OUT OF LEFT FIELD
'Brooklyn Dodgers: The
Ghosts of Flatbush"
They Play It Once More:
Dodgers Leave Brooklyn
By STAN ISAACS
The new HBO documentary Brooklyn Dodgers: The Ghosts of Flatbush has many good things in it, and I recommend it, but I cant say Im overjoyed with it.
Some sets of quotes are at the heart of my unhappiness with the treatment of the Dodgers move from Brooklyn to Los Angeles after the 1957 season. One of them is by Mel Durslag, an LA sports columnist justifying Walter OMalleys desire to desert Brooklyn. Durslag says, A Puerto Rican fan urinated in a bottle and threw it onto Ebbets Field. This comes after general manager Buzzy Bavasi relates a racist dirge by OMalley bemoaning the fact that Latins and blacks were essentially too poor to be cash-paying Dodgers fans.
Durslag was from Los Angeles. How would he know this? He could say it because he got it from the anxious-to-leave Dodgers brass. This verson was new to me. The racist stereotype that I had always heard was that Blacks and Puerto Ricans were urinating on the ramps at Ebbets Field.
The OMalley line in the middle 1950s was to denigrate Ebbets Field as much as he could. Knock the fans, point up the lack of parking, insist that too many Dodger fans were moving to Long Island. He said all this because he couldnt get for free the large acreage in downtown Brooklyn that he insisted on to build a new ball park. (Note: the ball park he has in Los Angeles has ample parking, but people leave the games in the fifth inning to escape massive traffic jams).
The producers of the documentary try to be fair. They quote some pointed remarks about OMalley and money. Buzzy Bavasi says, Branch Rickey was all baseball, Walter was all money. If there was no money involved he was the nicest, sweetest, generous Irishman you ever saw. But if 10 cents were involved, you were in trouble.
But they lean too much in my view toward justifying OMalleys actions by making a villain out of Robert Moses, the kingpin builder of New York. Moses is faulted for not giving OMalley the downtown Brooklyn acreage he wants and for insisting that he accept the old Worlds Fair site in Queens for a new ball park.
Can anybody imagine the management of the Boston Red Sox today making the argument that their quaint old ball park, Fenway Park, is outmoded and that they must have municipal help to build a new one? At worst OMalley could have renovated Ebbets Field. And why should anybody accept that Moses had to give him the site he wanted? And if he couldnt get what he wanted, he should have sold the team rather than sell out a community.
I would have liked to have seen some mention of the possibility of pay-per-view TV riches out west as another lure for OMalley to betray Brooklyn. And a point of ridicule is missed by sliding over the grotesque fact that OMalley had the Dodgers play in the misshapen-for-baseball 90,000 seat Los Angeles Coliseum his first two years out west rather than play in Wrigley Field there, a real baseball field but with less than 30,000 capacity.
For me the documentary quotes too many people who buy OMalleys line. It uses only too well Bob Caro, an old Newsday colleague of mine, who wrote the definitive book, The Power Broker on Moses that exposed him as the titan who, in the end, surely did more bad than good for New York. Caro is happy to paint Moses as the villain here.
At another point in the film LA guy Durslag ridicules those who objected to the Dodgers leaving Brooklyn for the riches of the west. He says, Get with it. These are the rules of combat. To make a federal case of somebody moving for more profit, you are like some kind of rustic walking in with some kind of dust on your shoes.
I prefer the comment of Lester Rodney, the former Daily Worker sports editor, at 96 one of the few journalists living who covered the Brooklyns. He says of OMalley, The son-of-a-bitch wretched the heart of Brooklyn when the Dodgers were a profitable team. I accept that somebody would go to California and cash in there. But still hes a villain. I hate him.
The piece quotes part of a classic reaction by Brooklynites to OMalley. Newspapermen Pete Hamill and Jack Newfield once were listing the three worst men in the world. They named Hitler, Stalin-and OMalley. The kicker to the comment was this poser: You are in a room with Hitler, Stalin and OMalley and you have a gun with two bullets in it; who do you shoot? Answer: You shoot the two bullets at OMalley.
The documentary captures the ethnic richness of Brooklyn. There are warm street scenes Pee Wee Reese being carried off the field by fans Johnny Podres getting the final out of the Dodgers 1955 World Series triumph over the Yankees, Podres saying: I threw him the ground ball that Pee Wee had been waiting for all those years shots of Ralph Branca lying in despair on the clubhouse steps after he gave up the Shot Heard Round the World home run by Bobby Thomson Ill abashedly add here that there are quick shots of two icons I had something to do with: the 1955 World Championship flag that friends and I liberated from Los Angeles and brought back to Brooklyn-and the statue of Reese with Robinson now in Coney Island that stemmed from a suggestion I made at the memorial for Pee Wee Reese.
Producers Ezra Edelman and Amani Martin, and writer Aaron Cohen do the Jackie Robinson saga very well. There are terrific bits of Robinson in action, some shots lingering not quite long enough to catch the full impact of Jackie dancing, jigging, off first and third base bedeviling pitchers with his antics.
And they capture the significance of Robinson. As Lester Rodney says, Jackie Robinson created Brooklyn fans all points, east, west, north and south. The Dodgers introduced democracy. When you changed baseball you changed America.
Brooklyn Dodgers . plays on HBO channels through the end of the month. Check newspapers for specifics.
©2007 by Stan Isaacs. The Stan Isaacs caricature is ©2001 by Jim Hummel. The photo is courtesy of HBO. This column first posted July 16, 2007.
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