The next morning, I decided to get a dose of Dodger history at the Brooklyn Historical Society, which is currently running an exhibit titled Home Base: Memories of the Brooklyn Dodgers at Ebbets Field. Among the exhibit’s highlights is the Dodgers’ 1955 World Series banner (pictured), which was shipped off to Los Angeles when the team moved, only to be stolen and spirited back to Brooklyn by a group of aggrieved sportswriters. The exhibit also features a collection of audio clips from oral histories conducted with players, fans, and ballpark employees. A large portion of the exhibit is dedicated to the long and agonizing fight over a new ballpark between team owner Walter O’Malley and the city’s domineering planner, Robert Moses. If O’Malley had had his way, the Dodgers would be playing in a Buckminster Fuller-designed domed stadium on the west side of Flatbush Avenue in downtown Brooklyn, but Moses refused to give up the land below market rate, as the Dodgers insisted, and tried to push the team to move to a site in Queens. Debate rages on over which man’s pig-headedness is more to blame for the Dodgers’ move, but O’Malley got free land for his new stadium, only it was in Chavez Ravine, and Moses got to build a park in Flushing Meadows, for the expansion Mets. The flight of the Dodgers was a sad day for Brooklyn, but with 50 years of hindsight, I can imagine what an eyesore a giant domed stadium in the middle of downtown would be today. I guess the new basketball stadium being erected just down the street will give us some idea of that very soon.
Heading back to my neck of the woods in Windsor Terrace, Green-Wood Cemetery is one of Brooklyn’s great landmarks, but few people know that it is also a baseball landmark. The cemetery was one of the most popular tourist attractions in the city during the 19th century, as visitors came to relax in the quiet, leafy grounds and view the monuments to New York’s foremost citizens; many of those prominent citizens were also amateur ballplayers, financiers, and boosters of the game. The cemetery is the final resting place for one member of the Baseball Hall of Fame, Henry Chadwick, dubbed the “Father of Base Ball” for his innumerable contributions to the game’s development as a sportswriter, historian and statistician. He was embroiled in a lengthy dispute with sporting goods magnate Albert Spalding, who promoted the idea that Abner Doubleday invented baseball out of thin air on one fateful day in Cooperstown in 1839. Chadwick knew that the story was pure fiction and that the game had evolved over time from a number of English games, such as cricket and rounders. Nevertheless, the story persists to this day, and the Baseball Hall of Fame is in Cooperstown, not Brooklyn, Manhattan, or Hoboken, New Jersey, all of which have far more legitimate claims to being the birthplace of baseball.
There is still a lot of summer left and plenty of baseball to enjoy around the city. If you are interested in taking a tour of baseball history, Urban Oyster is in the process of developing a new tour that we hope to offer in the late summer or early fall, so sign up for our newsletter to receive updates about that. Peter Laskowich offers frequent tours about baseball history and other New York City topics – send him an email to sign up for his newsletter and receive his schedule of upcoming tours, and visit his website. If you would like to get a flavor of his tours, he also offers free 90-minute tours of Grand Central Terminal and Midtown every Friday at 12:30; no reservations are necessary, and groups meet at 120 Park Avenue.
For questions or comments about this blog post, please contact Andrew Gustafson (firstname.lastname@example.org).