It was 3:45 pm on Oct. 4, 1955, when the Dodgers’ Johnny Podres threw the pitch that the Yankees’ Elston Howard bounced to short. Pee Wee Reese caught the ball and threw to first base where Gil Hodges grabbed the low throw to give Brooklyn its first — and only — World Series championship.
Fifty seasons later, the Brooklyn Cyclones, with fan-favorite Mookie Wilson at the helm, are attempting to repeat as the McNamara Division champs — and hopefully bring home a championship of their own.
Along the way, the Cyclones will celebrate the history of Brooklyn baseball.
In front of the main entrance to Keyspan Park is the base of a statue that will commemorate a moment in May 1947 that Cyclones radio announcer Warner Fusselle has termed, “The most important event in the history of American sports.”
Playing in his first season with the Dodgers after breaking the sport’s color barrier, Jackie Robinson was the subject of racial slurs from fans and opposing players, and he had received several anonymous threats. During a game in Cincinnati, Kentucky-born Pee Wee Reese, the Dodgers’ shortstop, went over to Robinson at second base and put his arm around him, showing the Reds, the Cincinnati fans, and the world, that this white Southerner was on Robinson’s side.
A statue depicting Robinson and Reese at that moment is nearing completion and will be dedicated later in the season. It will stand at the entrance to the park.
While he’s not the first African-American to manage a professional baseball team in Brooklyn (the Negro Leagues previously had an African-American manager here), shouts directed at Wilson during last Saturday’s open practice had a familiar, friendly tone. They were like the lowing of cattle, “Moo, Moo,” and, getting closer to the sound, one heard “Mooookie, Mooookie,” as the amiable Wilson, a member of the Mets’ 1986 World Series winning team, approached the stands to sign autographs.
Perhaps some noted the social significance of Wilson making his first on-field public appearance as a Brooklyn manager, but apparently most did not. It was a beautiful afternoon, and the fans in attendance were looking forward to the approaching season, happy to have the Mets’ former hustling lead-off man in charge at Keyspan Park. When people talked about race, it involved the Cyclones’ chances in the up-coming New York-Penn League pennant race.
The dedication of the Robinson and Reese statue is not the only historical baseball event in Brooklyn this season. On July 23, Carl Erskine, a key starting pitcher on the 1955 Dodger staff, will be representing those 1955 champions as he throws out the first pitch at the ballpark and sign copies of his new book, “What I Learned from Jackie Robinson.”
And on Aug. 10, there are plans afoot for Game Seven World Series winning pitcher Johnny Podres to be in Brooklyn to celebrate the 1955 championship.
There is also a borough-wide 1955 World Series celebration planned for Oct. 4.
Wouldn’t the 50th anniversary of the 1955 World Series be a fitting year for Brooklyn to win another crown?
In the Cyclones’ inaugural season of 2001, Brooklyn won the first game of a best-of-three games series against the Williamsport Crosscutters for the New York-Penn League’s championship. The Cyclones left on Sept. 10 for Brooklyn, needing to win one out of a possible two games at Brooklyn for the crown. We all know the tragedy of the next day, and the championship series was cancelled. Thus, the Cyclones and the Williamsport were declared co-champs.
This year’s team returns second baseman Matt Fisher, first baseman Jabe Bergeron, and outfielder Caleb Stewart, along with pitchers Jeff Landing and Edgar Alfonzo. The roster is in flux, draft choices are reporting, and other Cyclones veterans could join the fold. How do the fans feel about a championship season?
“I lived at Ebbets Field,” said Coney Island’s Marty Bromberger, in only a slight exaggeration.
“I want these players to move up the ladder, and we’re here to cheer them on, but if they do win the championship this year we’re ready to give them what they deserve.”
“To have the Cyclones, who brought baseball back to Brooklyn, win the championship on the 50th anniversary of when the Dodgers won the World Series would be baseball karma,” added Stacy Bromberger, Marty’s daughter.
“If the Cyclones win the championship at home, we’ll celebrate right at the ballpark,” said Donna Byrnes, of Bay Ridge. “And if they win it away, we’ll be at that game and come right back with the team and celebrate it at Keyspan when they get back.
“Last year, on Jackie Robinson Day, Stacey Bennett stole home, reminding everyone of Jackie’s steals of home. It was fate. This year, they’ll have the Jackie Robinson statue. It’s fate that we win.”
It’s the start of a new season with a vital connection to the Brooklyn Dodgers’ past.
Championships in 1955 and 2005? Baseball karma? That’s why they play the season. Play ball!