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Flatbush-whacked

50 YEARS AGO: BROOKLYN TO LOS ANGELES

Losing beloved 'Bums' seemed inconceivable to Brooklynites, and those who were there can still recall pain.

October 08, 2007|Steve Springer | Times Staff Writer

The Dodgers leaving Brooklyn?

It was as inconceivable as the Notre Dame Fighting Irish leaving South Bend, Ind., the Packers leaving Green Bay or the Statue of Liberty being moved to Lake Michigan.

Yes, Brooklynites understood Ebbets Field was decaying and knew owner Walter O'Malley was frustrated by his inability to get New York city commissioner Robert Moses to approve O'Malley's plan for a new stadium. They had heard the rumors about Los Angeles.

And yet when conjecture became reality, it hit everyone hard, from fans on the street and in the seats to team personnel on the field and in the front office.

The resulting emotion is expressed in the memories that follow of those tumultuous times for a borough and its team:

Buzzie Bavasi, former Dodgers general manager: "Walter's attitude was, 'If it's 30 miles from Brooklyn, it might as well be 3,000 miles.' Flushing Meadows was not Brooklyn."

Billy DeLury, who has served in the Dodgers organization for over half a century: "It just wasn't fair. If I want to build a house and this is where I want to build it and someone says, 'You don't build a house unless I tell you where to build it,' I don't think that's right. And that's what happened with the ballpark.

"Would you have to change the name to the Flushing Dodgers? I really, truly think Moses thought we would never leave."

Bavasi: "None of us blame Walter because we realized Ebbets Field needed a lot of work. My sister's father-in-law was the fire commissioner for Brooklyn. He could have condemned Ebbets Field, but because of his relationship with me, he told me to just do a few maintenance things and it would be all right. But even with that, it cost us plenty of money because we had to do a lot of work. To get it into condition where it would have been approved by the city would have cost us millions and we didn't have the millions at that time."

Financial details, however, were not the main concern of Brooklyn fans.

Boxing promoter Bob Arum, who grew up in that borough: "When I think of Brooklyn, the only thing that really mattered was baseball. Ebbets Field was less than a mile from where I lived. It was 25 cents for the bleachers. They used to play a lot of doubleheaders, so our mothers packed lunches because we would be there for eight hours.

"The players lived in the area you lived. [Manager] Charlie Dressen lived a few blocks away. You'd see the players in restaurants. There was a pitcher, Freddie Fitzsimmons, who had a bowling alley. It was really more than just a team."

TV host Larry King, another Brooklyn native: "I still remember the aroma of Ebbets Field. I was at Jackie Robinson's first game. Sat in the bleachers. It was a scene I'll never forget. The bleachers were the best because they were so close.

"The Dodgers were the symbol of Brooklyn. They gave us an identity, set us apart from Manhattan and Queens. When you lived in Brooklyn, everything else was Tokyo."

Joan Hodges, the 81-year-old widow of Gil, the Dodgers first baseman: "My parents came from Italy and didn't know a baseball from an onion. But by the time Gil was managing the Mets, my mother would ask him: 'How come you take so long to take the pitcher out?' "

Current Dodgers announcer Charley Steiner, another native New Yorker: "Brooklyn was a conclave of immigrants of every nationality and religion: German, Polish, Russian, Irish, Italian, Catholic, Jewish. Our grandparents had a funny accent because they were from the old country, but the one thing they all had in common was the Dodgers. That was Brooklyn."

But as the 1950s wore on, that was changing.

Arum: "Many families were moving to the Long Island suburbs like my folks did because they could afford it and it offered a better quality of life. It had nothing to do with racism. It was less cramped and you could own your own home out there.

"Unlike Californians, those people were not acclimated to vehicles. They had no desire to drive back into the city, so O'Malley needed a stadium that was close to public transportation."

When he couldn't convince Moses to sign off on his dream stadium, O'Malley pushed ahead in negotiations with L.A. officials.

Bavasi: "The office staff took a vote. It was 8-1 against the move. Of course, the one vote was O'Malley's.

"We were all New Yorkers. I lived in Scarsdale, 25 miles north of the city, all my life. Among the other front-office guys, Fresco Thompson lived in the Bronx. Al Campanis graduated from NYU and lived close to the university, and Harold Parrott lived in Far Rockaway. Nobody wanted to move. Most of our players didn't want to go either. We had children in school. It was depressing.

"But I had one of 16 jobs [as major league general manager] in the world. I couldn't say no. Where was I going to get another job like that? We couldn't deny the fact that we had to go, but I think, if somebody had come by and offered us similar jobs, we would have taken them. We wouldn't have gone.

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