|Brooklyn marks 50 years of singing the Dodger blues|
|Written by Admin|
|Sunday, 23 September 2007 09:35|
There were few enough witnesses the first time around. Only 6,673 of the loudest, proudest fans in sport turned out on that gloomy day in 1957 when the Dodgers played their last game at Ebbets Field. Those who came likened the game to a funeral.
Oh, the end wasn't official yet. That wouldn't come until an announcement on Oct. 8. But everyone knew it was coming, including organist Gladys Gooding. Her game-day playlist included ``Am I Blue?'' ``Don't Ask me Why I'm Leaving,'' and ``After You're Gone.''
Or, almost everyone. Remarkably, Dodgers starter Danny McDevitt had no idea anything historic was afoot. The 24-year-old rookie was mainly concerned with securing his place on the club.
``All the big guys, like Duke (Snider), knew that we were going to Los Angeles. But not me,'' recalled the hurler. ``I wasn't much of a thinker in those days. I was just a dumb left-hander, going to the ballpark.''
The end came efficiently. McDevitt threw all nine innings, giving up only five hits to the Pittsburgh Pirates in a 2-0 Dodger victory.
Later, when he learned the team would play out west in 1958, he was disappointed. In those days, California was bush-league.
``I worked my butt off to get to Brooklyn,'' he said. ``I didn't want to go back to a minor league town.''
Far more upset was Joan Hodges, the Brooklyn-born wife of the team's beloved first baseman, Gil.
``When we went to California, it was just awful. I couldn't even call my mother and say hello without hysterically crying,'' she said.
If the move was distressing for some players, it was a catastrophe for Brooklyn, so much so that it has loomed for 50 years as the borough's defining moment.
And yet, the anniversary of the final game will go largely unrecognized here.
The absence of hoopla raises a question: Is Brooklyn finally over it?
Borough President Marty Markowitz, who was 12 when the Dodgers left town, said the team's imprint can still be seen around town.
Young and old alike wear throwback Dodgers hats. Sign makers and T-shirt designers still write the word ``Brooklyn'' in that old fashioned Dodgers script. The borough's unofficial color is indelibly Dodger blue.
But when Markowitz speaks to crowds of youngsters and tells them the story of 1955, ``the year the Dodgers finally beat the hated Yankees,'' he is met with confusion, then ire.
``The kids and the little leagues boo the hell out of me,'' he said.
These young New Yorkers, he explained, don't want to hear about anyone beating their Yankees.
``It had its time,'' Markowitz said of Dodgers nostalgia. ``But I would say, other than for the historians, and for people who are over the age of 60, maybe 59, it's purely part of Brooklyn's history.''
Maybe the end of the city's Dodger love affair is inevitable.
How many of the Brooklynites who were here in 1957 still live in the borough? Brooklyn has always been a city of immigrants and new arrivals. Whole neighborhoods empty and refill every few decades. More than 930,000 of the borough's 2.4 million residents are foreign born, according to Census data. Most arrived after the team was gone.
Today's Brooklyn is also changing in ways that threaten to alter the traditional ending to the Dodgers story line.
In the early years, the team's haplessness and goofy on-field failures mirrored Brooklyn's second-class status. Still, the fans stuck with their Bums, and in 1947 a genius named Branch Rickey changed the team and the game by signing the great Jackie Robinson. Then, the wins came in bunches, but the Dodgers remained heartbreakers (losing the World Series to the Yankees in 1941, 1947, 1949, 1952 and 1953), until that glorious championship in '55.
Finally came the crusher - the move to Los Angeles - followed by a string of worse news. Brooklyn fell into a nightmarish decline. Unemployment soared. Neighborhoods burned. There were riots and racial strife.
``This marked the end of Brooklyn as a separate city,'' said John Thorn, a sports historian, and consultant to the Museum of the City of New York for its current exhibit, ``The Glory Days: New York Baseball 1947 to 1957.''
``The seeds of destruction were planted long before the Dodgers left,'' he said, but after the team's departure. ``It went from eccentric to being just seedy.''
Dodgers nostalgia was always part of a greater yearning for that Brooklyn of old, the one that lived in Manhattan's shadow, but had a fierce independence, a booming economy, and a major league team.
But lately, the present has looked pretty good.
Prosperity has returned. The streets are safe again. Its gorgeous old brownstones are filling up with investment bankers, artists, authors, even a few movie stars. Struggling neighborhoods have been revived by new waves of immigrants. People aren't talking about leaving Brooklyn anymore, they're praying they can afford to stay.
And soon enough, it will be back in the major leagues. The NBA's Nets are scheduled to move to a new arena in Brooklyn, to be built near the spot where Walter O'Malley once sought to build a new home for the Dodgers.
So are people ready to forget?
Not quite, said Carl Erskine, who pitched in five World Series for Brooklyn.
Last spring he pulled into a gas station near his home in Indiana. Another guy filling up his tank called out and wished him a happy anniversary. Erskine couldn't figure it out. He wasn't married in June.
``No,'' the fan said. ``It's June 19. It's the anniversary of your no-hitter against the Cubs in 1952.''
``I'm amazed myself,'' Erskine said, recalling the incident. Fans still write all the time, he said, including younger men who never saw him pitch, but heard their fathers tell the Dodgers' story. When he attends Brooklyn Dodgers memorabilia shows, there's no need to have a big star present to draw a crowd.
``Anybody on the roster will do, and that is amazing to me,'' he said. ``I don't really have any answer for that mystique.''
Part of it is undoubtedly Robinson, who will perpetually be recognized as a hero for integrating the game. Part of it is what the team represented - the underdog triumphant.
And part of it is just Brooklyn, said Joan Hodges.
``The people from Brooklyn, they are so proud,'' said.
And to this day, there is no better badge than a white ``B'' on a blue background.