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The last pitch at Ebbets means more to him now

CROWE'S NEST

September 25, 2007|Jerry Crowe | Times Staff Writer

When the Dodgers played their final game in Brooklyn, on a Tuesday evening 50 years ago Monday, the sadness enshrouding Ebbets Field was so impenetrable that not even a five-hit shutout by Danny McDevitt could shake it.

Setting the depressing tone, Vin Scully recalls, was the song selection of organist Gladys Goodding, whose music infused the maudlin mood.

"Gladys was a very nice lady, known to take a drink or three," the longtime Dodgers announcer says. "And Gladys showed up with a paper bag -- and there wasn't any doubt what was in it. It was too late for lunch. . . .

"If I remember correctly, the very first song she played was 'My Buddy,' a pretty down song, and it went down from there. All of us in listening to the music were aware of her mental state, and I'm sure she was dipping into the brown bag, and the music kept getting more depressing every third out.

"It really did have an effect on you. If you had any idea of songs, you knew what she was playing and you also knew what she was doing."

The official announcement that the Dodgers were moving to Los Angeles was still two weeks away, but the rumors were rife, the handwriting on the wall. Walter O'Malley, rebuffed in his effort to build a new stadium, was headed west.

"Everybody knew they were done," Scully says of the Dodgers' time in Brooklyn. "There wasn't a soul in New York that thought they were coming back."

Except one, apparently.

McDevitt, a little-known rookie left-hander on a team littered with name stars such as Pee Wee Reese, Duke Snider, Roy Campanella and Gil Hodges, says he had no idea that game would be the Dodgers' Brooklyn swan song. This may explain how McDevitt, who had made his major league debut only three months earlier, effectively maintained his composure on a gloomy Sept. 24, 1957, pitching the Dodgers to a 2-0 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates in front of 6,702.

"It was just another game, as far as I knew, and when I think about it today, I can't believe that was what I thought," McDevitt, 74, says from his home in Social Circle, Ga., about 50 miles east of Atlanta. "All the older guys -- Pee Wee and Duke and those guys -- seemed to know the facts, but I didn't know.

"I couldn't believe that after working my butt off to get to Brooklyn that I would be going back to another minor league town, which is what L.A. was then."

McDevitt spent six years beating the bushes before reaching the majors. He eventually would play for two teams that won the World Series, compiling a 10-8 record with the Dodgers in 1959, his best season, and starting the '61 season with the New York Yankees before being traded. But he was hardly a star.

Bothered by a sore arm throughout his six major league seasons, he retired in 1962 with a 21-27 lifetime record and 4.40 earned-run average.

After baseball, working for the Catholic church, the Pennsylvania-born McDevitt says he directed the first anti-poverty program in the Mississippi Delta. Later, he says, he did the same in Mobile, Ala. Later still, he worked for 16 years as a project officer for the U.S. government before going into real estate in Georgia.

"In the Mississippi Delta," the twice-widowed former major leaguer says proudly, "I'm probably best remembered as the guy that came down and put all this government in front of the Ku Klux Klan."

His next-door neighbor, he says, was Byron De La Beckwith, who in 1994 was convicted of murdering civil rights activist Medgar Evers in 1963.

"I'm helping these black kids down there and he's my neighbor," McDevitt says of the Klansman. "I used to go to the backyard and he'd make these wax bullets for his .45. I could outshoot him, so he knew that I was dangerous."

It wasn't until about 15 years ago, McDevitt says, that collectors took notice of his unique place in baseball history: winning pitcher in the Brooklyn finale.

At first, he says, most of the attention was from kids who sent him scraps of paper to autograph "because they couldn't find my baseball card."

In response, McDevitt printed a "limited edition" leaflet commemorating the most famous of his four major league shutouts, complete with a copy of the box score, a listing of milestone events at Ebbets Field and photos, among them one of the pitcher presenting a game ball from the finale to the Hall of Fame in 1965.

"I said, 'I think I'll get something for these kids,' and it turned into a pretty lucrative thing for me after a few years," says McDevitt, who eventually hired a New York-based agent and began making public appearances.

Notes a still-disbelieving McDevitt, "If I sign 'pitched last game at Ebbets Field' at a card show, I get $25 for that. Most people are looking for that one-of-a-kind thing, and that last game at Ebbets Field won't ever happen again."

At the time, though, McDevitt insists that he was unaware.

"I was just a rookie," he says. "All I was doing was being glad to be there and pitching well. I wasn't into the politics of it."

Nor does he remember the funereal mood set by Goodding.

"I remember after the game she played, 'California, Here I Come,' and I thought, 'That's strange,' because I didn't know," McDevitt says. "And if I didn't know, it wasn't true."

But of course it was.

--

jerome.crowe@latimes.com

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