by Sarah Quick
Dec 28, 2018

In 2013 the Brooklyn Collection acquired several boxes of Brooklyn Dodgers memorabilia from Al Todres, a lifelong collector. Todres certainly wasn’t the only one actively collecting Brooklyn Dodgers material nearly 60 years after the team was transferred to Los Angeles. Why does a baseball team that left Brooklyn in the middle of the last century still inspire so much loyalty and curiosity? Every collector has a different answer, and it certainly goes beyond statistics and player performance. The team that would become the Dodgers played in Eastern Park when Brooklyn was still an independent city, through a depression and two world wars. The story of the Dodgers runs parallel to the development of modern Brooklyn, but it wasn’t always an easy story.

Baseball clubs were introduced to Kings County as early as the 1820s, with over 71 amateur teams playing in the county by 1851. Early prominent clubs included the Atlantics and the Ekfords, drawing players from the blue-collar workforce and attracting thousands of fans to games played all over the borough. In 1883, Charles Byrne opened the Washington Park baseball field on 5th Avenue and 3rd Street in Park Slope and formed a team called the Brooklyn Grays. The team joined the American Association in 1884 and the National League in 1890, by which time they were known as the Bridegrooms.

 

Brooklyn Daily Eagle photographs, 1953
Brooklyn Daily Eagle photographs, 1953

 

Atlas of the City of Brooklyn, 1893
Atlas of the City of Brooklyn, 1893

 

In 1891 the team was moved to Eastern Park, a 12,000 seat stadium in Brooklyn’s Brownsville neighborhood. The team was still known as the Bridegrooms but picked up several nicknames including the Superbas and the Brooklyn Trolley Dodgers, named after borough residents who had to “dodge” oncoming electric trollies. In 1898 Byrne died and was succeeded by his assistant, Charlie Ebbets. By 1899 Ebbets gained majority control over the team and in 1912 moved them to Ebbets Field, a new 37,000 seat stadium in Flatbush.

The team played and lost their first World Series game in 1916, in front of the largest crowd in baseball history. By 1920 the team was officially known as the Brooklyn Dodgers but was also called the Daffiness Boys, a nickname reflective of their performance on the field and outrageous behavior of players and management. The death of Charlie Ebbets in 1925 left the team open to poor management and a series of disastrous trades that led to a drop in ticket sales and a field in need of repairs. Things began to turn around in 1938 when Leland MacPhail was brought in as General Manager. MacPhail got rid of the Daffiness Boys and replaced them with some of the Dodgers' most iconic players, including Pee Wee Reese and Pete Reiser.

 

The 1932 team
The 1932 team

 

When the U.S. entered World War II MacPhail and several players enlisted. Branch Rickey was brought in from St. Louis as the new General Manager. In 1947 he signed Jackie Robinson, the first African American to play on a major league baseball team. On January 31st we’ll be celebrating Jackie Robinson’s 100th birthday. Robinson is synonymous with the Dodgers, but we would be doing his memory a disservice to forget that some of his teammates threatened to sit out rather than play with a black man. The racism and cruelty from fans, opposing teams, and even his own teammates couldn’t stop his exceptional talent on the field, earning him Rookie of the Year. The story of the Dodgers, like the story of Brooklyn, can be ugly.

 

Jackie Robinson, Brooklyn Daily Eagle Photographs
Jackie Robinson, Brooklyn Daily Eagle Photographs

 

World Series Program, 1947
World Series Program, 1947

 

The 1947 season kicked off an era often called the “glory days” with other star players including Roy Campanella, Duke Snider, and Gil Hodges. Brooklyn supported their team with steady game attendance, merchandise sales, and their own fight song, “Follow the Dodgers.” After years of close calls and near-misses the team finally captured a World Series title in the 1955 season.

 

Dodgers Yearbook, 1949
Dodgers Yearbook, 1949

 

Scorecard, 1952
Scorecard, 1952

 

After 43 years Ebbets Field was in a state of disrepair and team owner Walter O’Malley began to make plans for a new stadium in Brooklyn. O’Malley’s plan for a city-subsidized stadium at the intersection of Flatbush and Atlantic Avenue, that would provide more seats, parking and access to public transportation was rejected by Robert Moses, who proposed an alternative location in Queens, the eventual site of Shea Stadium. O'Malley's proposed location would be the eventual site of the Barclay's Center, a sports and entertainment arena opened in 2012. O’Malley began negotiations with the city of Los Angeles, which promised a growing market and space for a new stadium. The National League authorized the move on May 28, 1957, and the Los Angeles Dodgers played their first game on April 18, 1958.

 

Ralph Branca, circa 1950
Ralph Branca, circa 1950

 

After the excitement of the 1955 World Series win, it must have seemed impossible that the team could be playing for another city in just three years. The announcement devastated fans, some of whom had been cheering for the Dodgers their entire lives. A lifetime of cheering and loyalty doesn’t disappear overnight. The Dodgers might be gone, but their memory is alive and well, even in those who were born years after the last game at Ebbets Field. As long as there are people who love Brooklyn we’ll be talking about the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Comments

Comments

I was born in Queens in 1948 and came to Brooklyn in 1961. A large chunk of my childhood (June 1053-October 1961) was spent in suburban Los Angeles, so I was never one of the Dodger diehards. (We used to go to Angels games when they were in the Pacific Coast League.) I have a brother-in-law who was a big-time Dodgers fan as a boy and refused to travel to L.A. on principle for over 20 years because they “stole” the Dodgers.
Ebbets Field was opened on April 5, 1913. While the National League made a decision to "authorize" a move for two of its teams, the Dodgers and Giants, at a meeting in May of 1957, the Giants were the first team to announce that they would leave New York for California. The Giants made their announcement that they would play in California in 1958 on August 19, 1957; the Dodgers made theirs on October 8, a day after the Los Angeles City Council voted to give O'Malley 300 acres in Chavez Ravine.
Yesterday, I attempted to comment regarding the Brooklyn Dodgers. It did not go through because of "incorrect email." That's impossible because I have had the same email address for over 25 years. Let me see if this message goes through before I respond with my comments regarding the Brooklyn Dodgers.
Hi Ron, Apologies for the glitch. We have to approve comments before they will show up on this page, so there is often a delay. Please do leave your comments, they will be appreciated by other readers.

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