Letter to the Editor November 3

Brooklyn and Baseball of the 1950s

November 3, 2020

Dear Editor,

There is even more to “In 1950s Brooklyn, neighborhood games meant my childhood was action-packed” (William A. Gralnick — November 3). The Brooklyn Dodgers legendary “Boys of Summer” winning teams played at Ebbets Field. They included pitcher Don Newcombe, catcher Roy Campanella, first baseman Gil Hodges, second baseman Junior Gilliam, shortstop Pee Wee Reese, third baseman Billy Cox, right fielder Carl Furillo and Jackie Robinson who played several positions. Most have long forgotten that today’s Los Angeles Dodgers had their roots in Brooklyn.

The golden era of baseball in NYC took place in the 50s with a three-way rivalry between the American League New York Yankees, and the National League New York Giants and Brooklyn Dodgers. All three teams claimed to have the best center fielder in baseball. On street corners all over town, citizens would argue whether the Yankees’ Mickey Mantle, Giants’ Willie Mays or Dodgers’ Duke Snider was champ.

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Ordinary Brooklyn natives could ride the bus, trolley or subway to Ebbets Field to see their beloved Dodgers. It was a time working and middle class men and woman of all ages, classes, races and religions commingled in the stands rooting for Jackie Robinson and his team mates regardless of ethnic origin game after game. Everyone could afford a bleacher, general admission, reserve or box seat. Hot dogs, beer, other refreshments and souvenirs were reasonably priced.

Just as Jackie Robinson fought racism in the 1950s, Detroit Tigers Hank Greenberg and other Jewish baseball players (many of whom proudly served in the military) had to do the same with anti Semitism in his time. Robinson and Greenberg both document the long lasting relationship between African Americans and Jewish sports fans standing together for decades in support of each other.

Team owners would raise or reduce a players salary based on their performance the past season. Salaries were so low, that virtually all Dodger players worked at another job off-season. Most Dodger players were actually neighbors who lived and worked in various Brooklyn communities. Residents of the era sat outside on the neighborhood stoop, shopped at the local butcher, baker, fruit and vegetable stand. Television was a relatively new technology and the local movie theater was still king for entertainment. Brooklyn still had its very own daily newspaper — the Brooklyn Eagle — which ended publication in 1955.
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During the 1950s, Dodgers owner Walter O’Malley tried to find various locations for construction of a new baseball stadium which he pledged to finance using his own monies. With limited seating capacity at Ebbets Field, he needed a new modern stadium to remain financially viable.

NYC master mega builder Robert Moses refused to allow him access to the current day Barclay Center built on the Atlantic Yards in downtown Brooklyn. This location was easily accessible to thousands of baseball fans from all around the Big Apple via numerous subway lines and Long Island Rail Road Flatbush Avenue Terminal.

Thousands of fans who moved to neighborhoods in eastern Queens, Nassau and Suffolk County would have had direct access via the LIRR. Imagine how different Brooklyn might be today if elected officials had stood up to Robert Moses and allowed construction of a new Dodgers stadium in downtown Brooklyn. Without the departure of both the Brooklyn Dodgers (becoming the Los Angeles Dodgers) and New York Giants (San Francisco Giants), there may have been no National League expansion in 1962. There would have been no Colt 45s (original name of the Houston Astros), our beloved New York Mets or the Barclays Center hosting the Brooklyn Nets basketball team.

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I grew up watching the cars and people line up to board the Bay Ridge to Staten Island ferry looking outside my families apartment window on Shore Road.

It was an era when most subway stations had clean, safe, working bathrooms with toilet paper and hot running water. Revenues generated from a 10-cent fee helped cover the costs. During this time, it was common to find both penny gum and 10 cent soda machines dispensing products at many subway stations. It was a time when people respected authority and law. That generation of riders did not litter subway stations, trains and buses leaving behind gum, candy wrappers, paper cups, bottles and newspapers. No one would openly eat pizza, chicken or other messy foods while riding a bus or subway. You would not see homeless people living in subway stations or riding trains.

I miss the good old days of Brooklyn.

– Larry Penner (transportation advocate, historian, and writer)

 

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2 Comments

  1. A lovely article. Robert Moses and the useless Mayor Robert Wagner pushed the Dodgers out of Brooklyn. Ebbets Field was in poor shape by the early 1950s and the offer from LA was too good to turn down. The surrounding neighborhood was deteriorating so it was a combination of factors.

    The proposed Flatbush & Atlantic location for a new Dodger stadium was problematic because at that time the property was owned by the Pennsylvania Railroad. I don’t know how far the negotiations got with the railroad.

  2. normanoder

    “NYC master mega builder Robert Moses refused to allow him access to the current day Barclay Center built on the Atlantic Yards in downtown Brooklyn.”
    O’Malley wanted to build nearby, not on the site of the Barclays Center
    https://archives.cjr.org/behind_the_news/a_sports_myth_grows_in_brooklyn.php

    About half the Barclays Center parcel was part of the MTA’s Vanderbilt Yard. About half the parcel was private property & public streets. “Atlantic Yards” was never a place; it was a brand name for a development proposed in 2003 by Forest City Ratner, and which has since been renamed Pacific Park.