REST IN PEACE
Beloved Brooklyn Dodgers
The 2021 baseball season is here, but, for me, it will never be the same as it was in the 1950s. In the years after World War II, America prospered. The economy was robust. Business boomed, and new construction topped the charts. Inflation was at a minimum, and unemployment was low. In 1952, Five-Star General and Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force in Europe, Dwight D. Eisenhower, was elected the 34th President of the United States. I joined a nation of adults and youngsters screaming, “I Like Ike.”
AND BASEBALL WAS THE NATIONAL PASTIME.
There were three teams in my home state: the Brooklyn Dodgers, The New York Yankees, and the New York Giants. I loved the Dodgers and knew every statistic about them. When they won the World Series in 1955, we cheered and cheered. Pennants hung from my bedroom walls and various memorabilia like baseball cards and Dodger yearbooks lay on my desk and table. Duke Snyder, “The Duke of Flatbush,” was my favorite player, and his framed signed picture hung above my bed. He hit 407 home runs in his batting career, and Snyder hit the very last home run ever in Ebbets Field.
When the Dodgers played, either my ear was glued to the radio or I sat directly in front of the TV cheering them on. TVs were relatively new in the 50s. We had a Dumont black and white 16” model with rabbit ears antenna for better reception. My Dad had built a cabinet and placed the TV inside. He covered the outside with an alligator skin he had purchased from a trip to Florida. It was common for the screen to have static interference when a plane flew overhead, usually during a crucial point in the game. That happened often since we were close to LaGuardia and Idlewild (now JFK) Airports in Queens.
Vin Scully has been considered the voice of the Dodgers until he retired in 2016, but before him was Red Barber who left the team in 1953 when I was 9. He was famous for his country-style announcing like, “They be tearing up the pea patch” or when an infielder couldn’t hold onto a bouncing ball, it was “slicker than a boiled okra.” Thinking back on his commentary style reminds me that it was a different time back then. For one thing, fans had more interaction with the players. The Brooklyn Dodgers were definitely part of the neighborhood. Shoppers could run into PeeWee’s wife at the supermarket. Gil Hodges owned a local bowling alley. It’s been said that if you had walked down any street in Brooklyn, you could hear the game from every window.
Manny Fernandez, in a New York Times article dated February 28, 2011, wrote:
Mrs. Cozzolino lived a few houses down from Duke Snider, the Brooklyn Dodgers’ center fielder…These days, no one brags about living next door to professional baseball players, because the only people who can afford to live next to them have too much money to brag about that sort of thing. But in the 1950s in Bay Ridge, Dodgers fans lived next door to Dodgers players.
Mr. Snider and a few of his teammates who lived in the neighborhood like Pee Wee Reese or Carl Erskine would car-pool together to their home games at Ebbets Field or the Polo Grounds, where their National League rivals, the New York Giants, played. Mr. Snider used to go to his neighbor Gus Barwood’s block parties in the summer, used to greet the children and teenagers waiting for him outside 178 Marine Avenue after a game. “He would always tell us to keep out of trouble,” said Mrs. Cozzolino, 69, a retired public school teacher who has lived in a house on 97th Street all her life. “We just got used to it. A friend of mine used to walk Pee Wee Reese’s daughter to school. They were so unpretentious. They really were. Baseball was different then. They weren’t playing for the multimillions.”
It came as a shock in 1957 when General Manager Walter O’Mally up and moved the team to Los Angeles. Brooklyn went into mourning. A pall fell over the Borough. Black drapes hung in windows. I felt betrayed. I had given my heart away, and they didn’t care. As far as I’m concerned, there will never be another team like “dem bums.”
In Brooklyn, you can still hear the joke: “If Hitler, Stalin, and O’Malley were walking toward you and you only had two bullets in your gun, who would you shoot? O’Malley twice.”