By Peter Stamelman
Special to the Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Just in time for the holidays comes the perfect book to warm a true Brooklynite’s heart: “Our Bums: The Brooklyn Dodgers in History, Memory and Popular Culture” by Daid Krell, with a forward by Branch Rickey III. This book — published by McFarland; available only at www.mcfarlandpub.com — will be catnip to the loyal legion of global Brooklyn Dodgers fans from Bay Ridge to Beijing. Charles Ebbets, Iron Joe McGinnity, Casey Stengel (yes, before he was the Yankees’ skipper, he was a Dodger who, on the day Ebbets Field opened — April 15, 1913 — hit an inside-the-park home run to defeat, who else?, the Yankees), Preacher Roe, Leo “the Lip” Durocher, Red Barber, Dixie Walker, Sandy Koufax, Walter O’Malley (hiss…), James William “Junior” Gilliam and, of course, Jackie Robinson — they’re all here.
As are all the legendary moments: Bobby Thomson’s “shot heard round the world”; Durocher’s alleged pummeling of an unruly fan (“With only one member that had never been to Ebbets Field, a Kings County jury took 38 minutes to acquit Durocher”); Pee Wee Reese’s display of class when, “in one of the deepest parts of the South” he put his arm on Jackie Robinson’s shoulder in a gesture of grace and inclusion (at MCU Park, home of the New York-Penn League’s Class A Brooklyn Cyclones, there is a statue that commemorates this indelible moment); Hilda Chester and her hallmark cowbell; the Sym-Phony Band in Section 8 (who played “Three Blind Mice” when the umpire blew a call); Happy Felton and his Knothole gang; Marianne Moore’s poem “Hometown Piece for Messrs. Alston and Reese” appearing on the front page of the Oct. 3, 1956 New York Herald Tribune, celebrating the first game of the 1956 World Series; the ineffably sad night of Sept. 24, 1957, when the Dodgers played their last game at Ebbets Field.
As Krell plaintively puts it, “For the 6,702 fans who went to Ebbets Field one last time and for thousands of others mourning across the borough, a bond once thought unbreakable had shattered. It was impossible. And yet it was happening.”
Krell cleverly uses nine innings to indicate his chapters. So the reader proceeds from the euphoria of “One Borough Under Blue” (first inning) to “A Ravine of Gold” (ninth inning), a reference to Chavez Ravine in Los Angeles. In between, there is the glory of “No Grander Name on Earth then Brooklyn” (second inning/chapter, in which the Brooklyn Eagle itself figures prominently), the triumph of “Democracy Has Finally Invaded Baseball” (Jackie Robinson, fourth inning), and the 1955 exaltation of “Ladies and Gentlemen, the Brooklyn Dodgers are the Champions of the World!” (Vin Scully’s call) in the seventh inning/chapter. Sadly, the last two innings are all, no pun intended, bummers.
Two seasons after Scully and Brooklyn exulted, the Dodgers had decamped for Southern California. “Anchored by a sweetheart deal with the power brokers of Los Angeles [who] gave him [Dodgers’ owner Walter O’Malley] the real estate of Chavez Ravine gratis for the new Dodger Stadium,” henceforth the team would be known as the Los Angeles Dodgers.
As Krell points out, the team moniker was now irrational: “The name “Dodgers” proclaims a Brooklyn legacy of trolleys that dominated mass transportation in the borough…[P]edestrians had to ‘dodge’ them to avoid injury.”
It was now O’Malley himself who had to get out of Dodge, and it was more than trolleys he had to be wary of — it was the wrath of an entire borough, as evidenced by the gallows humor of this joke, quoted by Krell: “A guy says to his friend, ‘If you were in a room with Hitler, Stalin and Walter O’Malley and you had a gun with two bullets, what would you do?’ The friend says, ‘Shoot O’Malley twice.’”
In the interest of full disclosure, because I was 7 years old at the time and did not fully fathom the treachery of O’Malley’s act, I shifted my allegiance 3,000 miles west, and ignoring as best I could the displeasure of other family members, I remained a Dodgers fan. Ironically enough, after college, I joined the William Morris Agency in New York and two years later they relocated me to the Beverly Hills office. After a house and a car, the third most significant purchase I made was Dodgers seasons tickets. The gestalt of Ebbets was definitely missing, and there was no Happy Felton to read a question of mine on TV, but to quote my favorite playwright, Tom Stoppard (who happens to be a cricket fan), “Happiness is equilibrium; shift your balance.”
Reading Krell’s indispensable book, especially on the heels of seeing John Crowley’s and Nick Hornby’s lovely and subtle film adaptation of Colm Toibin’s magical novel “Brooklyn,” makes me realize both what a golden age I missed and why my mishpoca saw me as an Eastern Parkway Benedict Arnold. Now my son roots for the Mets; I cut him slack.