Putting a stake in the heart of Dodgers nostalgia, new book on O’Malley points out that Brooklyn had rebounded by the 1960s
Remember, as Atlantic Yards boosters would have it, the Brooklyn Nets would salve a deep wound. When Atlantic Yards was announced in December 2003, the New York Times reported 12/11/03:
But the Brooklyn Borough president, Marty Markowitz, said the project would fill the hole left when the Brooklyn Dodgers moved to Los Angeles after the 1957 season, a moment that he said still reduces him to tears.
(Actual quote: “crying like a baby.")
Eighteen months later, the Times had reified Markowitz’s sentiments into a gross generalization, reporting, in a 6/9/05 article headlined Unlike Stadium on West Side, an Arena in Brooklyn Is Still a Go:
Brooklyn, still smarting from the loss of the Dodgers nearly 50 years ago, is generally more welcoming to projects that could help put it on the national map.
Recovery after six years
Remember, the Dodgers left in 1957. Consider this excerpt from Forever Blue published in Sports Illustrated:
Was it true? Had O'Malley crushed Brooklyn's spirit? The answer is no. In 1963, after the Dodgers vanquished the Yankees in the World Series, a New York Times editorial titled Joy in Flatbush declared, "At last the wounds have healed." In 1969, when the New York Mets won the World Series, Brooklyn honored them with a rally at Borough Hall. The victory made the Dodgers seem like ancient history.
But then, in 1972, Kahn published one of the most romantic and moving baseball books ever written. The Boys of Summer turned the Brooklyn Dodgers into paragons of virtue, living symbols of all that was good about America before the upheavals of the 1960s: the counterculture, the shock of political assassinations and the wrenching protests over the Vietnam War. The book became a best seller and a sports classic not only because it was a good read but also because it was infused with the author's love for the team. Still, Kahn wouldn't deny that it also benefited from something in the national mood. TIME magazine described The Boys of Summer as part of a wave of nostalgia in popular culture that included the movie The Last Picture Show and the musical Grease. Like many a good story, the book had a villain: O'Malley, whom it depicted as a cheerless, money-obsessed old man.
Beloved in Southern California
At a reading and discussion Saturday at the Brooklyn Historical Society, New York Times sportswriter Richard Sandomir introduced the book by recounting an anecdote about meeting Hall of Fame pitcher Tom Seaver, who, upon meeting D’Antonio, exclaimed, “You’re writing a book about Walter O’Malley! Walter O’Malley brought baseball to the West Coast! I love Walter O’Malley!”
Indeed, D’Antonio writes:
As much as he was reviled in New York, O'Malley was loved in Southern California, and in the end he viewed his success there as a gift from Robert Moses. He revealed this once, in a note to an old friend. It was the only document among his papers that expressed this view of his nemesis. O'Malley wrote: "Bob became an enemy when he sabotaged our plans to build a stadium in Brooklyn. He became a benefactor when his opposition became so violent that we left Brooklyn and happily became established in California."
It's plain to see that O'Malley was right. And the sons and daughters of Brooklyn have reason to let go of their old grudge. Truth is good for the soul. Forgive, and forget.
AY vs. Dodgers
Remember, in a September 2007 New York Magazine article headlined Exorcising the Dodgers, Sam Anderson wrote:
Atlantic Yards is Dodgers nostalgia run amok: New Brooklyn getting rich on the dying myth of Old Brooklyn—a supposed tribute to the borough that may well end up defacing the Brooklyn it’s pretending to honor.
Back in November, 2005, Scott Turner of Fans for Fair Play savaged the relevance of Dodgers nostalgia in the context of the Atlantic Yards saga, contrasting owners, their devotion to sports, their commitment to local fans, the players, ticket costs, and commitment to local businesses, among other things.
An exhibition at the Museum of the City of New York in 2007 about the “Glory Days” of New York baseball (1947-57) added a gloss:
Why do the Glory Days continue to exert such a hold on the fans who experienced them? In part, is is because baseball was the big game in town, not yet truly challenged by the other league sports such as football or basketball. But while it was the big time, it was not yet the big business it is today.
More from the book
D’Antonio adds more context on that issue. In an interview Friday with the New York Times, he was asked for context:
Q: "Forever Blue” describes the Brooklyn Dodgers as “America’s team before there was such a term.” Explain.
