John Delach

On The Outside Looking In

Month: January, 2022

When the National League Abandoned New York

Part Three

And so it came to pass that winning the 1954 World Series turned out to be the New York Giants last hurrah. After winning the National League pennant and defeating the Cleveland Indians in four games to take the World Series, they went into a tailspin. In 1955, the Giants finished in third place and dropped to sixth place in 1956 and 1957. Consequently, attendance at the Polo Grounds dropped from 1.2 million fans in 1954 to 653,000 by 1957, the lowest in the National League. The Giants were in big trouble and their owner, Horace Stoneham, efforts to convince New York City officials to build a new stadium for his Giants in Manhattan over the New York Central’s West Side freight yards fell on deaf ears.

Stoneham began the process of moving his franchise to Minneapolis where he owned a Triple A minor league team. Why not, Major League Baseball was on the move in the 1950s. America’s post World War II identity was overwhelmed by a tsunami of change driven by consumerism and the growth in population thanks to the Baby Boomers. Traditional population centers could no longer accommodate this growth and Americans began migrating west in large numbers. Eventually, this movement expanded to include the south and southwest as A/C became reliable and readily available.

Baseball hadn’t expanded in decades, but these migrations convinced owners of second-rate teams in multi-team cities   to realize the opportunities available if they moved their franchises to baseball hungry cities. This movement began with the Boston Braves, who moved to Milwaukee in 1952. The Braves achieved attendance records that forced other owners to give pause when they examined their own financial models. The Braves couldn’t match the Red Sox popularity, so they successfully escaped Beantown for the town that Schlitz made famous.

Two other franchises took note of the same message, the St. Louis Browns and the Philadelphia Athletics. The Browns were up against the St. Louis Cardinals owned by the Anheuser-Bush family with their deep pockets. The Browns threw in their Missouri chips in 1954 and skedaddled to Baltimore where they re-invented themselves as the Baltimore Orioles.

The Philadelphia Athletics, once Connie Mack’s ship of state were in deep trouble, forced to play in a decrepit ballpark located in a lousy part of town. They lost the attendance battle to their National League rivals, the Phillies. Their owners  caved in after the 1954 season and sold the team to a Kansas City cabal who took the team to western Missouri for the 1955 season.

Stoneham wasn’t the only dissatisfied New York baseball owner. Walter O’Malley hated Ebbits Field, his small and obsolete ballpark in Crown Heights that opened way back in 1913 with a meager capacity of just under 32,000 fans. Granted, Dodger attendance remained at just over one million fans from 1954 though 1957, but O’Malley envied the Braves success in Milwaukee that averaged over two million fans during the same period.

I believe that despite O’Malley’s absolute dissatisfaction with Ebbits Field, his first instinct was to remain in Brooklyn. To this end, he proposed a spectacular state-of-the-art circular domed stadium with a capacity of 52,000 to be built above the Long Island Railroad yards at the junction of Flatbush Avenue and Atlantic Avenue in the heart of Downtown Brooklyn.

One could say that Walter O’Malley was a visionary who could see into the future, but O’Malley’s vision didn’t materialize until almost sixty years later when the Barclay Center opened in 2012. This new home for the Brooklyn Nets basketball team has a capacity of 19,000 basketball fans. Barclay Stadium, named after the bank, otherwise known as The Bark, could only have become a reality after a lengthy process of gentrification that step-by-step rebuilt and renewed Brooklyn neighborhoods resurrecting them from being considered to be a collection of sub-standard slums into viable neighborhoods. 

The 1950s was a time of white flight from American cities to the suburbs and Brooklyn was no exception. Downtown Brooklyn, Bedford-Stuyvesant, Williamsburg and Crown Heights were hemorrhaging white middle-class residents who were fleeing tenements and apartment houses for new affordable developments rising on former potato fields in Nassau and Suffolk counties. These new suburbanites came to depend on their automobiles as the car culture changed their lives.

O’Malley’s domed stadium could have ruined him as a stadium in Downtown Brooklyn would have had to depend on the subways and the Long Island Railroad to transport Dodger fans to and from the games. This deteriorating urban neighborhood was devoid of major highways or any concept of adequate parking.

Overshadowing these issues, O’Malley’s proposal conflicted with the future plans for Downtown Brooklyn as envisioned by the city’s chief planner, construction tsar and all-around powerbroker, Robert Moses (RM). O’Malley was in a fight that he couldn’t win.

RM countered with a proposal for the Dodgers to move to a new city-owned stadium that he would build for the Dodgers in Flushing Meadows, Queens. (This eventually became  the  location of Shea Stadium and its successor, Citi Field.) O’Malley refused to consider RM’s proposal, famously saying, “We are the Brooklyn Dodgers, not the Queens Dodgers.”

