With mid-February signaling the start of Major League Baseball spring training, fans rejoice that baseball that is back and get excited for the start of 2020 season.
I am not a fan.
Like most post-World War II boys, baseball was America’s game and as I’ll explain the Brooklyn Dodgers was “my team”. However, my love affair with professional baseball ended on October 8, 1957 when the Brooklyn Dodgers officially announced their move to Los Angeles, California. I had just turned 14.
I had attended the Dodger’s final game at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn on September 24, 1957. The official announcement came later but small crowd in attendance knew the team was leaving Brooklyn. My heart was broken. I lost all interest in the sport and it was many years before I went to another major league baseball game.
While I remember the Dodgers beating the Pittsburgh Pirates, it has been the park’s organ music that is the most vivid memory of the day. Most of the sentimental songs played at that game I had been playing on my accordion and I sang along with the other fans. I still know the music and most of the lyrics of the old standards “After You’re Gone,” “When I Grow Too Old to Dream,” and “Que Sera, Sera.” I left the Ebetts Field with tears as the organist played “Auld Lang Syne.” It was a very sad day.
I wasn’t born in Brooklyn but my grandmother and mom were and I spent a great deal of time there with my Italian relatives and their friends in the Bensonhurst or Little Italy section of the borough. Naturally, like almost everyone in the family I became a Brooklyn Dodgers passionate fan and considered the other New York teams, the Yankees and the Giants, enemies!
I cannot recall my first game at Ebbets Field but I was very young and from about age 10 I recall attending weekend or holiday home games, mostly with my Uncle Frankie or Aunt Rita and their friends. I also listened to games on the radio and latter watched them on our new TV set.
At the games, I kept detailed play-by-play records. Interestingly, I was taught how to keep score by my Uncle Vinnie, inexplicitly a die-hard Yankee fan! Vinnie was a baseball expert and an umpire of some fame and notoriety for the popular local men’s baseball leagues. There were many a stressful family gathering when the Dodgers and Yankees faced off.*
I also collected Topps player cards and knew every Dodger player and their batting, fielding and pitching statistics. My favorite players were Jackie Robinson, Duke Snider, Pee Wee Reese, Sandy Koufax, Roy Campanella, Gil Hodges, Jim Gilliam, Tommy Lasorda, Don Drysdale, Don Sutton and Johnny Podres.
Being a Dodgers fan was often trying and disappointing. When compared to the Yankees, the team delivered many league pennants but had not won a World Series title, losing to the hated Yankees five times. It has been said that the slogan “wait ‘til next year!” was born in Brooklyn. The team was affectionately called “Dem Bums” by loyal fans.
All that changed in 1955.
The 1955 World Series matched the Dodgers against the Yankees for the fifth time in nine years. The Yankees won in 1947, 1949, 1952 and 1953.
The Dodgers won the 1955 Series in seven games to capture their first championship in franchise history, ending Yankee World Series dominance and invulnerability. It was the Yankees’ first loss in a World Series since 1942.
The Dodgers 2-0 victory was exciting and there were some thrilling plays, particularly a memorable one in the sixth inning that turned a potential run-scoring Yankee extra-base hit into a miracle-like double play.
I know because I was at that historic seventh game played at Yankee Stadium on October 4, 1955 with my uncles Frankie and Vinnie who had somehow managed three tickets to celebrate my coming birthday on October 7!
Shortly thereafter, rumors fueled by a debate with New York City about replacing Ebbets Field with a new Brooklyn facility appeared and within two years the Dodger’s owner confirmed his intent to move my beloved “Bums” to Los Angeles.
After the last Dodger home game of the 1957 season I did not attend another major league baseball game until I joined ABC as its Vice President of Government Relations in 1977. ABC was the premier sports network of the day and I had the opportunity to attend opening day games of the Baltimore Orioles as well a number of World Series games during my tenure.
Most memorable, and with mixed emotions, was watching the Yankees twice beat the “Los Angeles” Dodgers in the 1977 and 1988 series.
I also had box seats for the infamous sixth game of the 1986 World Series between the Boston Red Sox and the New York Mets at Shea Stadium. This was the game in which the Red Sox were twice one strike away from victory, and featured an incredulous error by Boston’s first baseman Bill Buckner. The Mets won that game after overcoming a deficit of two runs with two outs and no one on base in the bottom of the 10th inning. They then went on the win game seven and the Series.
It was not until Keiko and I moved to Maine that I went to another major league baseball game. In 2014 we went to Fenway Park in Boston, the main attraction being able to see the Red Sox’s star Japanese pitcher Koji Uehara. It was my last MLB game.
Now, with the mix of joyful and painful memories of the Brooklyn Dodgers lost in the fog of history I am planning to watching the Tokyo Giants play this year. The Japanese people are perhaps the most enthusiastic sports fans in the world. I am looking forward to reliving a few Brooklyn moments cheering for my adopted home town baseball team.
*That is a story for another time. For now, he was an Irishman who married Rosie, my mother’s younger sister.