MD: Brooklyn, with its spirit and history as a first home for immigrants, has always had a special place in America’s heart. During the Great Depression, when the Dodgers were called the “Daffiness Boys” and “dem Bums,” the team had such hard luck that fans who loved the underdog loved them. In the 1940s, as they started to win regularly, management put together an ethnically diverse squad that resembled the idealized units of soldiers in movies about World War II.
Everyone could relate to someone on the team, and this became even more true when Jackie Robinson arrived and broke the color barrier. In the future, the Dallas Cowboys football team would claim the title of America’s team because they were powerful winners. I think the Brooklyn Dodgers held that title first because they were much more. This is why they drew more fans on the road than any other team in their league, more even than they saw at Ebbets Field.
On Leonard Lopate
In an interview Friday on WNYC radio’s Leonard Lopate Show, the host, at about 7:45, brought up the issue.
LL: In World War II movies, there was always a guy from Brooklyn who would go to great lengths to find out if the Dodgers had won that day.
MD: They were not just Brooklyn’s team. In many people’s hearts, across America, they were America’s team. And I think it’s because. in the 30s, they were perennial losers... but they were lovable. And then they started to win...
During the discussion Saturday at the Brooklyn Historical Society, D’Antonio added another layer, explaining that the Dodgers were the first team to have a national radio contract.
Consider that there’s no market for national coverage of the Nets. Consider also puffery from the likes of State Senator Marty Golden, who declared, according to a 4/14/06 Courier-Life article:
“It is the chance of a lifetime to have stars such as Jason Kidd, Vince Carter, Richard Jefferson and all the others have their home court based in Brooklyn.”
Two of those three have already been traded.
An Atlantic Yards mention
During Friday’s interview, at about 15:05, Lopate misleadingly suggested (as other journalists have done) that O’Malley wanted to build on the Atlantic Yards site and, though his interviewee seemed to assent, described accurately the site of what is now the Atlantic Center mall.
LL: Well, He wanted to build a field in a big empty space that is controversial again today.
LL: Bruce Ratner wants to build an arena where Walter O’Malley wanted to build a new stadium: Atlantic Yards.
MD: This spot, back in the late 1940s, was home to a public market that was all meat dealers and butchers, surround also by retail meat shops. It was one of the worst places to wander through on a summer day, you can imagine, the gutter ran with blood.
...In those days, the housing around it was all substandard. Also, there was usable space over the Long Island Rail Road tracks.
Yes, there was usable space, but it would’ve been very expensive to build a deck.
Effect on Brooklyn
At about 24:55, Lopate tried to connect past and present.
LL: What effect do you think the Dodgers’ move had on Brooklyn’s development?
MD: Y’know, I think it did knock the spirit out of Brooklyn for a while.
LL: The ballpark, which everybody loved, was replaced by some of the most ugly housing anybody could imagine. And that almost seemed symbolic of what was going on.
MD: It is, and it’s also, I think, symbolic that they never got to develop the property O’Malley was targeting into the center of entertainment and retailing that he envisioned. It would be so wonderful if we had that park there.
LL: I’m not so sure I feel the same way about the Atlantic Yards, but that’s a whole other matter.
It is a whole other matter, because 1) O’Malley wanted to build at the site of the Atlantic Center mall and 2) as far as I know, he was planning a ballpark, nothing more. Note that D’Antonio lives on Long Island, not Brooklyn.
Revisionism regarding Moses
The villain in D’Antonio’s saga is not O’Malley but rather Robert Moses, who was adamantly against a Brooklyn ballpark, and instead wanted to put a ballpark in Flushing Meadows in Queens, the eventual location of Shea Stadium. In fact, Moses had identified a location by 1945.
D’Antonio on Saturday suggested that "this guy wanted to give Brooklyn a private stadium," and there was a way for Moses to use eminent domain to get him the property.
The effect of consolidation
D'Antonio also traces the loss of the Dodgers to Brooklyn's status as a borough, not a city, without its own mayor and city planning department to steer its destiny. That certainly makes sense, but it's not the whole story.
"They gave away so much" in losing their autonomy, D'Antonio said of Brooklyn leaders and voters who agreed (narrowly) to consolidation in 1898.