Marty Lurie Talks San Francisco Giants Baseball


By Paul Hirsch

Dodgers move to LA

Few men in sports history have been vilified to the degree that Walter O’Malley was when he moved the Brooklyn Dodgers to Los Angeles in 1957. In some quarters, that vilification has not ceased. Countless trees have died supporting the contention that he ripped the franchise from the bosom of a borough that has never recovered its identity or self esteem. Also in existence are clinically detailed accounts of the battles between the Dodgers and New York officials who refused to believe that what happened in Philadelphia, St. Louis and Boston could happen in the unofficial capitol of the world. For the next 800 or so words the reader is asked to put himself in the shoes of Walter O’Malley musing his options shortly after the 1956 World Series, and then answer the question, What would you do?.

It’s November, 1956 and you’re the owner of the Brooklyn Dodgers sitting in your office, thinking. Over the past eleven years, your franchise has been the second-most successful in baseball and arguably the most exciting. Your predecessor presided over the most significant social experiment in the history of sports and one of the most significant in the history of the country. Your team is loaded with diverse and interesting personalities that have immersed themselves in the community, and the core players have been virtually constant over that entire period.

Yet, you compare attendance figures with your primary rivals, and you are not happy. Heres what you see:

Year Brooklyn Milwaukee Yankees

1953 1,163,419 1,826,397 1,537,811

1954 1,020,531 2,131,388 1,475,171

1955 1,033,589 2,005,836 1,490,138

1956 1,213,562 2,046,331 1,491,784

Total 4,431,101 8,009,952 5,994,904

Ouch. Fair or not, these are the teams against which you are compared, and unless you hold your own against them your season is considered less than successful. Sure, the New York Giants are your traditional rival, but have finished 18.5 and 26 games out the past two seasons and at this point are not a viable measuring stick. Lower attendance against your primary competition means fewer concessions sold, less money available for player procurement and development, and is perhaps a sign of waning interest. On the last Thursday of the season just passed, as the defending World Champion one-half game out of first place, the day after your pitcher had thrown a no hitter, you drew 7,847. Very disappointing.

And, you say to yourself, it’s time to be realistic regarding the state of your ballclub. A decade or more of success with basically the same crew means one thing, your on-field personnel is getting too old to maintain a championship level of play. Reese is 37, Robinson, 37, Campanella 35, Furillo will be 35 by next opening day, Maglie will be pushing 40, Hodges 33, and even the relative youngsters, Snider, Erskine and Newcombe, will have passed 30. Player procurement will be more important than ever in the coming seasons, and you’re worried you won’t have the cash to compete.

Losing games is one thing, but when you look at the history of your franchise you realize that in Brooklyn, it’s either contention or bankruptcy. When the team went twenty years between pennants before 1941 it landed in receivership, $1 million in debt, and was being run by The Brooklyn Trust Company. Simple matters like painting the ballpark or completing a waiver transaction were bogged down in management-by-committee. Attendance had dipped under 500,000 five times during this period.

Then there is your relationship with city government. Here you are offering to personally finance a domed stadium at the intersection of Atlantic and Flatbush Avenues in exchange for condemning some land under Title 1 of the Fair Housing Act of 1949, a fairly common practice in post-war urban areas. In your vision, the domed stadium would represent an architectural breakthrough and would be something in which the entire city could take pride. Yet that damned Robert Moses, chief unelected bureaucrat, won’t play ball. He keeps talking about a ballpark in Flushing. Well, if you move to Queens how can you be the Brooklyn Dodgers? Wagner and Rockefeller were’nt much help. The mayor and the governor could’nt seem to understand what the team meant to the community, and probably would’nt understand until they experience the fallout of it leaving.

Besides those very annoying Milwaukee Braves, the Browns and Athletics had moved in recent years, and had seen attendance triple, at least at first, in their new towns. And, with all due respect, the Braves, Browns, and A’s hardly sport the cache of the Dodgers.

That thinking brings you to Los Angeles. The Mayor and most of the Supervisors are on your side, that in itself is refreshing. These people understand the value of a ballclub. Commercial jets make coast-to-coast travel feasible. That old drunk Stoneham is making noises about moving to Minneapolis (Minneapolis!?), maybe you could sell him on San Francisco and keep the old rivalry going and make the travel more palatable to the rest of the league.

Youre a capitalist. You want to see your assets appreciate. This assets greatest potential will not be realized at Ebbets Field. Your ballpark is old, it has fewer than 1,000 parking places, and attendance is relatively weak with a team and situation you cannot realistically expect to duplicate in the foreseeable future. It’s either Atlantic and Flatbush or Hollywood and Vine, and the folks holding the keys at Atlantic and Flatbush don’t seem to understand how to work with a businessman.

If you’re Walter O’Malley, what would you do?


The 1980 Baseball Dope Book. The Sporting News. 1980

Golenbock, Peter. Bums; An Oral History of the Brooklyn Dodgers. Putnam. 1984.

Kahn, Roger and Al Helfer, The Mutual Baseball Almanac. Doubleday & Co. 1954.

Sullivan, Neal, The Dodgers Move West. Oxford University Press. 1987.

Paul Hirsch is a freelance writer and communications consultant in Danville, Califronia


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