Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Meaning of Ebbets Field - Part 1

This is a blog about 19th century New Jersey base ball, but the unusual circumstances of finishing Ebbets Field: Essays and Memories of Brooklyn's Historic Ballpark, 1913-1960, merit a relatively brief diversion into the next century and the neighboring state.  In the last post, I noted that the final tasks on the book meant a brief hiatus from the blog.  The tasks in question were checking the final proofs and preparing the index, work I had done on two previous books.  Both assignments require attention to detail, are very important, but not necessarily enjoyable or exciting.  Still this was my third time at the rodeo so I thought I knew what to expect.

I did not, however, anticipate a natural disaster might intervene, but the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy found us without power for almost a week.  Many people had it far worse, but doing the final work on the book with limited light, made for a unique experience.  After proofreading and indexing as long as daylight permitted, I then had several hours each evening where activity was limited to sitting in the dark until it was time to go to sleep.  Daylight was spent, therefore, immersed in Ebbets Field and the Dodgers while the involuntary nocturnal inactivity facilitated or forced more intensive reflection on the subject than would have otherwise been the case.

Earlier in the project, Tom Oliphant, retired columnist for the Boston Globe, and author of Praying for Gil Hodges, asked me if I had figured out why Ebbets Field and the Dodgers were so important to so many people so long after the fact.  I avoided the question at the time, but all those hours musing in the dark led to some initial conclusions that I want to explore over the next three posts.  Simply put I believe Ebbets Field and the Brooklyn Dodgers continue to be meaningful because of a combination of history, tragedy and community.

Take history first, 45 seasons of major league baseball at Ebbets Field were full of historic moments, but the breaking of the color line in 1947 stands out because of its significance beyond baseball.  Our book includes the Ebbets Field memories of people, ranging from Pulitzer Prize winning historians to the every day baseball fan and the Jackie Robinson story is a consistent theme throughout those memories.  All of this is looking backward, of course, and I think Brooklyn Dodger fans recognize their beloved team did something that was not just historic, but right, and because the Dodgers were their team, they were part of it.

The desire to be part of something memorable is an important human longing, one captured by Shakespeare in "Henry V," when the young king inspires his badly outnumbered army to overcome overwhelming odds by a powerful vision of what they can do together, promising them:

     "This story shall the good man teach his son,
      And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by
      From this day to the ending of the world
      But we in it shall be remembered" 

Unlike Henry's army of 6000 men, the Jackie Robinson story was shared by many more Dodger fans whether they were in the ballpark that historic day, during that historic season or merely learned about it as part what was going to be the next generation of Dodger fans.  I was only one year old in 1947, but I remember even as a young boy during the mid 1950's being proud that my team had done what just seemed instinctively to be such a good thing.

Historian Allen Nevins once wrote "the irresistible tidal forces in history are moral forces."  We don't get many opportunities to be part of the turning of such a tide and when we do, it's something that becomes part of our very being, never to be forgotten.  And so it was with Ebbets Field and the Brooklyn Dodgers.

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