The passing of former Brooklyn Dodger great Duke Snider marks the end of the “Boys of Summer.”
Snider was the last living regular day to day player who made up many of the 1950s Dodgers winning teams. They included catcher Roy Campanella, first baseman Gil Hodges, second baseman Junior Gilliam, shortstop Pee Wee Reese, third baseman Billy Cox, right fielder Carl Furillo and Jackie Robinson who played several positions. Most have long forgotten that today’s Los Angeles Dodgers had their roots in Brooklyn New York.
The original Brooklyn Dodgers name was derived from Brooklyn residents who would dodge the hundreds of trolley cars which ran on dozens of routes for decades until their own decline and final death in the 1950s. The golden era of baseball in New York City took place in the ‘50s with a three-way rivalry between the American League’s Bronx Yankees, and the National League’s New York Giants and Brooklyn Dodgers.
All three teams claimed to have the best center fielder in baseball. On street corners all over town, citizens would argue whether the Yankees Mickey Mantle, Giants Willie Mays or Dodgers Duke Snider was champ.
Ordinary Brooklyn natives could ride the bus, trolley or subway to Ebbets Field to see their beloved Dodgers. Working and middle class men and woman of all ages, classes and races commingled in the stands. Everyone could afford a bleacher, general admission, reserve or box seat. Hot dogs, beer, other refreshments and souvenirs were reasonably priced. Team owners would raise or reduce a players salary based on their performance the past season.
Salaries were so low, that virtually all Dodger players worked at another job off season. Most Dodger players were actually neighbors who lived and worked in various communities in the county of Kings.
Residents of the era sat outside on the neighborhood stoop, shopped at the local butcher, baker, fruit and vegetable stand. Television was a relatively new technology and the local movie theater was still king for entertainment. Brooklyn still had its very own daily newspaper – the Brooklyn Eagle-, which ended publication some time in the mid ‘50s.
The Dodgers departure from Brooklyn coincided with many residents also moving out of town. Many in search of the American dream including my own parents in 1962 moved to Great Neck, New Hyde Park, East Williston, Williston Park or other communities in eastern Queens, Nassau or Suffolk County. Their desire had them leave town to own their own home, leaving a more crowded urban environment for the open space of the outer boroughs or suburbs.
This year marks the 53rd anniversary of the old Brooklyn Dodgers playing their final season in Brooklyn. During the 1950s, Brooklyn Dodgers owner Walter O’Malley tried to find various locations for construction of a new baseball stadium, which he pledged to finance using his own funds. With limited seating and automobile parking capacity at Ebbets Field, he needed a new modern stadium to remain financially viable.
New York City master mega builder Robert Moses refused to allow him access to the current day Atlantic Yards project site. This location was easily accessible to thousands of baseball fans from all around the Big Apple via numerous subway lines.
Thousands of fans who moved to eastern Queens, Nassau and Suffolk County would have had direct access via the Long Island Rail Road. Imagine how different Brooklyn would have been if elected officials had stood up to Robert Moses and allowed construction of a new Dodgers stadium in downtown Brooklyn. The 1950s Boys of Summer might have played on with new players entertaining new generations for decades more.