The Dodgers' O'Malley and the Hall

NPR's Scott Simon reflects on former Los Angeles Dodgers owner Walter O'Malley finally being elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Copyright © 2007 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

SCOTT SIMON, Host:

Walter O' Malley was elected to baseball's Hall of Fame this week, 28 years after his death, 50 years after he brought the national game to the golden west. His Dodgers won four World Series, 11 pennants, set attendance records, and were considered a model sports enterprise. So why did it take so long for him to get into the Hall of Fame? Walter O'Malley moved the Brooklyn Dodgers to Los Angeles. For some people, this wasn't a business decision, but a personal assault.

The Dodgers weren't just a ball club in Brooklyn; they were the ballplayers who lived down the street, the knights who bore Brooklyn's name in battle against the Giants in Manhattan. Moving the Dodgers from Brooklyn to Los Angeles has been considered both the smartest and rottenest thing a team owner has ever done. In one sharp stroke, Walter O'Malley made Major League Baseball a truly national enterprise, but he struck a blow to the heart of a place that may only now be starting to heal.

Baseball, like millions of Americans, began to go west in the 1950s. The Braves moved from Boston where they struggled as the second team in a small town to Milwaukee where they won a World Series. The St. Louis Browns went to Baltimore; the Philadelphia Athletics to Kansas City.

The Dodgers are one of three teams in New York. Their fans were colorful and devoted, but few of them came to the park. Attendance fell to a million a year at a time when the team's revenue depended on how many people came through the gates. Well, to O'Malley, he thought it was because fans who had moved from apartments in post-war Brooklyn to homes on Long Island had to drive to Ebbets Field.

WALTER O: In Brooklyn, we didn't have a single parking lot. We parked in the driveways of people who had homes in the vicinity. The day of the Brooklyn Charlie Dodger was over, and we had to reckon with the automobile.

SIMON: Walter O'Malley wanted to build a new ballpark with expanded parking in Atlantic and Flatbush Avenues, but Robert Moses, New York City's all powerful master planner, rejected the plan. Los Angeles eventually offered the club 352 acres near downtown and the chance to be the number one club in the nation's fastest growing city. Which would you choose? How many Brooklynites who reviled Walter O'Malley for moving the Dodgers wound up moving themselves to Long Island, New Jersey, Manhattan, even California because they saw more opportunity?

Robert Moses was an unsentimental man who didn't believe that sports stadiums enliven cities. Interestingly, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said just about the same thing last week to explain why he's unwilling to build a new stadium to bring a national football league team back to Los Angeles. It's hard to argue with results.

Many Brooklynites date the loss of people, jobs, and hope the burrow suffered for decades to the day Walter O'Malley took the Dodgers away. But the Dodgers prospered - the club that was so often considered Beloved Bumblers in Brooklyn. Them Bums won the World Series three times in their first eight years in California; that nickname, Bums, faded as quickly as a vacation tan for a team that had Koufax and Drysdale on the mound, with Maury Wills stealing seconds, and Frank Sinatra cheering them on from box seats. So 50 years later, Brooklyn is back, the Dodgers belong to L.A., and Walter O'Malley, or his plaque, will hang in the Hall of Fame.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "D-O-D-G-E-R-S (OH REALLY? NO, O'MALLEY)")

DANNY KAYE: (Singing) So I say D, I say D-O, D-O-D-G-E-R-S, the team that's all heart, all heart and all thumbs, they're my Los Angeles, your Los Angeles, our Los Angeles - do you really think we'll really win the pennant? Bums.

SIMON: Danny Kaye.

This is NPR News.

Copyright © 2007 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.