Did you know that the first game played at the Brooklyn Dodgers’ Ebbets Field was an inter-league exhibition game against the New York Yankees on April 5, 1913? Ebbets Field officially opened on April 9, 1913 against the Philadelphia Phillies.
The original Brooklyn Dodgers’ name was derived from residents who would dodge trolley cars when crossing streets for decades. On April 10, 1947, Jackie Robinson signed a contract with the Brooklyn Dodgers. On April 15 of that year, he became the first African-American to play major league baseball.
Over 26,000 fans attended his first game at Ebbets Field. He went on to be part of the “Boys of Summer” 1950s’ Dodgers winning teams.
They included pitcher Don Newcombe, catcher Roy Campanella, first baseman Gil Hodges, second baseman Junior Gilliam, shortstop Pee Wee Reese, third baseman Billy Cox, right fielder Carl Furillo and Robinson, who played several positions. Most have long forgotten that today’s Los Angeles Dodgers had their roots in Brooklyn.
The golden era of baseball in New York City took place in the 1950s with a three-way rivalry between the American League New York Yankees, and the National League New York Giants and Brooklyn Dodgers.
All three teams claimed to have the best centerfielder in baseball. On street corners all over town, citizens would argue whether the Yankees’ Mickey Mantle, the Giants’ Willie Mays or the Dodgers’ Duke Snider was champ.
Ordinary Brooklyn natives could ride the bus, trolley or subway to Ebbets Field to see their beloved Dodgers. It was a time when working and middle-class men and woman of all ages, classes, races and religions commingled in the stands rooting for Robinson and his teammates regardless of ethnic origin, game after game.
Everyone could afford a bleacher, general admission, reserve or box seat. Hot dogs, beer, other refreshments and souvenirs were reasonably priced.
Just as Robinson fought racism in the 1950s, Detroit Tigers Hank Greenberg and other Jewish baseball players (many of whom proudly served in the military) had to do the same with anti-Semitism in his time.
Robinson and Greenberg both document the long-lasting relationship between African-Americans and Jewish sports fans standing together for decades in support of each other.
Team owners would raise or reduce a player’s 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 Brooklyn communities.
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 sometime in the mid-’50s.
During the ’50s, 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 monies. With limited seating 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 Barclays Center built on the Atlantic Yards in downtown Brooklyn.
This location was easily accessible to thousands of baseball fans from all around the Big Apple via numerous subway lines and Long Island Rail Road’s Flatbush Avenue terminal.
Thousands of fans who moved to neighborhoods in eastern Queens, Nassau and Suffolk Counties would have had direct access via the LIRR. Imagine how different Brooklyn would have been if elected officials had stood up to Moses and allowed construction of a new Dodgers stadium in downtown Brooklyn.
Without the departure of both the Brooklyn Dodgers (becoming the Los Angeles Dodgers) and New York Giants (becoming the San Francisco Giants), there may have been no National League expansion in 1962.
There would have been no Colt 45s (original name of the Houston Astros), our beloved New York Mets or the Barclays Center hosting the Brooklyn Nets basketball team.