Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Brooding Over the Brooklyn Bandbox Abandonment

On September 24, 1957, the Brooklyn Dodgers played their last game at Ebbets Field against the Milwaukee Braves.  Dodgers owner Walter O'Malley had been angling for years to build a replacement facility for the National League team.  O'Malley proposed a domed stadium in Brooklyn's Atlantic Yards (ironically now where the Barclay's Center stands) but  New York Building Commissioner Robert Moses "would not play ball."  Moses wanted a stadium erected in Flushing Gardens, Queens (where Shea Stadium and Citi Field were built), but  O'Malley insisted: "We are the Brooklyn Dodgers, not the Queens Dodgers!".  To put pressure on New York City officials, O'Malley had "Da Bums" play a few homestands in Jersey City, New Jersey for two years, but to no avail.  O'Malley packed up the Dodgers and left for sunny Los Angeles in 1958.  And Brooklyn was never the same.

Yid With Lid's Jeff Dunetz argued that September 24, 1957 was "the day the Borough of Brooklyn died" as the Dodgers were the glue that kept Brooklyn together.  Being a Brooklyn Dodgers fan was likened to being a "state religion" in Brooklyn.  It was hypothesized that blue collar, ethnic first and second generation Americans identified with "Dem Bums" and were proud that Dodger players were just like them and lived among them.  In fact, Samuel Johnson, an old-time Brooklyn Dodgers fan who lives at the Ebbet Field Apartments, recalled how seeing Jackie Robinson around in the neighborhood with his  pigeon toed walk. 

Brooklyn Dodgers fans have an unusual nostalgic affection for Ebbets Field, which was the Dodgers home for 45 years.  Ebbets Field was built in "Pig Town" in 1912 between Bedford Avenue, Sullivan Place, McKeever Place, and Montgomery Streets from a collection of parcels which included a garbage dump.  When Ebbets Field opened in 1913, the intimate bandbox (a.k.a. cigar box) stadium sported neither a flag pole nor a press box (the latter was not added until 1929).   Ebbets Field had character because of its topography-- the parcel of sloping ground required that the right field corner be above street level.  Ebbets Field could only seat 35,000 fans and had no hopes of expansion.  Fans of "Dem Bums" thought that it had a homey feel.

After O'Malley moved the Dodgers to the Chavez Ravine in "Dodger-town" California, Brooklyn fans were thoroughly bummed about the abandonment of the Brooklyn Bandbox.  Ebbets Field was demolished with great ceremony in February 1960.

The site was turned into the Ebbets Field Apartments.  However that did not destroy the nostalgia for the Ebbets Field and Brooklyn Dodgers among their die-hards.  Frank Sinatra had a song "There Used to Be a Ballpark"  aimed at Ebbets Field.  The facade for Citi Field in Queens architecturally evokes the exterior of Ebbets Field.  And Ebbets Field even managed to be part of the plot in the film Field of Dreams (1989).  People still pay good money for associations with Ebbets Field.  In January 2014, for example, the Ebbets Field street sign which stood at the corner of Montgomery and McKeever sold for nearly $59,000.

Why do people still brood today of the abandonment off the Brooklyn Bandbox.  Native New Yorkers get nostalgic about the prominence of the Big Apple. The Dodgers and the Giants simultaneously skipping out to California was a cognitive blow which inspired incredible animus.  Hence, Judge Motley's quip about the "notorious abandonment" of Brooklyn 35 years later.  The observation about the Dodgers being the sticky stuff which held the borough of Brooklyn together has some merit.  The Dodgers ducking out of Brooklyn may have also marked the end of a certain age of innocence.  Pro sports used to be a pastime which a lucky few like Roy Campanella continued play boyhood games into adulthood during the summer, only to go back to day jobs in the off season.  The Dodgers move to Los Angeles may have underscored that pro sports could become big business. 

Even though the Brooklyn Dodgers may have abandoned the borough, they did manage to keep their trademark.  Brooklyn based restauranters opened "the Brooklyn Dodgers Sports Bar and Restaurant in 1988 arguing that the Dodgers abandoned Brooklyn in 1957, changing the organizations name and had abandoned the trademark.  This might have been a successful trademark challenge, except the L.A. Dodgers started marketing Brooklyn Dodgers merchandise again in 1981.  Major League Properties won the case in 1993 but the entrepreneurs had long since before gone out of business. 

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