When the Dodgers moved out of Brooklyn in 1957 and the city tore down Ebbets Field on February 23, 1960, a borough last a piece of its heart. In the ensuing 48 years, historians and Brooklyn baseball fans have spilled a lot of ink bemoaning the end of the stadium and the Walter O’Malley decision to move west.
A few weeks ago, I finished reading Bob McGee’s The Greatest Ballpark Ever: Ebbets Field And The Story Of The Brooklyn Dodgers. As Brooklyn Dodger histories go, it’s an appropriate companion piece to Michael Shapiro’s The Last Good Season: Brooklyn, the Dodgers, and Their Final Pennant Race Together.
In one book — McGee’s — O’Malley is the clear villain in moving the Dodgers; in the other, O’Malley tried to keep the team in New York, but Robert Moses was the man responsible for pushing them out of town. O’Malley wanted to build a new stadium near the current Atlantic Yards site in Brooklyn, but Moses didn’t want to use his Title I powers to build a baseball stadium. While McGee villianizes O’Malley and Shapiro gives him something of a pass, the truth is, of course, in the middle. Both men were responsible for the Dodgers’ flight to Los Angeles.
But for the sake of the Yankees, New York City stadium history is neither here nor there. McGee’s book though is relevant for another reason. When Ebbets Field was torn down, Brooklynites were visibly upset, but the team had just seen a long period of lagging attendance. They were playing in a ballpark that many — particularly the media — had deemed old and decrepit. It would have needed extensive renovations and space for parking, something not readily available in the Crown Heights/Prospect Heights parts of Brooklyn.
One of McGee’s main points is regret. Dodger fans regretted not saving the stadium; they regretted not supporting the team sooner; they regretted not doing anything about it. Fifty years after the Dodgers went west, Brooklynites — my older neighbors and my grandfather — will still speak with bitterness about the Dodgers and wistfulness about Ebbets Field.
Today, as we’re facing a Yankee Stadium whose days are numbered, I have to wonder if Yankee fans will one day in the not-so-distant future look back at the House that Ruth Built with the same sort of regrets. Sure, the Yankees are moving about 50 feet away and not 3000 miles, and sure, Yankee Stadium lost a lot of its history and charm during the renovations in the 1970s. But it’s still the iconic Yankee Stadium. It’s still seen its World Series, its Perfect Games, its parade of baseball legends.
Don’t get me wrong; the new stadium looks great from the outside and will be the standard of luxury inside. But I can’t help thinking that we don’t need this new stadium as badly as we think, and perhaps, when we all have time to dwell on what we’ve torn down and what we’ve lost, Yankee fans will come to regret not putting up more of a fight for their beloved old stadium too.