To borrow a famous line from Dodgers icon, Tommy Lasorda, “I bleed Dodger Blue.” I have been a fanatic Dodgers fan since 1955 when the team was still in Brooklyn seeking its first World Series Championship.
Organized baseball in Brooklyn can be traced back to the 1850s. At that time various baseball clubs, first amateur, then later, professional, began to play in organized leagues. The City of Brooklyn (It was not yet part of NYC.) fielded a team in the first professional league, the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players, beginning in 1871. When the National League supplanted the NAPBB in 1876 Brooklyn was one of the eight cities to be awarded a franchise.
Apparently, teams and leagues came and went quickly in those days. The actual team that was to evolve into the Dodgers was formed in 1883 as a member of the American Association. It was named the Brooklyn Grays and played in Washington Park. It joined the National League in 1890.
In its formative years the team had various nicknames, such as “Grays,” “Robins,” “Superbas,” “Grooms,” and “Bridegrooms.” Eventually, it became known as the “Trolley Dodgers,” which was later shortened to “Dodgers.” The name ”Trolley Dodgers” was derived from the fact that in Brooklyn pedestrians were continually having to dodge the many trollies that ran on the newly installed tracks that seemed to be everywhere. Until the 1930s many fans and even newspapers continued, on occasion, to refer to the team under one of the old names. For all intents and purposes the matter was finally settled in 1932 when the team put “Dodgers” on its jerseys.
In 1913 the Dodgers moved into the newly constructed Ebbets Field, named after the team’s owner, Charles Ebbets. As was typical in that era the ballpark was located in a neighborhood, in this case, Flatbush, and was constructed to fit in the available space. Hence, Ebbets Field was relatively small with a seating capacity of 32,000 and a short “porch” in right field. Stores located on Bedford Avenue, which ran behind the right field screen, frequently suffered a broken window or two from the many balls hit over the wall. (I suppose the owners didn’t mind so much as long as the homer was hit by a Dodgers player.) Ebbets Field was a very intimate place. Fans felt like they were part of the game. If a fan yelled something the player or umpire would often hear it, and fans would often “interact” with the game in this manner. The team was always exciting and very popular, even in the early years when it wasn’t very good, much like the early NY Mets teams. It was not unusual for a player to live in the neighborhood and to mingle with ordinary people in the off-season. In the late 1920s one group of players became known as the”Daffiness Boys” because of their silly antics on the field. Their signature moment occurred when three players somehow ended up at third base on one play.
After WWII the team became very good indeed, with players such as Harold “Pee Wee” Reese, the Captain, Jackie Robinson, the first black player to play in the major leagues since the 19th century, Roy Campanella, and my hero, centerfielder Edwin Donald “Duke” Snider. Snider was such a big star that he was often compared to Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle, the centerfield stars of the NY Giants and Yankees, respectively. Fans would argue incessantly as to whom was the best player. There was even a popular song, “Willie, Mickey and the Duke.” The Dodgers dominated the National League from 1947 – 1956 winning six pennants and one World Series with two near-misses in 1950 and 1951.
It was preordained that I would be a Dodger fan. I was born in Brooklyn. We lived about a block away from Ebbets Field. You could hear the game from our apartment. My father was a big fan. No way would I become a fan of any other team.
Family lore is that my when my father took me to my first Dodgers game at probably too early an age I basically ignored the game in favor of the food. Whatever any particular vendor was offering – hot dogs, peanuts, crackerjacks, soda – I wanted. I’m sure anyone who knows me will not be surprised. In 1955, however, at the age of ten, I became a big fan. I began following the team on tv, radio and in the newspapers. I remember racing home from school to catch the last inning of Game 7 of the 1955 WS.
In 1956 my father surprised me by inviting me to go with him to Game 2 of the World Series at Ebbets Field against, who else, the Yankees. As I have blogged previously, I have a more vivid recall of that game than of games I saw last week. The starting pitchers were Don Newcombe for the Dodgers and Don Larsen for the Yankees. We sat in the leftfield stands, but, so what; I was too excited to care. I would have sat on top of the scoreboard if I had to. I remember the Dodgers fell behind 6-0 but came from behind to win, and my hero, Duke Snider, hit a key homer. And maybe the best part to an eleven year-old was that the original game had been postponed to the next day on account of rain, so I got to miss TWO days of school!
When the team left for LA after the 1957 season, like all other kids, I was devastated. I didn’t understand the political or economic issues, and I didn’t care. I just wanted to continue to follow the team. I was not interested in any other team. Anyway, for four years the only team left in NY was the hated Yankees. I remained a Dodgers fan from afar.
In those pre-internet, pre-ESPN days it was not easy to follow an out-of-town team, especially one in California. Watching the games on tv was out of the question. Following the scores in-game was virtually impossible as the games started at 11:00 pm. Even finding the box scores in the newspapers required some hunting. Sometimes they would appear two days afterwards, or, perhaps,not at all. Sometimes, if they were playing the Phillies, Pirates or Cardinals I could pick up a signal at night on my radio. Often, I would Iisten to a game in bed when I was supposed to be asleep. I can remember many times falling asleep only to wake up at 3:00 am or so with the radio squealing loudly in my ear. For some unfathomable reason, when the Mets were formed I stayed a Dodgers fan, even though most fans shifted over eventually.
In those pre-Super Bowl years, baseball was truly the National Pastime. There were only 16 teams, and my friends and I would know the names and statistics of every player on every team. Now, perhaps only really hard-core fans are that knowledgeable.
Over the years the Dodgers have provided me with many thrills, including:
- winning their five World Series, particularly the three over the hated Yankees in 1955 (their first), 1963 (a four game sweep), and 1981 (winning four straight after trailing 2-0),
- visiting “Dodgertown” in Vero Beach, FL, where the Dodgers trained for over 50 years, and
- Kirk Gibson’s dramatic home run to win Game 1 of the 1988 WS (“I don’t believe what I just saw!”).
There have been many agonizing moments as well, which I have tried to forget (blowing pennants in 1961 and 1962 come to mind).
One footnote on the 1981 WS: My son, Matt, was watching the games with me. He was six. He began the Series rooting for the Yankees, but as the Dodgers won their four straight games to win it he switched to rooting for the Dodgers. Undue influence? Perhaps.
I hope this trip down Memory Lane has not bored you, but this was a story I just had to let out.