May 032018
 

On this date in 1957, Walter O’Malley, the owner of the Brooklyn Dodgers, announced he was moving the team from Brooklyn to Los Angeles. Many, many New Yorkers, not just those living in Brooklyn, lamented the move, which brought great changes to Brooklyn and to baseball. Hard on the heels of this move, the Giants moved from Manhattan to San Francisco, leaving New York without a National League team until the Mets were created. If you are not a baseball fan you won’t understand. It’s not just that a sizeable percentage of New Yorkers hate the Yankees, it’s also that there is a world of difference between the American League and the National League. The National League follows the longstanding rule of having all 9 players, including the pitcher, come to bat, whereas the American League replaced the pitcher’s spot at bat with the designated hitter (DH). If you don’t know baseball you will not understand what a profound difference the DH rule makes to the game. Suppose you are in a tight game and it’s in the late innings. You have a couple of men on base, but you have 2 outs, and the pitcher (who is pitching well, but is a terrible hitter) is next up to bat. Do you replace him with a pinch hitter (meaning you have to bring in a new pitcher who might blow the game), or do you let him hit knowing that he is likely to strike out and waste the runners on base? Those decisions are the stuff good managers are made of. In the American League you have no such decisions. Boring.

Walter O’Malley was so hated by Dodgers’ fans for the move that they came up with this joke:

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

A: O’Malley, twice!

Brooklyn was home to numerous baseball clubs in the mid-1850s. Eight of 16 participants in the first convention were from Brooklyn, including the Atlantic, Eckford, and Excelsior clubs that combined to dominate play for most of the 1860s. Brooklyn helped make baseball commercial, as the locale of the first paid admission games, a series of three all star contests matching New York and Brooklyn in 1858. Brooklyn also featured the first two enclosed baseball grounds (as opposed to “fields”), the Union Grounds and the Capitoline Grounds. Enclosed, dedicated ballparks accelerated the evolution from amateurism to professionalism.

Despite the early success of Brooklyn clubs in the National Association of Base Ball Players, officially amateur until 1869, they fielded weak teams in the succeeding National Association of Professional Base Ball Players, the first professional league formed in 1871. The Excelsiors no longer challenged for the amateur championship after the Civil War and never entered the professional NA. The Eckfords and Atlantics declined to join until 1872 and thereby lost their best players. The Eckfords survived only one season and the Atlantics four, with losing teams.

The National League replaced the NA in 1876 and granted exclusive territories to its eight members, excluding the Atlantics in favor of the New York Mutuals who had shared home grounds with the Atlantics. When the Mutuals were expelled by the league, the Hartford Dark Blues club moved in, changed its name to The Brooklyn Hartfords, and played its home games at Union Grounds in 1877 before disbanding.

The team currently known as the Dodgers was formed as the Brooklyn Grays in 1883 by real estate magnate and baseball enthusiast Charles Byrne, who convinced his brother-in-law Joseph Doyle and casino operator Ferdinand Abell to start the team with him. Byrne arranged to build a grandstand on a lot bounded by Third Street, Fourth Avenue, Fifth Street, and Fifth Avenue, and named it Washington Park in honor of George Washington. The Grays played in the minor Inter-State Association of Professional Baseball Clubs that first season. Doyle became the first team manager, and they drew 6,431 fans to their first home game on May 12, 1883 against the Trenton team. The Grays won the league title after the Camden Merritt club disbanded on July 20 and Brooklyn picked up some of its better players. The Grays were invited to join the American Association for the 1884 season. After winning the American Association league championship in 1889, the Grays (by then nicknamed the Bridegrooms) moved to the National League and won the 1890 NL Championship, the only Major League team to win consecutive championships in both professional “base ball” leagues. They lost the 1889 World Series to the New York Giants and tied the 1890 World Series with the Louisville Colonels. Their success during this period was partly attributed to their having absorbed skilled players from the defunct New York Metropolitans and Brooklyn Ward’s Wonders. In 1899, most of the original Baltimore Orioles stars moved to the Grays (Bridegrooms) along with Orioles manager Ned Hanlon who became the club’s new manager under Charles Ebbets, who had by now accumulated an 80% share of the club. The new combined team was called the “Superbas” by the press and would become the champions of the National League in 1899 and again in 1900.