I suspect, that by this point, O’Malley was already deep into his negotiations with the Los Angeles city fathers. and had come to realize the extent of the incentives and treasures these-baseball starved leaders were willing to grant him if he brought his Major League team to their city.

My suspicions are based on the fact that O’Malley approached Ford Frick, the baseball commissioner, sometime before the next owners’ meetings scheduled for Chicago in late May of 1957. On May 28, Commissioner Frick confirmed that the National League owners had agreed to allow the Dodgers and the Giants to move to Los Angeles and San Francisco respectfully so long as both teams made the move.

Two weeks prior to these owners’ meetings, O’Malley entered into a contract with the City of Los Angeles called “The Arnebergh Memorandum” whereby he committed to moving the Dodgers to LA for the 1958 season. In return the city agreed to acquire 350 acres of land in Chavez Ravine for the construction of the Dodgers new stadium. In addition, the city would help O’Malley arrange financing and construct the parking lots and all access roads needed to reach the stadium. It was only after O’Malley signed this agreement that he approached the commissioner and his fellow owners.

Stoneham had also been busy negotiating with the mayor of San Francisco, George  Christopher. Stoneham too, had been offered a package that included a new baseball stadium that became Candlestick Park and enough other incentives that convinced Stoneham to move west and trade in his team’s interlocking orange “NY” for and orange interlocking “SF.”

Stoneham confirmed the Giants were moving to San Francisco for the 1958 season on August 19, 1957. For reasons unknown only to himself, O’Malley let the story leak out starting with Stoneham’s announcement, but the Dodgers didn’t get around to a formal announcement until October 8, 1957.

O’Malley’s treacherous and disgraceful behavior made him the central villain of a sarcastic joke popular with all Brooklyn Dodger fans:

If you were stuck in a room with Hitler, Stalin and O’Malley and you had a gun with only two bullets who would shoot?

You’d shoot O’Malley twice in case the first bullet didn’t kill him.

(To be continued)   .  

When Baseball was New York and New York was Baseball

January 2022

Part Two

1955

Nineteen Fifty-Five seemed different. After all the years of suffering, failure and regrets and those near misses in 1952 and 1953, confidence replaced the frustration that enveloped the psyche of the Dodgers organization, the team and their fans.

From the first pitch thrown and the first crack of the bat on opening day, the quality of the very air Dodger fans breathed was different. Every hunch and feeling confirmed that this was our year. Expectations were high. The newspaper beat reporters and the columnists caught on as did the Dodger fans I lived with. I was only eleven, but old enough to understand what was going on. When the Dodgers began the season by winning their first ten games, we all started believing that 1955 might be special. When the Brooklyn team extended that early streak to 22 and 2, we jumped on the band wagon.

Through my own experience, I have learned that if you are a devoted fan of a specific team, sometimes you develop insight to sense that those players were bound for glory. I knew that to be true for my 1986 Football Giants even before that season began. My premonition was fulfilled when they beat the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XXI to finally became Super Bowl Champions.

The 1955 Dodgers were my first experience of rooting for a team of destiny. The Dodgers stars were at their best that year. Newcomers, Jim Gilliam and Sandy Amoros joined Pee Wee Reese, Duke Snider, Gil Hodges, Jackie Robinson, Carl Furillo and Roy Campanella. Brooklyn’s powerful pitching staff led by Don Newcombe, Johnny Podres, Carl Erskine and Clem Labine were aided and abetted by a very young Sandy Koufax and a another who would have a long career with this team, Tommy Lasorda.

The Dodgers overwhelmed the National League that year with a record of ninety-eight wins and fifty-five loses winning the pennant by 13 1/2 games over the second place Milwaukee Braves.

Who else but the Yankees would be opposition in the World Series? The first two games were played in Yankee Stadium. Whitey Ford outlasted Don Newcombe in Game One that the Bronx Bombers won 6 to 5.

The Yankees repeated their prowness the following day, winning Game Two, 4 to 2.

The venue shifted to Ebbets Field for the next three games. Johnny Podres led the Brooklyn nine to a comfortable 8 to 3 Victory in Game Three. Game Four was a home run marathon as Campanella hit two home runs while Snider and Hodges each went yard once tying the series at two games each. Roger Craig got the win and Labine the save. Snider hit two homers and Amoros, one as the Dodgers won Game Five  by a score of 5 to 3.

Up three games to two, the contest returned to Yankee Stadium for Game Six. Whitey Ford once again, stopped the Dodgers, this time by a score of 5 to 1 to even the series at three games each.

Brooklyn started Podres while the Yankees depended on Tommy Byrne who was one and one in the series. Byrne gave up two runs, one in the fourth and one in the sixth, both credited as RBIs to  Hodges.

