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