The team name, Brooklyn Trolley Dodgers, was coined in 1895. The nickname was still new enough in September 1895 that a newspaper could report that “‘Trolley Dodgers’ is the new name which eastern baseball cranks (i.e. fans) have given the Brooklyn club.” In 1895, Brooklyn played at Eastern Park, bounded by Eastern Parkway (now Pitkin Avenue), Powell Street, Sutter Avenue, Van Sinderen Street, where they had moved early in the 1891 season when the second Washington Park burned down. Some sources erroneously report that the name “Trolley Dodgers” referred to pedestrians avoiding fast cars on street car tracks that bordered Eastern Park on two sides. However, Eastern Park was not bordered by street-level trolley lines that had to be “dodged” by pedestrians. The name “Trolley Dodgers” implied the dangers posed by trolley cars in Brooklyn generally, which in 1892, began the switch from horse-power to electrical power, which made them much faster, and were hence regarded as more dangerous. The name was later shortened to Brooklyn Dodgers.

The historic and heated rivalry between the Dodgers and the Giants is more than a century old. It began when the Dodgers and Giants faced each other in the 1889 World Series, the ancestor of the Subway Series, and both played in separate cities (the Dodgers in Brooklyn and the Giants in New York City Manhattan). When both franchises moved to California after the 1957 season, the rivalry was transplanted but is hardly the same.

Manager Wilbert Robinson, popularly known as “Uncle Robbie,” was successful at the outset and his teams were known as the “Brooklyn Robins.” They reached the 1916 and 1920 World Series, losing both, but contending perennially for several seasons. Robbie was named president in 1925 while still field manager which meant that his ability to focus on the field declined, and the teams of the late 1920s were often fondly referred to as the “Daffiness Boys” for their distracted, error-ridden play. The signature Dodger play from this era occurred when three players – Dazzy Vance, Chick Fewster, and Herman – ended up at third base at the same time. (The play is often remembered as Herman “tripling into a triple play”, though only two of the three players were declared out and Herman was credited with a double rather than a triple.) The incident led to the popular joke:

“The Dodgers have three men on base!”

“Oh, yeah? Which base?”

When Robinson retired in 1931, he was replaced as manager by Max Carey. Although some suggested renaming the “Robins” the “Brooklyn Canaries”, after Carey, whose last name was originally “Carnarius”, the name “Brooklyn Dodgers” returned to stay. It was during this era that Willard Mullin, a noted sports cartoonist, fixed the Brooklyn team with the nickname of “Dem Bums”. After hearing his cab driver ask, “So how did those bums do today?”, Mullin decided to sketch an exaggerated version of famed circus clown Emmett Kelly to represent the Dodgers in his cartoons in the New York World-Telegram. Both image and nickname caught on, so much so that many a Dodger yearbook cover, from 1951 through 1957, featured a Willard Mullin illustration of the Brooklyn Bum.

The first major-league baseball game to be televised was Brooklyn’s 6–1 victory over Cincinnati at Ebbets Field on August 26, 1939. Batting helmets were introduced to Major League Baseball by the Dodgers in 1941.

For most of the first half of the 20th century, no Major League Baseball team employed an African-American player. A parallel system of Negro Leagues developed, but most of the Negro League players were denied a chance to prove their skill before a national audience. Jackie Robinson became the first African-American to play Major League baseball in the 20th century when he played his first major league game on April 15, 1947 as a member of the Brooklyn Dodgers. Robinson’s entry into the league was mainly due to General Manager Branch Rickey’s efforts. The deeply religious Rickey’s motivation appears to have been primarily moral, although business considerations were also an issue. Rickey was a member of the Methodist Church, which was a strong advocate for social justice and active later in the Civil Rights Movement.

Besides selecting Robinson for his exceptional baseball skills, Rickey also considered Robinson’s outstanding personal character, his UCLA education and rank of captain in the U.S. Army in his decision, since he knew that boos, taunts, and criticism were going to be directed at Robinson, and that Robinson had to be tough enough to withstand abuse without attempting to retaliate.The inclusion of Robinson on the team also led the Dodgers to move its spring training site. Prior to 1946, the Dodgers held their spring training in Jacksonville, Florida. However, the city’s stadium refused to host an exhibition game with the Montreal Royals – the Dodgers’ own farm club – on whose roster Robinson appeared at the time, citing segregation laws. Nearby Sanford similarly declined. Ultimately, City Island Ballpark in Daytona Beach agreed to host the game with Robinson on the field. The team traveled to Havana, Cuba for spring training in 1947, this time with Robinson on the big club. Although the Dodgers ultimately built Dodgertown and its Holman Stadium further south in Vero Beach, and played there for 61 spring training seasons from 1948 through 2008, Daytona Beach renamed City Island Ballpark to Jackie Robinson Ballpark in his honor.

