Opinions & Observations: Happy Anniversary Jackie Robinson

February 3, 2021 Larry Penner
Jackie Robinson (1919-1972) became the first African-American to play major league baseball after Brooklyn Dodgers President Branch Rickey chose him to integrate baseball. AP Photo
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January 31st marked the 102nd anniversary of baseball legend and civil rights activist Jackie Robinson. It reminded me of the “Boys of Summer” 1950’s Dodgers winning teams. They included 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 original Brooklyn Dodgers name was derived from Brooklyn residents who would dodge trolley cars which ran for decades until their own decline and final death in the 1950’s. The golden era of baseball in NYC took place in the 50’s with a three way rivalry between the American League Bronx Yankees, 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. Ordinary Brooklyn natives could ride the bus, trolley or subway to Ebbets Field to see their beloved Dodgers. Working and middle class men and woman of all ages, classes and races commingled in the stands. Everyone could afford a bleacher, general admission, reserve or box seat. Hot dogs, beer, other refreshments and souvenirs were reasonably priced. 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.

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Most Dodger players were actually neighbors who lived and worked in various communities in the County of Kings. 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 the 50’s. The Dodgers departure from Brooklyn coincided with many residents also moving out of town.

This year marks the 62nd anniversary of the old Brooklyn Dodgers playing their final season in Brooklyn. During the 1950’s, Brooklyn 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 funds. With limited seating and automobile parking 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’s Arena site. This location was easily accessible to thousands of baseball fans from all around the Big Apple via numerous subway lines.

Thousands of fans who moved to Queens and Long Island would have had direct access via the Long Island Rail Road. Imagine how different Brooklyn would have been if elected officials had stood up to Robert Moses and allowed construction of a new Dodgers stadium in downtown Brooklyn. The 1950’s Boys of Summer might have played on with new players entertaining new generations for decades more.

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  1. Robert Sand

    A long time ago, but I well remember the day when Jackie Robinson and Roy Campanella visited Brooklyn’s PS 181 and urged us to pursue a college education. They were both very much a beloved part of our community.