The Wrong Man (cont.)
In Florida, Poulson & Co. waved brightly colored LOS ANGELES pennants and posed for photos with O'Malley and Dodgers slugger Duke Snider. "Mr. O'Malley has a problem," said Poulson. "We believe we can solve it, and quick." At dusk the day of the Californians' arrival they retired with O'Malley to a nearby hunting camp called Blue Cypress Ranch, which was owned by a member of the Dodgers' board. There, in rustic isolation -- the ranch didn't even have a phone -- Poulson confirmed that, as Flaherty had promised, O'Malley could get whatever he wanted, including Chavez Ravine in exchange for the Angels' Wrigley Field. A few days later O'Malley wrote to a friend, in another letter recently disclosed by the O'Malley family, "The Los Angeles matter is much further [along] than the newspaper accounts indicate."
At the close of spring training O'Malley met with Stoneham, who said he had decided to move his team to Minneapolis. O'Malley didn't try to persuade him to stay in New York, but he did suggest that the Giants owner consider San Francisco. If he moved there and the Dodgers went to Los Angeles, O'Malley said, they could re-create the fierce Giants-Dodgers rivalry on the West Coast.
With California threatening to grab both of New York's National League clubs, Mayor Wagner called everyone to another meeting. This time, however, it was O'Malley who said no. In O'Malley's eyes, Wagner lacked the power and the will to act in the Dodgers' favor. A petulant mayor told the press, "If the owners were set on leaving, we'll just have to pick up our marbles and go home."
Moses heaped blame on O'Malley in a long essay he wrote for the July 22 issue of SPORTS ILLUSTRATED titled, Robert Moses on the Battle of Brooklyn. On the story's opening spread the power broker stared out at readers from a photo that made him look like a trout in a bow tie. He claimed, falsely, that O'Malley wanted a government-built park reserved exclusively for the Dodgers. Moses acknowledged that some Brooklynites might grieve the loss of the team, but he added, "a new location elsewhere on Long Island could hardly be classed as a tragedy." But as far as O'Malley and diehard Brooklyn fans were concerned, once the Dodgers left the borough, they might as well go anywhere.
The Dodgers' departure was now an open secret, but the next move was made by Stoneham, who announced that the Giants were going to San Francisco. Suddenly the biggest baseball town in the country, the only one with three major league teams, was in danger of becoming a one-franchise city. In a futile attempt to play the white knight, Nelson Rockefeller, a prominent businessman and philanthropist soon to be elected governor of New York, offered to contribute a few million dollars toward a Brooklyn stadium. Wagner summoned O'Malley and Rockefeller to discuss the idea, but that gave them only false hope. After the meeting Moses sent a letter to the mayor's secretary saying that "Nelson has been badly advised" and the city had "nothing to gain" from his proposal. "This Dodger business," the letter concluded, "reminds me of the jitterbug jive."
The Dodgers played their last game at Ebbets Field on Sept. 24, 1957, a Tuesday night, five days after being eliminated from the pennant race. Attendance was 6,702. No announcement was made about the team's departure. No ceremony was conducted. But as the innings passed, the sad-faced Emmett Kelly pretended to wipe tears with his sleeve. Once the Pittsburgh Pirates had been defeated 2-0, organist Gladys Goodding played Auld Lang Syne.
In early October the Los Angeles city council approved the swap of Chavez Ravine for Wrigley Field. Dodgers publicity man Arthur (Red) Patterson walked into a press room set up at the Waldorf-Astoria in Manhattan for reporters covering the World Series between the Yankees and the Milwaukee Braves. He handed out a one-page press release that tersely declared the end of major league baseball in Brooklyn.
So much had been said and written in advance of this formality that it didn't generate a big outcry. "There were no pickets, no mass protests, no suicides," Roger Kahn wrote 18 months later in The New York Times Magazine. "In fact, there was almost no reaction. . . . Without the Dodgers in Brooklyn, it develops, you still have just about what you had before -- a busy, crowded heterogeneous borough."
An editorial in The New York Times expressed gratitude for the zany Bums, Jackie Robinson and many thrilling games, and it wished the team "a grand slam success for the future." But others, such as sportswriter Dick Young of the Daily News, were not so kind. To Young, O'Malley was the personification of evil. For years Young had benefited from a special relationship with the Dodgers. The team's general manager Buzzie Bavasi called himself "the executive in charge of Dick Young," and his assignments included buying Young suits, treating him to free travel and slipping him exclusive stories. No doubt the loss of these treats troubled Young. Three months before the move he scorched O'Malley in an article called To Hell with the Dodgers. When the team's transfer became official, he called O'Malley "the most momentous manipulator baseball has ever seen." Young kept on attacking the owner until the day O'Malley died.
Other writers, including New York Times columnist Arthur Daley, called O'Malley a villain and habitually likened him to Machiavelli. Red Barber, the beloved former Dodgers broadcaster, described O'Malley as "about the most devious man I ever met." As these criticisms accumulated, resentment in Brooklyn grew and was handed down from one generation to the next. In 2007, when O'Malley was elected posthumously to the National Baseball Hall of Fame, Pete Hamill wrote in the Daily News, "Never forgive. Never forget." Hamill claimed that O'Malley had caused such pain to Brooklyn that some residents had moved away.
Was it true? Had O'Malley crushed Brooklyn's spirit? The answer is no. In 1963, after the Dodgers vanquished the Yankees in the World Series, a New York Times editorial titled Joy in Flatbush declared, "At last the wounds have healed." In 1969, when the New York Mets won the World Series, Brooklyn honored them with a rally at Borough Hall. The victory made the Dodgers seem like ancient history.
But then, in 1972, Kahn published one of the most romantic and moving baseball books ever written. The Boys of Summer turned the Brooklyn Dodgers into paragons of virtue, living symbols of all that was good about America before the upheavals of the 1960s: the counterculture, the shock of political assassinations and the wrenching protests over the Vietnam War. The book became a best seller and a sports classic not only because it was a good read but also because it was infused with the author's love for the team. Still, Kahn wouldn't deny that it also benefited from something in the national mood. TIME magazine described The Boys of Summer as part of a wave of nostalgia in popular culture that included the movie The Last Picture Show and the musical Grease. Like many a good story, the book had a villain: O'Malley, whom it depicted as a cheerless, money-obsessed old man.
The owner could have devoted his sunset years to fighting for his name in Brooklyn; instead he built his dream stadium in Chavez Ravine, and with the cash from record-setting ticket sales he put together a premier franchise. The Dodgers won a championship in just their second year on the West Coast, and they topped the National League in winning percentage for 25 years. As much as he was reviled in New York, O'Malley was loved in Southern California, and in the end he viewed his success there as a gift from Robert Moses. He revealed this once, in a note to an old friend. It was the only document among his papers that expressed this view of his nemesis. O'Malley wrote: Bob became an enemy when he sabotaged our plans to build a stadium in Brooklyn. He became a benefactor when his opposition became so violent that we left Brooklyn and happily became established in California.
It's plain to see that O'Malley was right. And the sons and daughters of Brooklyn have reason to let go of their old grudge. Truth is good for the soul. Forgive, and forget.
Forever Blue: The True Story of Walter O'Malley, Baseball's Most Controversial Owner,and the Dodgers of Brooklyn and Los Angeles will be available on March 19 at Amazon.com