This event marked the continuation of the integration of professional sports in the United States, with professional football having led the way in 1946, with the concomitant demise of the Negro Leagues, and is regarded as a key moment in the history of the American civil rights movement. Robinson was an exceptional player, a speedy runner who sparked the team with his intensity. He was the inaugural recipient of the Rookie of the Year award, which is now named the Jackie Robinson award in his honor. The Dodgers’ willingness to integrate, when most other teams refused to, was a key factor in their 1947–1956 success. They won six pennants in those 10 years with the help of Robinson, three-time MVP Roy Campanella, Cy Young Award winner Don Newcombe, Jim Gilliam, and Joe Black. Robinson eventually became the first African-American elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962.

After the slow years of the 1920s and 1930s, the Dodgers were rebuilt into a contending club first by general manager Larry MacPhail and then the legendary Branch Rickey. Led by Jackie Robinson, Pee Wee Reese, and Gil Hodges in the infield, Duke Snider and Carl Furillo in the outfield, Roy Campanella behind the plate, and Don Newcombe, Carl Erskine, and Preacher Roe on the pitcher’s mound, the Dodgers won pennants in 1941, 1947, 1949, 1952, and 1953, only to fall to the New York Yankees in all five of the subsequent World Series. The annual ritual of building excitement, followed in the end by disappointment, became a common pattern to the long suffering fans, and “Wait ’til next year!” became an unofficial Dodger slogan.

In 1955, by which time the core of the Dodger team was beginning to age, “next year” finally came. The fabled “Boys of Summer” shot down the “Bronx Bombers” in seven games, led by the first-class pitching of young left-hander Johnny Podres, whose key pitch was a changeup known as “pulling down the lampshade” because of the arm motion used right when the ball was released. Podres won two Series games, including the deciding seventh. The turning point of Game 7 was a spectacular double play that began with left fielder Sandy Amorós running down Yogi Berra’s long fly ball, then throwing to shortstop Pee Wee Reese, who relayed to first baseman Gil Hodges to double up a surprised Gil McDougald to preserve the Dodger lead. Hank Bauer grounded out and the Dodgers won 2–0.

Although the Dodgers lost the World Series to the Yankees in 1956 during which the Yankees pitcher Don Larsen pitched the only World Series perfect game in baseball history and the only post-season no-hitter for the next 54 years, it hardly seemed to matter. Brooklyn fans had their memory of triumph, and soon that was all they were left with – a victory that was remembered decades later in the Billy Joel single “We Didn’t Start the Fire”, which included the line, “Brooklyn’s got a winning team.”

Real estate businessman Walter O’Malley had acquired majority ownership of the Dodgers in 1950, when he bought the shares of team co-owners Branch Rickey and the estate of John L. Smith. Before long, O’Malley was working to buy new land in Brooklyn for a new, more accessible and better ballpark than Ebbets Field. Loved as it was, Ebbets Field had grown old and was not well served by infrastructure, to the point where the Dodgers could not sell out the park to maximum capacity even in the heat of a pennant race, despite dominating the league from 1946 to 1957.

 

New York City Construction Coordinator Robert Moses, however, sought to force O’Malley into using a site in Flushing Meadows, Queens – the eventual location of Shea Stadium, the home of the future New York Mets. Moses’ vision involved a city-built, city-owned park, which was greatly at odds with O’Malley’s real-estate acumen. When O’Malley realized that he was not going to be allowed to buy a suitable parcel of land in Brooklyn, he began thinking of team relocation.

O’Malley was free to purchase land of his own choosing but wanted Robert Moses to condemn one parcel of land along the Atlantic Railroad Yards in downtown Brooklyn under Title I authority, after O’Malley had bought the bulk of the land he had in mind. Title I gave the city municipality power to condemn land for the purpose of building what it calls “public purpose” projects. Moses’ interpretation of “public purpose” included public parks, public housing and public highways and bridges. What O’Malley wanted was for Moses to use Title I authority, rather than to pay market value for the land. With Title I the city via Robert Moses could have sold the land to O’Malley at a below market price. Moses refused to honor O’Malley’s request and responded, “If you want the land so bad, why don’t you purchase it with your own money?”

