Next week, both the New York Yankees and New York Mets will begin playing in their brand new ballparks, but while this should be an historic time for New York, these new parks, named CitiField and (the new) Yankee Stadium, have elicited frustration from fans who wonder how they will afford tickets and whether, in the case of the Mets, a corporation that received federal bailout money should retain naming rights to the stadium. Despite the opening of two new stadiums, this is hardly the Golden Age of New York baseball. That age has passed; it ended after the 1957 season when New York's two National League teams left their homes for the sunny skies of California.
At one time, baseball was a way of life in New York as the city was home to an American League team - the New York Yankees - and two National League teams - the New York Giants, which played their games at the Polo Grounds, and the Brooklyn Dodgers, which played their games on Bedford Avenue and Sullivan Place in Brooklyn in a park known as Ebbets Field. The rivalries the three teams shared and the colorful and charismatic players who comprised their rosters over the years led to many dramatic moments, and, many passionate arguments between Yankee, Dodger and Giant fans.
Last week, Brooklyn and Civil War historian and author of the book President Lincoln's Third Largest City: Brooklyn and the Civil War, Bud Livingston, visited the Mineola Memorial Library to share his memories of rooting for the Brooklyn Dodgers. Mr. Livingston went to Ebbets Field so many times in his youth that his collection of rain checks (or ticket stubs) is currently in the archives of the Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, NY.
Mr. Livingston began rooting for the Dodgers in 1939, the year of the World's Fair. It was also the year that the Dodgers turned their fortunes around. As Mr. Livingston explained, the Dodgers had been a dreadful team. For the six years between 1933 and 1938, the Dodgers best finish was fifth place in the eight-team National League when they went 70-83 in 1935. The Dodgers, who were named so because the trolley cars in Brooklyn often had to be "dodged," also earned another nickname - "Dem Bums."
But, as Mr. Livingston explained, the Dodgers got their miracle. It came on Jan. 19, 1938 when the team hired Larry MacPhail, a pioneer whose big innovation was nighttime baseball, to be its chief executive.
By 1939, the Dodgers had turned it around under first-year manager and player Leo Durocher, a feisty and fiery guy who was one of the characters who became so much a part of New York City baseball lore. In 1939, the Dodgers finished in third place with 84 wins; they improved to 88 wins in 1940 and then in 1941 won the National League pennant with a record of 100-54.
The Yankees would dispose of the Dodgers in five games, a foreshadowing of the way things would usually go for the Dodgers in the World Series.
The following year, the Dodgers engaged in an epic pennant race with the St. Louis Cardinals. Despite winning 104 games, the Dodgers lost out to the Cardinals on the final day of the season.
The Dodgers wouldn't make it back to the World Series again until 1947, a significant year in American history. That was the year that Jackie Robinson became the first black player in the Major Leagues as a Brooklyn Dodger. Mr. Livingston spoke about how difficult it was for Robinson, who did not get along with some of his teammates because they didn't feel they should share the field with a black player and who had to endore some heckling from fans. In fact, some hotels didn't allow him to stay with his teammates. Yet, Robinson, a strong and athletic player, persevered, winning the Rookie of the Year award in 1947 and helping the Dodgers to another World Series against the dreaded Yankees.
The Yankees took the first two games in Yankee Stadium before the Dodgers rallied to win the next two at Ebbets Field. With the series tied at three games each, the Yankees won the seventh game, the first of four times the Yankees and Dodgers would go the distance in the World Series.
The two teams would meet again in the World Series in 1949 with the Yankees winning the series in five games, then again in 1952 with the Yankees winning in seven games and again the following year with the Yankees winning in six games.
The Yankees weren't the only team to dish out misery to the Dodgers during those years. In 1951, the New York Giants beat the Dodgers out for the pennant on a home run by Bobby Thomson in what has become perhaps the most famous hit in baseball history. As Giants announcer Russ Hodges screamed, "The Giants won the pennant," Mr. Livingston, like probably all other Dodger fans, sat in silence. He later went to hit golf balls to ease the pain.
It seemed everything always happened to the Dodgers. Author and historian Doris Kearns Goodwin wrote a memoir about growing up and rooting for the Dodgers entitled, Wait Till Next Year. That's what Dodger fans always did - waited until next year.
Next year finally came in 1955. The Dodgers, under manager Walter Alston, again matched up against the Yankees. The mighty Yankees won the first two games at Yankee Stadium, but the Dodgers rebounded to win all three games at Ebbets Field. Back at Yankee Stadium, the Yankees tied the series to force a deciding seventh game. But, this was finally the Dodgers' year and behind the pitching of Johnny Podres, the Dodgers won 2-0 with Gil Hodges knocking in both runs. The Dodgers finally beat the Yankees to become World Champions.
"They normally did not get the breaks," said Mr. Livingston. "No one could believe that the Dodgers finally won."
Following the 1957 season, it was clear the Golden Age of New York baseball was gone as the Dodgers and Giants both moved to California. Many fans of the Dodgers and Giants were so heartbroken, they couldn't look at baseball again. "Everyone said a prayer for the dead when the Dodgers left town," said Mr. Livingston. "In my mind, there's no connection between the team that plays in Los Angeles and team that played on Bedford Avenue and Sullivan Place in Brooklyn."
While it has been over 50 years since the Dodgers left, the memories of those days when Major League baseball was played in Brooklyn and by characters such as Pee Wee Reese, Joe "Ducky" Medwick, Pete Reiser, Babe Herman, Dolf Camilli and Dixie Walker have endured.
The memories were all brought to life again by Mr. Livington, who said, "Everything happened in Brooklyn." At one time, baseball surely did and in the minds of those who remember it, those moments can never leave Brooklyn.