Brooklyn Boro

Tom Knight, Brooklyn’s beloved baseball buff, dies at 89

March 7, 2016 By Scott Enman Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Tom Knight. Photo by Mike Stein
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One of the sourest subjects for any venerable Brooklynite is the Brooklyn Dodgers’ tragic departure from their beloved borough to Los Angeles in 1957.

When the Nets came to Brooklyn 57 years later, many anguished Brooklynites were appeased, but there still lingered feelings of desertion and abandonment.  

Nowadays, the number of Brooklyn Dodgers fans has diminished significantly.

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On Feb. 17, Thomas Robert Knight, the first and only official baseball historian of Brooklyn, passed away at the age of 89, taking with him a knowledge of baseball, Brooklyn and the Dodgers that was unprecedented.  

According to The New York Times, Sebastian Leone, the Brooklyn borough president at the time, assigned Knight to his unpaid position in 1976.

Brooklyn’s beloved baseball scholar lived his entire life in Brooklyn, aside from a stint in the army. Knight grew up in Park Slope and passed away in Bay Ridge, where he resided for several years.

In addition to his role as baseball historian, Knight was also known for his regular columns for the Brooklyn Eagle titled “Diamond Reflections.”

The Times wrote in an article published March 5 that Knight “had an enormous memorabilia collection. He gave tours of Brooklyn baseball landmarks that included not only the site of Ebbets Field … but also, in Green-Wood Cemetery, the grave of Charles Ebbets, who owned the team in the early 20th century.

“Something Mr. Knight knew but perhaps few others did: Professional baseball had existed in Brooklyn since at least 1883,” the Times article continued. “The team that would eventually be the Dodgers was called the Grays, the Atlantics, the Grooms, the Bridegrooms and the Superbas. A team called the Brooklyn Greys also existed in 1883.”

The team was briefly known as the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1911 and 1912 before having its name changed to the Brooklyn Robins from 1914 to 1931.

The name Dodgers made a return in 1932 and hasn’t changed since. The team’s name interestingly derived from pedestrians who dodged trolley cars in the streets.

Knight’s passion for the game was contagious, and he would regularly reveal never-before-heard anecdotes of past players to his companions.

Knight told a particularly memorable story about Rudy York, a professional baseball player who played for the Detroit Tigers, Boston Red Sox, Chicago White Sox and Philadelphia Athletics.

“I always loved the story of Rudy York, who hit 18 home runs in one month for the Tigers in ’37,” Knight said in an interview with The New York Times shortly after being appointed his historian position. “But he liked to drink a little, and once in Boston his teammates saw smoke coming out of his hotel room.

“They broke in the door and found the bed on fire and him in it,” Knight continued in the Times interview. “They pulled him out, and the manager says, ‘Well, Rudy, I guess you was smoking in bed,’ and Rudy replies: ‘Like hell I was. That bed was on fire when I got into it.’”

In the mid-1970s, Knight was a guest speaker at the Brooklyn Rotary Club and told the story of a Dodger who had bet his friends that he could catch a softball that was dropped from an airplane passing overhead. (It was determined that a baseball might be lethal from that height.)

At Floyd Bennett Field, a single engine plane took off with a basket of softballs, and the pilot was instructed to circle the runway where the player was waiting and drop one from the open cockpit as he passed overhead. According to the bet, the player would have several tries.

But as a joke, it was arranged that the first “ball” dropped would be a grapefruit. When it landed in the player’s glove and exploded, sending juice and seeds all over the player’s head, he screamed, “My God, I’ve been killed.” He thought briefly the juice was his own blood. 

 


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