Brooklyn Boro

Happy Belated Birthday, Jackie Robinson

February 3, 2022 Larry Penner
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Jackie Robinson holding his Most Valuable Player award for the National League in 1950

Jan. 31 marked the 103rd birthday of baseball legend and civil rights activist Jackie Robinson.  It reminded me of the “Boys of Summer” 1950s Dodgers winning teams. These teams 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.  Many people 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 that ran for decades until their own decline and final death in the 1950s. The golden era of baseball in New York City took place in the ’50s with a three-way rivalry between the American League New York Yankees, the National League New York Giants and the National League 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 women of all ages, classes and races mingled 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 player’s salary based on his 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 communities in the County of Kings. They were residents of the borough who sat outside on the neighborhood stoop and shopped at the local butcher, baker, and fruit and vegetable stand.

The Dodgers’ infield in 1947: John Jorgensen, Pee Wee Reese, Ed Stanky and Jackie Robinson.

Television was a relatively new technology, and the local movie theater was still king for entertainment.  Brooklyn still had the original Brooklyn Eagle, which ended publication in the mid-1950s. The Dodgers’ departure from Brooklyn coincided with many residents also moving out of town.

This year marks the 63rd anniversary of the old Brooklyn Dodgers playing their final season in Brooklyn. During the 1950s, 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.

New York City master builder Robert Moses refused to allow him access to the current-day Barclays Arena site. This location was easily accessible to thousands of baseball fans from all around the Big Apple via numerous subway lines. In addition, thousands of fans who had 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 1950s Boys of Summer might have played on with new players entertaining new generations here for decades more.

Jackie Robinson tries unsuccessfully to steal home in Chicago in 1949.

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