In Ebbets Field, regret marks a lost stadium

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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.

UBBMD Update
Jorge targeting mid-week return
  • Whitey14

    Nice piece Ben. I’m in the middle of The Last Good Season right now and I’ve been feeling that O’Malley is getting a major pass from Shapiro. I wonder how it ends…do they stay, or go….don’t ruin it for me ;-)

  • dan

    Good points overall, but I think this sums up my view: “Sure, the Yankees are moving about 50 feet away and not 3000 miles.” I don’t there would be the same regret had Dodger fans still been able to see the Dodgers play.

  • Thom Madura

    There was a time when the waterfront defined the city of New York. There was a time when every Movie theater showed silents accompanied by huge pipe organs.
    There was a time when Mel Allen was the voice of the Yankees – and he being replaced by a young Phil Rizzuto was heresy. Many today don’t know who Mel Allen was, never saw Babe Ruth, or Joe D, or even the Mick.

    The Chrysler building was once the tallest. So were the WTC towers. The Verrazano Narrows bridge was one the longest.

    What makes New York City great is that it has been the city of Tomorrow – keeping pace with today – and with a great history that won’t go away. Ebbets field never left the minds of the people – the first Yankee Stadium won’t either.

    But the future demands we leave the past behind.

  • Steve S

    Nice post.

    But its an address.

    Ultimately its the players and the game that created those memories. As long as there is diamond shaped patch of grass in the Bronx with guys in pinstripes playing on it, then nothing fades or becomes less special.

  • Casper

    Not the same thing at all. Brooklyn didn’t just lose its stadium, Brooklyn lost its team. Many teams in many cities have moved from one stadium to another while tearing down their former home, the bitterness Brooklyn Dodgers fans feel is triggered by losing their entire franchise, not just their stadium. I mean… The Yankees themselves basically rebuilt Yankee Stadium. Admittedly there are some older fans who miss the old stadium, but those feelings are completely different than the feelings of Brooklyn Dodgers fans.

  • http://RiverAve.Blues Joseph M

    Great post Ben K. I will try to keep my comments short although you raised several interesting issue.

    First the Dodgers, it is nothing short of revisionist history to imply the Dodgers had attendance problems. Between 1950 and 1957, the Dodgers finished 1st or second in attendance every year but 1954 (the Dodgers were not competitive that season), and 1957 (again they were not competitive and of course it was their last season in Brooklyn). Robert Moses offered O’Malley the Shea Stadium site but he turned it down because it was not in “Brooklyn”. O’Malley realized there was a fortune to be made on the west coast, and O’Malley wanted to get there first. O’Malley was a shrewd businessman who strung New York along until he could get the LA deal he wanted. Between 1945-1965 Brooklyn demos changed dramatically, losing over 400,000 white residents and gaining 400,000 latino’s and blacks, O’Malley wanted no part of the new Brooklyn, make no mistake about that.

    When I was a kid the Yankees were finishing their last few years at the old Yankee Stadiun (I guess I’m dating myself here), to me that was Yankee Stadium. The Yankee Stadium that opened in 76 looks completely different so to me the Yankees are leaving a home they have been in for only 32 years not 85.
    I have great memories of the new Yankee Stadium but I never considered it the house that Ruth built so leaving doesn’t mean as much to me as it does to most fans.

  • Aaron

    Fantastic post Ben. I thought you made some great points but ultimately, I think Steve S. said it best. It’s the players and teams that made the moments, not the ballpark.

    However, I happen to believe that sometimes history needs to be cherished in its own way. With a brand new stadium down the street that will include Monument Park, why not leave portions of the old stadium in place. Around these portions or special parts of the park if you will – i.e. the plate, dugout, right field upper deck, etc. – the Yankees could build a Yankee Hall of Fame and Museum. Sure, the bigger stars get their place in Monument Park but this leaves a means to honor other beloved Yankees (a place for Bernie and O’Neill, etc., perhaps). The museum could easily be filled with highlights and memorabilia chronicling the history of the franchise.

  • batty

    Why do you say ‘we’ want it? I don’t, I never did, and a lot of other fans don’t either. Most of the ones excited and pushing the new stadium either don’t understand how much the true fan is getting shafted or will be buying one of those new suites.

    I’m not sure if I”ll be the same kind of fan that I am now truthfully. It’s hard to support the team when parkland has been taken away for parking, the Bronx is getting the shaft, the city is footing the bill for infrastructure, the fans will have even a harder time with less affordable seats (more standing room though – woot), and hard to argue against the arguments that the Yankees stand for nothing except money and profit. They’re not giving back to the community, they’re not giving back to the city, and they’ll be lining their pockets. Sure, they may go on and win another 26 world series but there’s a serious drain on the community which has supported them all these years.

  • W. Miller

    I am from Los Angeles but I have been intrigued with the history of the Brooklyn Dodgers since I was a boy. I realize that there will never be a relationship between a team and it’s community like there was in Brooklyn because the salary of the players has turned them into elitist.
    What I do not understand is this – the attendance at Dodger games in 1955, the year they won their first World Series was only 14,000 fan per game. I have viewed the attendance throughout the 1950’s and I can only wonder – Where were these loyal fans who still cry tears for the Boy of Summer?
    I believe there are a lot of phonies in Brooklyn. In L.A. last season, 3.8 million fans turned out to see an average team. WE LOVE THE DODGERS. In Brooklyn you said that you loved the Dodgers but WHERE WERE YOU?
    If ever there was a community that does not deserve MLB, that is the community of Brooklyn. You don’t not tell the truth.