The most dramatic moment came in the bottom of the sixth inning when Yagi Berra hit a shot to deep left field where Sandy Amoros made a remarkable catch that ended the inning when Pee Reese’s relay to Hodges tagged  out Gil McDougald before he could get back to first. Photos in the next morning tabloids revealed that Amoros eyes were closed when he caught the ball.       

At the end of Game 7, the scoreboard read: Brooklyn 2, New York: 0. Johnny Padres had shut out the Bombers and the Dodgers were World Series Champions for the first time ever. The headlines on the tabloids reflected this triumph and reality that the long wait was over:

The Daily News: THIS IS NEXT YEAR!

The Daily Mirror: DODGERS DOOO IT: BUMS AIN’T BUMS ANY MORE!

And all of Brooklyn and Dodger fans everywhere celebrated followed by the best sleep they’d ever would have with and without alcohol. Better yet, was waking up to  discover that sometimes dreams really do come true.

1956

The World Series turned out to be a rematch of 1955. The Yankees coasted to win the AL pennant by ten games over the second place Chicago White Sox. The Yankees began their assault on opening day, April16 against the Washington Senators in Griffith Park. President Dwight David Eisenhower witnessed Mickey Mantle parking two home runs into the bleachers as the Bombers won 10 to 4. By the close of business on the last regular season game, Mantle had won the triple crown by hitting fifty-two home runs, driving in 130 runs with a batting average of .353!

The Dodgers had a rougher road to the pennant with the Milwaukee Braves nipping at their heels. The Braves changed managers midway though the season and came within one game of tying the Dodgers. Close, but no cigar!

Once again, the World Series went a full seven games. Brooklyn won the first two games both played at Ebbets Field. Sal Maglie, once the Giants ace, now traded to the Dodgers outlasted Whitey Ford in Game One: Brooklyn 6, Yankees 3. In Game Two, Brooklyn poured on the firepower in a barnburner that finally by the Dodgers ending the contest by outlasting the Yankees by  a final score of 13 to 8.

The series shifted to Yankee Stadium for the next three games. Whitey Ford had a terrific outing in Game Three going the distance while Enos Slaughter’s three-run homer led the home team to a 5 to 3 victory.

The next day, homers by Hank Bauer and Mickey Mantle tied the series at two games each as the Yankees prevailed 6 -2.

Game Five was played at 2:05 PM on October 8, 1956, before a crowd of 64,519 fans. Mel Allen and Vin Scully shared the TV mics broadcasted on NBC. Bob Neal and Bob Wolff handled the radio broadcast on the Mutual Broadcasting System.

Dodger’s manager, Walter Alston handed the ball to Sal Maglie while Casey Stengel put his into the hands of Don Larsen. Two hours and six minutes later, the Stadium crowd watched as, Yogi Berra, the Yankees catcher raced out from home plate and lept into his pitcher’s arms to begin the celebration of Larsen’s perfect game. Twenty-Seven Dodgers up and Twenty-Seven down  and not one batter ever reached first base.

Final score, 2-0. Maglie only gave up two runs, Mantle hit a solo homer in the fourth inning and Hank Bauer hit an RBI single in the sixth inning. “Larsen needed just 97 pitches to complete the game. In 1998, Larsen recalled, ‘I had great control. I never had that kind of control in my life.”

In the Dodgers ninth, Larsen retired Carl Furillo on a flyout to Bauer and Roy Campanella on a grounder to Billy Martin. Larsen faced Dale Mitchell, a .312 career hitter. For the final out. Larsen got ahead of the count  at 1-2 before striking Mitchell out.

Don Larsen became a celebrity after the series concluded making numerous appearances and enjoying an extended fifteen minutes of fame. But what he accomplished remains untarnished. Simply put, Don Larsen is the only player in Major League History to throw a perfect World Series game.

Despite the trauma the Brooklyn team had to endure as the losing team in a perfect game, Back home in Ebbits Field, they prevailed in a ten-inning marathon, 1-0. Clem Labine and Bob Turley both pitched complete games that ended when Jackie Robinson hit an RBI single allowing Jim Gilliam to score the winning run from third base.

Go figure, the Yankees blew Game Seven wide open from the get-go. They scored two runs in the first inning, two runs in the third inning, one in the fourth and seven in the seventh to win the 1956 World Series by a score of 9-0.

Jackie Robinson made the last out in what would be his last time at bat. His out also brought down the curtain on New York’s subway series. The Milwaukee Braves won the next two National League Pennants. The Yankees World Series streak would continue until 1964, but both the Giants  and the Dodgers would leave town at the end of the 1957 season.