Wednesday, April 18, 2012

A Twentieth Century Interruption (Early Twentieth Century)

Last week when I was trying to focus on current research (NJ base ball 1855-1860), there were a series of interruptions from past research (Ebbets Field 1913-1957).  First I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the next volume of Robert Caro's biography of Lyndon Johnson is scheduled to come out on May 1st.  That may not seem to have any relevance to Ebbets Field, but it does to me as Mr. Caro was one of the many people Paul Zinn and I interviewed for our forthcoming book on Ebbets Field.  I have long admired Mr. Caro's books and speaking with him was just as much a thrill as speaking to former major league baseball players.

                                             Ebbets Field before the 1930-31 expansion

Then on Friday the phone rang and it was someone from the Brooklyn Historical Society where I had served as lead historian on their Ebbets Field exhibit - "Home Base."  A reporter from the Wall Street Journal had contacted BHS about an upcoming exhibit at Brooklyn College on the original blueprints at Ebbets Field - would I speak to the reporter?  The result was about a half an hour phone conversation about Ebbets Field, but more specifically about Charles Ebbets then president of the Dodgers.  The article, "Soon on Display in Brookyn: 'Holy Grails' of Baseball" appeared in the April 16th edition of the WSJ and the author was kind enough quote me.

Charles Ebbets vision of Ebbets Field

If that wasn't enough when I returned home on from Saturday's Neshanock game, I found a copy of the most recent issue of Baseball Hall of Fame's excellent magazine "Memories and Dreams" - a commemorative edition about the centennial of Fenway Park.  Included was an article about the 1910's as an era of ballpark construction which, of course, included Ebbets Field.  In writing about the Brooklyn ballpark, the author repeats the stories of glitches that marred the April 1913 opening.  The stories as presented in the article aren't completely accurate, but more importantly for my purposes they are part of the picture that history has created of Charles Ebbets as sort of a well meaning bumpkin who can't seem to get out of his own way.

The initial essay for our forthcoming book about Ebbets Field (tentatively entitled - Ebbets Field: Essays and Memories of Brooklyn's Beloved Ballpark, 1913-1960) is one that I wrote called "Charles Ebbets, Builder of Ballparks, Ball Clubs and More."  In researching Ebbets career a very different picture emerged.   Ebbets certainly made his share of mistakes and was always short on money, but he gradually built a successful franchise on and off the field and did it in a way (I believe)that established the close relationship between the community and the ball club.  Ebbet also made some major contributions to the game he worked in for over 40 years including the current 2-3-2 World Series format and the reverse order draft.  The latter has become the norm in every professional sport, before Ebbets got it changed, drafting positions in baseball were chosen by lot.

Charles Ebbets in his prime

I've toyed for a long time with the idea of trying to write a biography of Ebbets or at least a book about how he and others built the Dodgers into a successful franchise with close community ties.  It would be a big project, but the activity of the past week has certainly reopened the possibility - now if I could only think of how to live without sleeping!

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