Friday, November 30, 2012

The Meaning of Ebbets Field - Part II

While wanting to be part of something historic, especially righting a wrong, is part of human nature, few of us long to be part of something tragic.  As a result, we don't typically choose to be part of a tragedy, we get caught up in them usually through no fault of our own.  There are no shortage of definitions of tragedy, but in this case I'm working with the idea that it's a tragedy when something good is lost for no valid reason.

Robert Moses

It's doubtful that anyone would debate whether Ebbets Field and the Brooklyn Dodgers were a good thing.  Even today more than 50 years after the last Dodger game at Ebbets Field, positive memories of the ballpark and the ball club come like sorrows in Hamlet, "in battalions."  For years the blame and the accompanying hostility fell pretty much exclusively on Dodgers owner, Walter O'Malley.  More recently effective arguments have been made that Robert Moses was the major cause of the Dodgers departure.  Elected officials in New York, especially New York City also bear some responsibility for allowing an un-elected, and therefore unaccountable official, like Moses to have so much power.  Our just published book about Ebbets Field doesn't devote much space to the issue as the story has been told many times and our book is about Ebbets Field which wouldn't have survived even if the Dodger had stayed in Brooklyn.  However the fan and player memories in the second half of the book don't lack for opinions and regardless of whether one comes down on one side or the other, there's plenty of blame to go around.

Walter O'Malley

For these purposes, however, the main point is that it didn't have to happen.  Robert Moses may have been correct that the Fort Greene meat market was better suited for some other use, but he could easily have worked with O'Malley and the Dodgers to find another site in Brooklyn.  Similarly O'Malley could have avoided the whole problem by taking another approach to the ball park site he already owned.  The major reasons given for the inadequacy of Ebbets Field were the lack of parking and limited seating capacity.  Yet today two of the most popular ballparks in major league baseball - Fenway Park and Wrigley Field, have little or no parking of their own and have somehow managed to solve similar seating capacity issues.  Ultimately those owners found enough value in the existing site to find a way to make it work.  O'Malley was a very successful owner, but he could have learned something from one of his predecessors, Charles Ebbets who did twice, what O'Malley couldn't do once - build a new home for the Dodgers.  And Ebbets did so working with far less money.

Charles Ebbets 

Again, regardless of how one allocates the blame, the end of the Ebbets Field and the Dodgers was (and still is) a tragedy because something good and valuable was lost when it didn't have to happen.  In 1952 there were only 16 major league teams, by 1958 almost 1/3 of them had relocated to new homes.  But in the other four cases, other than a small and devoted remnant, no one really cared, nor does anyone really care today.  The Brooklyn story is different because so many people did care and became innocent victims of this tragedy.  It's not something that anyone is likely to forget and is another reason why the memories of that historic ball park are so important and will never be forgotten.

Thursday, November 29, 2012


Very pleased to announce that Ebbets Field: Essays and Memories of Brooklyn's Historic Ballpark, 1913-1960 has been published.  It's available from both Amazon and Barnes and Noble as well as directly from the publisher McFarland and Co.  The paperback edition is available now and an electronic version should be available shortly.  The Amazon web page lists a several week wait for delivery, but it's available for immediate shipment from McFarland (

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.