Meanwhile, non-stop transcontinental airline travel had become routine during the years since the Second World War, and teams were no longer bound by much slower railroad timetables. Because of civil aviation advances, it became possible to locate teams farther apart – as far west as California – while maintaining the same busy game schedules. When Los Angeles officials attended the 1956 World Series looking to entice a team to move there, they were not even thinking of the Dodgers. Their original target had been the Washington Senators franchise, which moved to Bloomington, Minnesota to become the Minnesota Twins in 1961. At the same time, O’Malley was looking for a contingency in case Moses and other New York politicians refused to let him build the Brooklyn stadium he wanted, and sent word to the Los Angeles officials that he was interested in talking. Los Angeles offered him what New York did not: a chance to buy land suitable for building a ballpark, and own that ballpark, giving him complete control over all its revenue streams. At the same time, the National League was not willing to approve the Dodgers’ move unless O’Malley found a second team willing to join them out west, largely out of concern for travel costs.

Meanwhile, Giants owner Horace Stoneham was having similar difficulty finding a replacement for his team’s antiquated home stadium, the Polo Grounds. Stoneham was considering moving the Giants to Minneapolis, but was persuaded instead to move them to San Francisco, ensuring that the Dodgers had a National League rival closer than St. Louis. So, the two arch-rival teams, the Dodgers and Giants, moved out to the West Coast together after the 1957 season. Baseball has never been the same since – nor has New York.

Hotdogs are the dish of choice for any baseball post, but I have covered them extensively already. Here’s Brooklyn Blackout Cake. I have no idea of its origin but the name is perfectly appropriate for what happened to Brooklyn when the Dodgers left.

Brooklyn Blackout Cake

Ingredients

For the cake

140 gm unsalted butter, plus extra for greasing
100 ml vegetable oil
140 gm buttermilk
100ml coffee, made with 1 tsp espresso powder
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 tsp vanilla extract
250 gm light muscovado sugar
250 gm plain flour
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
2 tsp baking powder
50 gm cocoa powder

For the custard filling and covering

250 gm golden caster sugar
500 ml full-fat milk
140 gm chocolate, 85% cocoa solids, broken into cubes
50 gm cornflour
2 tsp espresso powder
2 tsp vanilla extract

Instructions

Make the custard first because it needs time to chill. Put all the ingredients, except the vanilla, in a large pan and bring gently to the boil, whisking all the time, until the chocolate has melted and you have a silky, thick custard. It will take 5-7 mins from cold. Stir in the vanilla and a generous pinch of salt, then scrape the custard into a wide, shallow bowl. Cover the surface with cling film, cool, then chill for at least 3 hours or until cold and set.

Heat the oven to 180˚C. Grease then line the bases of 2 x 20 cm sandwich tins. Melt the butter in a pan, then remove from the heat and beat in the oil, buttermilk, coffee and eggs. In a large bowl, whisk the dry ingredients together plus ¼ teaspoon of salt, crushing any resistant lumps of sugar with your fingers. Tip in the wet ingredients and whisk until smooth.

Divide the batter between the prepared tins and bake for 25-30 mins until risen and a toothpick inserted into the middle of the cakes comes out clean. Cool for 10 mins, then transfer to a rack to cool completely, parchment-side down.

Remove the parchment linings from the cakes. If the cakes are domed, trim them flat. Cut each cake across the middle using a large serrated knife. Put your least successful layer and any trimmings into a processor and pulse it to crumbs. Tip them into a large bowl.

Place one layer on a cake plate and spread it with a quarter of the custard. Sandwich the next layer on top, add another quarter of the custard, then top with the final layer of cake. Spoon the remaining custard on top of the cake, then spread it around the top and down the sides until smooth. Chill for 15 mins to firm up the custard again.

Hold the cake over the bowl containing the crumbs, then sprinkle and gently press a layer of crumbs all over the cake. Brush any excess from the plate. Chill for 2 hours, or longer, before serving, and eat it cold. The cake will keep for up to 2 days and is best the longer it is chilled.

 

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