- The Washington Times - Monday, June 25, 2001

THE WAY IT WAS

There's a ball club in Brooklyn.
The team they call "Dem Bums."
But keep your eyes right on them.
And watch for the hits and runs.


Organist Gladys Gooding played the Brooklyn Dodgers' theme song before and after the final game at Ebbets Field on the gloomy night of Sept. 24, 1957. In between, the Dodgers beat the Pittsburgh Pirates 2-0. And then they were gone to Los Angeles, taking with them what had been a way of life in the Borough of Churches.
The Dodgers had won six pennants in 10 years after capturing the heart and soul of a nation by introducing Jackie Robinson as the first black player in Organized Baseball since 1884. It didn't matter.
Just two years earlier, the Dodgers had electrified the borough by beating the New York Yankees in the World Series after five failures, prompting the New York Daily News to proclaim "Who's a Bum?" on its front page. That didn't matter either.
After years of fruitless and perhaps insincere negotiations with New York City over the building of a domed stadium to replace tiny Ebbets, Dodgers owner Walter O'Malley was ready to reap the rewards of bringing major league baseball to the West Coast. He had persuaded Giants owner Horace Stoneham to move the New York Giants to San Francisco. And now both parties to the most heated rivalry in sports were going, going, gone.
Understandably, O'Malley's name was anathema in Brooklyn. TV talkmeister Larry King, a teen-ager then, liked to tell how he and a friend decided to select the three most evil men in history and compare lists.
Their choices were identical: Hitler, Stalin, O'Malley.
At one time, 3 million citizens lived in Brooklyn, a place where individuality and pride reigned supreme. But now, in the '50s, people were fleeing the crowded streets for the open air and green fields of Long Island. Block by block and neighborhood by neighborhood, the Dodgers' fan base was disappearing.
Meanwhile, the team was growing old. Captain Pee Wee Reese was nearly 40 in '57. Ace Carl Erskine's arm was too sore for him to pitch more than once a week. Catcher Roy Campanella had a miserable season after a careless doctor cut a nerve in his hand during routine surgery; his career would end that winter when he was permanently paralyzed in an auto accident. Center fielder Duke Snider needed knee surgery. Right fielder Carl Furillo, a k a "the Reading Rifle," had bad knees.
And Robinson, who personified the Dodgers to fans and non-fans across the country, was gone. He had retired after the 1956 season when, unbelievably, the club traded him to the hated Giants. The glory days were becoming a memory now. The Dodgers would finish a distant fourth in '57 as the Milwaukee Braves cheered every night by adoring capacity crowds swept to their first pennant. The following season in Los Angeles, the Dodgers would limp home seventh before reviving to win the pennant in '59 with an almost entirely new cast.
Although the Dodgers ironically drew more than a million in their last season, only 6,702 fans subjected themselves to the final home game, many with moist eyes. Gooding, an Ebbets Field fixture, did her best to turn the tears into a flood. After the Bums scored in the first inning, she banged out "Am I Blue" and "After You're Gone." The scoring of a second run in the third inning produced "Don't Ask Me Why I'm Leaving." As the game neared an end mercifully, it required only two hours and three minutes the small gathering heard "Que Sera Sera" and "Thanks For the Memory."
After the final out, P.A. announcer Tex Rickards issued his customary request that spectators not go onto the field. It was ignored, of course, as fans rushed to snatch any blade of grass or handful of dirt that could serve as a sad souvenir.
Meanwhile, Gooding kept at it. She played "May the Good Lord Bless You and Keep You" and then, inevitably, "Auld Lang Syne." The Dodgers disappeared into their dugout. The ground crew raked the infield, covered the mound and plate and did other landscaping chores as if a game were scheduled the next day.
Campanella hosted a beer and crab fingers farewell party for the players in the clubhouse. The Brooklyn Dodgers then went to Philadelphia for their final three games of the season. And then, literally, a baseball era ended.
The wrecking ball arrived at Ebbets on Feb. 23, 1960, a properly solemn occasion. Members of the ground crew were attired in blue-and-white windbreakers like those the Dodgers had worn. More than 200 people, including several former players, heard Lucy Monroe sing the national anthem, as she had before hundreds of games. Weeks later, the cornerstone was sold to Warren Giles, president of the National League, for $500. Appropriately, it went to the Baseball Hall of Fame.
A high-rise apartment building was erected on the site of Ebbets Field, and a playground across the street was named in honor of Jackie Robinson. And ultimately a great baseball silence descended.
In 1962, the National League returned to New York with the birth of Casey Stengel's expansion Mets. The team's colors were blue (for the Dodgers) and orange (for the Giants), and it played in the Polo Grounds until Shea Stadium opened in 1964. Horrid at first, the Mets won pennants in 1969, 1973, 1986 and 2000. Generations of children grew up knowing little, if anything, about the Brooklyn Dodgers.
Not for 44 years would professional baseball return to Brooklyn. Tonight in spanking new KeySpan Park at Coney Island, the Brooklyn Cyclones will play their first home game in the short-season Class A New York-Penn League.
A minor league team where the Boys of Summer once cavorted? For fans old enough to remember "Dem Bums," it will be a most bittersweet evening.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide