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Today, six baseball legends will join the immortals inducted into Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. One of them is still known as the most hated man in Brooklyn. 50 years ago, Walter Francis O'Malley moved the Dodgers from Brooklyn to Los Angeles, changing baseball forever. Kitty Felde of member station KPCC profiles the late Dodger owner Walter O'Malley.
KITTY FELDE: Walter O'Malley may have been loathed in Flatbush, but to Angelinos, he's the man who brought Major League Baseball to the West Coast. Los Angeles was an afterthought for O'Malley, a native New Yorker. But when he became the Dodger owner in 1950, he inherited aging Ebbets Fields, a ballpark built in 1913.
Mr. WALTER O'MALLEY (Former Owner of the Dodgers): In Brooklyn, we didn't have a single parking lot. We'd parked in the driveways of people who had homes in the vicinity.
FELDE: O'Malley envisioned a domed stadium with a retractable roof and lots of parking in Brooklyn and paying for it with his own money. But he locked horns with Robert Moses, the powerful New York City planner who wanted the Dodgers to move to Queens. Meanwhile, across the country, a 22-year-old city council candidate named Roz Wyman made a campaign promise to bring a Major League Baseball team to L.A.
Ms. ROSALIND WYMAN (Former Los Angeles City Council Member): I felt that you were not a big league city unless you had big league sports.
FELDE: In 1956, L.A. county supervisor Kenneth Hahn traveled to the World Series between the Brooklyn Dodgers and the New York Yankees to see if he could persuade a major league owner to move west. Hahn was accompanied by L.A. sport writer Vincent X. Flaherty, who'd been lobbying for years from Major League Baseball. Hahn remembered Flaherty and gave him some advice.
Mr. VINCENT X. FLAHERTY (Sports Writer): Now, Kenny will never get a winner to come bless in this. Let's go for the bottom of the league. He said great, I know Calvin Griffith.
(Soundbite of music)
Unidentified man: (Singing) What do we got? We got heart. All you really need is heart.
FELDE: Calvin Griffith owned the hapless Washington Senators. The team was so awful, and it inspired "Damn Yankees," the Broadway musical about a Washington fan who sells his soul to the devil to get his team to the World Series. But the deal with Griffith was hung out to dry when Hahn received the message on a ballpark napkin.
Mr. KENNETH HAHN (L.A. County Supervisor, 1956): He said, don't make any deal with Calvin Griffith. I want to see you when I come to Los Angeles. I'm interested in Walter O'Malley.
FELDE: That may not exactly be the way it happened, but over the next few months, there were a series of secret meetings between O'Malley and L.A. officials. O'Malley was being cagey.
Mr. HAHN: Walter O'Malley said to me, I'll deny even meeting you, and I'll deny even saying where we're going to go because the Brooklyn Dodger fans were bums so loyal or vicious or how do you say that, he said, they'll murder me if I tell them I'm leaving.
FELDE: Finally, in October of 1957, the Dodgers announced they were leaving New York for greener pastures in L.A. Brooklyn mourned the loss of its bums. But out west, the team prospered, drawing three million fans a year, winning five World Series titles.
Unidentified Announcer: Here's the pitch, swung on and missed. A perfect game.
FELDE: Brooklyn fans never forgave him but Angelinos like Roz Wyman remember O'Malley as a larger than life character.
Ms. WYMAN: He, as I say, is devoted to his family, but yet, he was a hunter and a golfer and a storyteller and an Irish drinker. I mean, he had it all.
Mr. VIN SCULLY (Dodgers Announcer): Walter O'Malley was everybody's bestfriend.
FELDE: Dodger announcer Vince Scully joined the team the same year O'Malley became its owner.
Mr. SCULLY: His favorite day, if anybody asked me about a Walter O'Malley favorite day, would be to get up very early and plant. He loved the earth. Then he would love to play golf. He would love to watch a ballgame. He would love to have maybe a steak dinner, and then he loved to play poker with the boys. I mean, he was just that kind of a man.
FELDE: Walter O'Malley died in 1979. He'll join 'Goose' Gossage, Dick Williams, Bowie Kuhn and others as the newest members of the Baseball's Hall of Fame. For NPR News, I'm Kitty Felde in Los Angeles.
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