Do you remember the day you fell in love for the first time? I do, like it was yesterday. It was a beautiful October day and for me it was love at first sight.
The sight of that azure blue and the whitest white I had ever seen took my breath away. Right then and there I knew my life was about to change.
My heart began racing. Surely no one had ever felt this way before. This love would last forever, right? Not so fast, Romeo. My beloved would soon be leaving me and moving 3,000 miles away.
Our story begins on Oct. 3, 1956. I was 9 years old. My Brooklyn-born grandfather, a huge Dodgers fan, took me to my first baseball game — Game 1 of the 1956 World Series between the World Champion Brooklyn Dodgers and the New York Yankees at Ebbets Field.
We entered the stadium alive with fans, food concessions sending out amazing aromas and vendors hawking their wares. Then, walking through a short dark tunnel there it was: heaven on earth. The emerald green grass was perfectly manicured. The dirt a dark chocolate brown. The boys from Kings County looked most regal decked out in their sky blue and snow white uniforms.
There they were: Campy, Gil, Junior, Pee Wee, Jackie, Sandy, Carl, and the Duke. Pinch me. Here I was on hallowed ground with the Brooklyn Dodgers. We settled into our seats in the sun-drenched center field bleachers watching the parade of fans march by.
Times were different back in those days. The gentlemen who attended baseball games wore fedoras, white shirts, ties and sports coats. It seemed as if half of them smoked cigars. The ladies had on flower print dresses that fell below the knee and, of course, fashionable headwear.
The honor of throwing out the first pitch went to President Dwight Eisenhower. “Ike,” in his open topped limousine, circled the track with little security on hand. I could see him clearly. Jackie Robinson hit a home run in the second inning that landed just a few rows to my right. The Dodgers won the game but went on to lose the series in seven games. That October day was when I fell in love with the Brooklyn Dodgers.
The summer of ‘57 found my love for the boys in blue heating up in more ways than one. So much in fact that on hot Peconic summer days my grandfather and I would sit in his green and white Buick Roadster and listen to “recreated” Dodgers games on the car radio. My mother put her foot down and refused to allow us in the house to listen to the games saying we should be outside getting sunshine and fresh air. Let’s see, technically we were outside. The fresh air thing, ah, no. My grandfather always smoked cigars while listening to “Dem Bums.” Nothing would stop these two crazy Dodgers fans from following the National League pennant race that summer.
What exactly was a recreated baseball game? Back then teams did not have the money to send broadcast crews on the road. Enter the world of recreated baseball games. The Dodgers’ announcer for these games was a fellow by the name of Nat Allbright. Not exactly a household name like Vin Scully, but Mr. Allbright did, in fact, broadcast over 1,500 Dodgers games, none of which he ever saw in person. Allbright had never been to Ebbets Field and did all his broadcasts from a studio in Washington, D.C. He used props to make sounds such as the crack of the bat hitting a ball and had recordings to provide crowd noises along with the National Anthem. A few times each game Allbright would turn away from the microphone and disguising his voice shout, “Getcha cold beer here.”
His assistant would make notes for each half-inning from the bare-bones information sent by way of teletype. For example: “Snider up … ball … ball … strike … home run.” That was all Allbright had to work with, so he had to improvise making his listeners think he was actually broadcasting the game from the ballpark. Allbright’s call might have gone something like this: “Coming up for Brooklyn here in the top of the second inning is number four, Duke Snider. Snider is batting .306 with 24 home runs and 66 RBIs. Here’s the pitch from Spahn … low and away for ball one … Spahn’s next pitch a … change up, just misses the corner. The count is now 2 and 0 … Spahn looks in … Takes the sign from Crandall … Fastball right down the middle for a strike. The count on Snider goes to two balls and one strike. Nobody out … Spahn goes into his windup … the pitch …” (noise from prop like a batted ball) “ It’s a long fly ball to deep center field. That ball is going, going, that ball is gone, landing deep into the center field bleachers. And the Dodgers go out in front of Milwaukee 1-0 on Duke Snider’s 25th home run of the season.”
Allbright and his recreated games were such an important part of the Brooklyn franchise that the team awarded him a World Series ring after they won the Championship in 1955.
So, let’s get back to our story. The question at hand: Why would the love of my life pick up and leave me? Here’s what happened.
In 1955 the City of Los Angeles had reached out to the Dodgers and their owner, Walter O’Malley, trying to entice the team to move to the West Coast. To sweeten the pot L.A. even offered to throw in a brand new stadium if the Dodgers moved to “The Golden State.” The National League liked the idea but told O’Malley that in order for them to approve the move there needed to be two teams on the West Coast. At the time New York Giants owner Horace Stoneham had been considering relocating his club to Minneapolis.
O’Malley did not want to leave Brooklyn but realized his team needed a more modern facility to replace the 40+ year-old Ebbets Field. Hiring the famous architect Buckminster Fuller, a fresh, state-of-the-art ballpark was designed. O’Malley had the money to build the stadium but did not have the capital needed for the purchase of the land. O’Malley went to New York City building czar Robert Moses asking the city to enact Title 1 of the Federal Housing Act. If Moses agreed, this would make the property the Dodgers owner had in mind at the corner of Flatbush and Atlantic avenues, the current home of the Barclays Center, much less expensive to purchase. Moses was not on board, wanting the Dodgers instead to move to Queens near the site of today’s Citi Field.
Realizing his hopes to stay in Brooklyn had reached a dead end, O’Malley told Stoneham of his plans to move west and the Giants’ owner agreed to follow and relocate his team to San Francisco. In May of 1957, baseball owners voted to allow both franchises to relocate to the West Coast.
On Oct. 8, 1957, after a year of shear bliss, I received my “Dear John.”
It appeared in newspapers around the world. This was no hush-hush breakup. The Dodgers announced they were moving to Los Angeles. There was NO WAY my Dodgers would leave Brooklyn, their loyal fans … me, right?
Two weeks earlier, unbeknownst to the Dodgers faithful, the team had played their final game at Ebbets Field in front of 6,702 fans with the Dodgers beating the Pittsburgh Pirates 2-0. Ebbets Field was torn down in 1960, making way for the Ebbets Field Apartment complex.
In 1964 the Polo Grounds, which had been home to the New York Giants, and then for a few years the New York Mets, was demolished with the same wrecking ball, painted like a baseball, used to take down Ebbets Field.
They say you never forget your first true love. The Dodgers move across the country devastated yours truly. Was I destined to be unattached for the rest of my life?
Spending summers on the North Fork of Long Island, before the cable and satellite radio days, armed with my trusty Emerson portable radio, the only big league baseball broadcasts I could get were Boston Red Sox games. So, by default, I went on to root for “The Sox,” which wasn’t such a bad thing. Trips to Fenway. Standing by the Green Monster. Sausage and pepper hoagies on Landsdowne Street. Not to mention the four world championships since I started rooting for Boston.
However, regardless what the future had in store for me as a fan of “America’s Pastime,” nothing would ever take the place of being 9 years old and falling in love for the very first time. Forever and always, my “Boys of Summer.”