A vintage sportswear retailer issued a baseball catalogue a short time ago. Its cover featured a forlorn boy amid the ruins of what had been the quirky splendor of Ebbets Field, one-time home of the Brooklyn Dodgers. They had abandoned the ballpark and borough for Los Angeles. Their old address was being razed for low-income housing.
The dejected boy toted a bat and glove. By his demeanor both destruction and departure confused him. Doubtlessly he had been a true-blue Dodgers fan.
Can’t imagine such devotion today. Sports franchises routinely extort municipalities for taxpayer funded improvements and fresh facilities. Free agency has broken once solid binds between players and fans.
Even our old baseball cathedrals are no longer sacrosanct.
There should’ve been an outcry and defense for old Yankee Stadium similar to that which spared Grand Central Terminal sharing the fate of McKim and White’s Penn Station. Instead, wrecking balls demolished the House That Ruth Built. And while the team simply moved across 161st Street, the old edifice’s aura remained put. Monumental as the new structure is, the Yankees’ glorious continuity is broken.
Ghosts do not travel. Not even in the Bronx.
For the boy amid the dust only heartache remained. Today that fellow would be a pensioner somewhere into his late 60s or early 70s. The Mets defeat of the Dodgers in the 2015 National League Divisional Series called him to mind. An amalgamation of the Dodgers as well as the former New York (baseball) Giants, the expansion Mets, a k a “The Metropolitans,” restored a senior circuit presence to the city.
In this last series one can likely claim the Mets finally supplanted, no, banished, the Dodgers’ presence on the New York sporting psyche. For the longest, the Dodgers held New Yorkers, okay, Brooklynites and pre-hipster aspirants within the borough, of a certain era and ages in thrall.
Somewhere, somebody claimed Americans loved an underdog. Damned if the Dodgers didn’t fit that bill. Unlike the lordly Yankees and the successful Giants, those old Dodgers dispensed heartbreak. The kind their fans loved.
Before “Wait Until Next Year!” became the Chicago Cubs unofficial slogan, the Dodgers seemingly patented it.
Strange. Despite winning championships frequently, the Yankees never have nor will reach the same pinnacle of adoration as the Brooklyn nine. The Giants, well, as many pennants as they hoisted in Northern Manhattan, their departure to San Francisco was regarded as merciful rather than wrenching.
No. For the longest the Dodgers owned the city’s affection. The Yankees were and remain respected. Looking back, the then New York baseball Giants must have been an acquired taste. Those Dodgers were loved. Especially by male fans. Maybe this relationship the first “bromance.”
Years after shuffling west, Dodger appearances as visitors at Shea Stadium drew plenty of still loyal Brooklyn fans at the Mets’ expense. Those people continued to clutch and claw at suitors who’d cruelly jilted them.
Is that love or dependency?
There’s something either Shakespearian or silly about such dedication. My father had been a big Dodgers fan. And he certainly mourned after a fashion once they left. Probably just as much from the glory of his late 20s through his 30s being entwined with living and dying with “Dem Bums.”
Growing up, he’d played pick-up baseball. Given his time and place, he didn’t follow any major league team. Only when Jackie Robinson took the field did father become a fan. His doubtlessly a common response among blacks once Brooklyn broke the color line. The American pastime had finally presented them an idol of their own to worship.
In The Boys of Summer, author Roger Kahn wrote a superb book which encapsulated that transference the Brooklyn Dodgers created and fed. He articulated the reciprocal affection between fans and players. Given Brooklyn’s ethnic jumble, those late 1940s, mid 50s Dodgers bound the varied populace in cohesion seen during Second World War. That’s no exaggeration.
In an aside, during the 70s when Cincinnati’s “Big Red Machine” rampaged through the National League, Kahn attempted interviewing Reds catcher Johnny Bench. For whatever reason, Bench was wary of the writer. Aware of Kahn’s book and apparently resenting what strings it tugged, the catcher cautioned the writer “he wasn’t any boy of summer.”
No worries about that Johnny. No worries about that at all. Then as now, I agree with Bench wholeheartedly. He wasn’t nor ever will reach that same plateau. And deservedly so.
Time has reduced the legion that was Brooklyn Dodgers fans. The moment the 1957 season ended and the team began slouching west, the number of rooters became finite, then started shrinking. As loyal and as fierce congregants as they had served, none of their prayers and offerings could stem our natural arc.
Since the conclusion of that pitiless 1957 season, Brooklyn Dodgers fans haven’t been replenished but steadily diminished.
We exult and lament through our teams. Then we die. The Mets elimination of Los Angeles threw the last spade of infield dirt on one lengthy burial. Mourners who once numbered multitudes now account for what might pass for an inflated attendance figure at a meaningless late-summer Brewers-Phillies tilt.
So much time has passed, so many have passed away, that those Brooklyn exploits can better be recalled in the abstract. Or from newspaper article downloads. Yet worse, for this Millennial generation, downloaded in grainy black and white TV clips. So grainy that blacks and whites run along the gray spectrum.
To paraphrase long-ago manager Charlie Dressen, “The Brooklyn Dodgers is dead.” An apt, if somewhat belated, epitaph.