Why isn’t there a spot in Cooperstown for Charles Ebbets?
Now that Gil Hodges finally got his just due – he’ll be inducted in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, July 22, 2022 – it’s time for another Dodger to enter the hallowed hall.
Charles Ebbets, who served as co-owner of the Brooklyn Dodgers from 1897 to 1902 before becoming majority owner of the team – until his death in 1925 – is not in the Hall.
He also served as President of the Brooklyn Dodgers from 1898 to 1925.
According to his bio, his brother Jack had introduced him to Joseph Doyle and George Taylor – in 1883 – friends of his who had recently formed the Brooklyn Baseball Association with Ferdinand Abell and Charles Byrne.
Ebbets got a job working for the team selling tickets, score cards and peanuts at their Washington Park stadium at Fifth Avenue and Third Street.
In 1891 the Brooklyn Bridegrooms – as they were then known – moved to a larger field – Eastern Park.
And, several years later, they had to move again, this time to the 18,000-seat Washington Park 2nd at the original site.
The very first game at the new Washington Park was played on the afternoon of April 30, 1898.
“The ball season is on in Brooklyn – inaugurated at the new grounds in South Brooklyn yesterday before a crowd of 15,000,” reported the Brooklyn Eagle.
Brooklyn lost to the Philadelphia Phillies, 6-4. During that 1898 season, he served as field manager for 106 games, compiling a record of 38-68.
By 1890, Ebbets had saved enough money to make an investment in the team, and he continued to buy stock whenever he could. That same year, the Bridegrooms won the National League pennant in their first yar in the league. In January, 1898, he owned 80 percent of the stock, the other 20 percent being held by the club’s then president, Charles H. Byrne.
Byrne died three days later and Ebbets was elected president of the ball club on January 13, 1898. In 1899, the Superbas won the National League pennant, their second in nine years. They would win the pennant the following year.
Ebbets knew that the Washington Park site would not do for the game of baseball that he envisioned. It was a wooden structure and subject, therefore to fire and significant maintenance. It was also located in South Brooklyn, near several factories and a canal odor permeated the air.
He scouted around for an alternate site – and his attention soon focused on an area in Flatbush known as “Pigtown” – so called because it was a local dump occupied principally by squatters. A major part of its attraction was that the nine separate trolley car lines converged near the site.
Ebbets quietly began to purchase individual lost in Pigtown over a four-year period. By 1911 he had acquired five-and-a-half acres of land for the price of $100,000.
In 1912, Ebbets sold half of his holdings in the Superbas to raise the $750,000 needed to build a new stadium and construction of the Superbas’ new 25,000-seat stadium at 55 Sullivan Place near the intersection of Empire Boulevard – called Malbone Street at the time) and Bedford Avenue was completed and Ebbets Field opened for its first ballgame.
Following an exhibition game on April 5th in which the Superbas beat the Yankees 3-2, opening day of April 9, 1913 saw a packed house witness the Philadelphia Phillies defeat the Superbas 1-0.
When he built Ebbets Field, he said: “Later I hope the players will capture a pennant, to make the combination complete.”
During his lifetime, he saw two pennants (1916 and 1920) while playing under the field that bore his name, although he never saw a World Series title. The Dodgers did not win a World Series until 1955. Five years after the title – and three years after the team left Brooklyn – his stadium was demolished. The Ebbets Field Apartments now stand on the site.
Ebbets Field was the baseball home for a team with various names – Trolley Dodgers, Dodgers, Flock and Robins were interchangeable monikers until the Dodgers label was officially affixed through a vote of the press in the 1930s.
Ebbets’s contributions to baseball deserve to be recognized with a plaque in Cooperstown, New York.
When Ebbets died in 1925, the New York Times eulogized, “Virtually the whole of Mr. Ebbets’ life was devoted to baseball. His sole interest was baseball and all his money was in it. He served the game wholeheartedly, with a fixed purpose which finally brought fulfillment.”
His first concept was Ladies Day in 1899, in which women were admitted into the ballpark for a reduced fee. He also helped in changing the length of the Major League Baseball schedule from 140 to 154 games in 1904, based on the distances required to visit each club in the league.
In 1906, he helped in the installation of separate batting and fielding practices for his Dodger team and the visiting team along with separate dressing rooms with lockers and running water – at the time, the visiting team came dressed from their hotel before arriving at the ballpark.
He also came up with the “rain check” in 1911, in which a detached portion of the ticket could be used in the event of a rain-out. Two years later, he came up with the idea for the players’ draft, in which the team with the worst record gets the first picks in the draft.
During an exhibition game in Memphis on March 28, 1917 between his team and the Boston Red Sox, the two teams wore numbers on their sleeves due to his belief that fans in a non-major league city like Memphis wouldn’t be familiar with the players. He proposed having all teams to put numbers on the players’ sleeves or caps during a National League meeting on December 13, 1922, but it was left to the discretion of the teams – the practice of numbers on uniforms did not come into popularity until 1929. In 1925, he persuaded others to adopt as a permanent rule the 2-3-2 pattern used in the previous World Series. The format is still used today.
Gil Hodges is now a member of the hallowed hall – his neighbor needs to be Charles Ebbets.
Andy Furman is a Fox Sports Radio national talk show host. Previously, he was a scholastic sports columnist for the Brooklyn Eagle. He may be reached at: [email protected] Twitter: @AndyFurmanFSR
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