hassle. Automobiles had more style. And a man was judged by what was under his hat, not by the color of that hat.
Fathers would go to movies with their sons and mothers with their daughters. Entire families would sit in front of a large television with a small black and white picture on the screen.
The top-rated television programs were “I Love Lucy” and “The Ed Sullivan Show.” Quiz shows were big, and the tube was full of celebrities – Perry Como, Jack Benny, Arthur Godfrey, Red Skelton, Art Linkletter, Phil Silvers, and Lassie, the cuddly collie.
Radio disc jockeys played music with words you could understand. The top-rated hits during the ’57 baseball season were Pat Boone’s “April Love” and “Love Letters in the Sand,” Paul Anka’s “Diana” and Sam Cooke’s “You Send Me.”
In Brooklyn, however, baseball fans didn’t feel like singing. It was a heart-wrenching time. The official announcement of the transfer of the beloved Dodgers – affectionately known to the faithful as Dem Bums – from Brooklyn to Los Angeles was made in October. It shouldn’t have happened. We shouldn’t be observing this fiftieth yahrzeit.
Here’s what should have happened: The Dodgers should have been allowed to proceed with plans for a domed stadium at Atlantic and Flatbush Avenues. Dodgers owner Walter O’Malley had the site in mind and plans in hand as far back as 1954.
Noted architect R. Buckminster Fuller was engaged by O’Malley to design a futuristic translucent domed stadium and he prepared several models in November of 1955, some ten years before the opening of Houston’s Astrodome, the first domed baseball stadium, billed as the Eighth Wonder of the World.
O’Malley wanted Atlantic and Flatbush Avenues for its proximity to numerous rail lines – the same reason Barclays is now developing the site, which, of course, includes a basketball arena. New York should have kept both the Dodgers and the Giants. The Giants would have squeezed another couple of seasons out of the Polo Grounds or become tenants at Yankee Stadium, across the Harlem River from their old storied home, until a new ballpark was built. The Dodgers would have remained in Ebbets Field until their new futuristic stadium was ready.
O’Malley took the blame for taking the Dodgers to Los Angeles, but it was Moses who led the Dodgers out of the promised land. The all-powerful city commissioner Robert Moses, who believed in highway transportation above all else, butted heads with O’Malley, who favored public transportation. Moses wanted the Dodgers to locate to Flushing, Queens, where Shea Stadium eventually would be built. O’Malley objected that it wasn’t Brooklyn and not many subway lines went out there.
As the distance between O’Malley and Moses grew, Los Angeles made a strong pitch for the Dodgers by offering a large parcel of land near downtown if O’Malley would fund the stadium – precisely what O’Malley wanted from New York. Major league baseball needed two West Coast teams to make it financially feasible for travel purposes, and the Giants opted for San Francisco.
While the National League approved the transfer of the two New York clubs several months before the Giants made it official in August 1957, Brooklyn fans held out hope as O’Malley and Moses danced around each other for almost two more months until the October announcement made it final.
Even though a half-century has passed since the Dodgers vacated Ebbets Field, those of us who experienced the heimish little ballpark with fewer than 32,000 seats will never forget it. It was only 297 feet down the right field line to the wall along Bedford Avenue that separated the sidewalk from the playing field. The cozy wall bedecked by signage on both sides was almost 19 feet high and topped by a 20-foot screen.
A 30-foot high scoreboard ran 34 feet along the right field wall. A six-foot high Schaefer Beer sign with a large round Bulova clock topped the scoreboard and hovered over Bedford Avenue. Besides advertising the beer sold inside Ebbets Field, the Schaefer sign served another purpose: neon tubing surrounded the “h” and the first “e” in Schaefer and lighting the appropriate letter would indicate a hit or an error.
The biggest error in baseball history was committed by Robert Moses when he thought he could paint Walter O’Malley into a corner. He did, but O’Malley ended up with a beautiful new ballpark in a corner of prime real estate near downtown Los Angeles.
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Tom Glavine’s atrocious one-third-of-an-inning effort in the final game of the regular season sealed the Mets’ fate for 2007. Who should get the blame for the season-ending collapse of the Mets? Was it bad managing or bad general managing? Was it Willie Randolph’s fault – or should GM Omar Minaya shoulder most of the blame? One thing’s for sure: Minaya no longer has gadol status among members of the press.
I’ll give you my feelings next month along with a look at other teams and players who gained fame and shame. But let’s wait for the dust to settle from the post-season games.
In the meantime, I’d like to hear your opinions on what went right and what went wrong (not only about the Mets’ terrible finish and the Rockies’ great finish) in the 2007 season, and we’ll bat it around next month.
Irwin Cohen, the author of seven books, headed a national baseball publication for five years before earning a World Series ring working as a department head in a major league front office. His “Baseball Insider” column appears the second week of each month in The Jewish Press. Cohen, president of the Detroit area’s Agudah shul, may be reached in his dugout at firstname.lastname@example.org.