In 1955, Brooklyn had the best team in baseball. Two years later, it didn’t have a team at all.
The Boys of Summer needed a new stadium and the city wouldn’t give them one. So on April 16, 1957 — 50 years ago Monday — the Brooklyn Dodgers opened their last season, the beginning of the end of a fabled franchise that, legend has it, comprised the heart, soul and spirit of a borough forever in the shadow of Manhattan.
Of course, the departure of the Dodgers also comprised a great myth: that the team abandoned the borough. In fact, it was the other way around.
In 1957, the Dodgers drew just 1.03 million fans to Ebbets Field, their beloved, 32,000-seat bandbox. That attendence figure was nearly half of the team’s peak in 1947, when Dem Bums sold 1.9 million tickets.
Yet during that 10-year attendance slide, the team was almost always winning — culminating in its sole World Series championship in 1955. For attendance to fall during a period of solid play is almost unheard of in sports, said baseball historian Tom Gilbert.
“The Dodgers didn’t leave Brooklyn. Brooklyn left the Dodgers,” said Gilbert. “People were leaving Brooklyn at that time. There was that whole sense that everything’s going to hell. In a way, [the Dodgers] were abandoned.”
Yet the myth persists that the Dodgers’ departure ripped a hole in the borough’s psyche, a likely side-effect of just how beloved the team’s players were to its diehard fans — that generation of now-silvered-haired men whose boyhood dreams were all tinged in Dodger blue.
“When they finally beat the hated Yankees [in the ’55 Series], people went running through the streets yelling and screaming, shouting and dancing. There were parades. It was … like we won a war,” said Ron Schweiger, Brooklyn’s official historian.
Like many others of his generation, Schweiger keeps a veritable Dodger museum in his cramped basement: scores of signed photographs, ball caps, nick-knacks, pins, posters and patches.
It helped that most of the players lived in the borough, with many renting houses for the summer in Bay Ridge — an unthinkable scenario from today’s big-money players.
“The boys around here would play stickball in the street with the pros watching. When they made an error, the pros would heckle them,” said a 65-year-old man walking near the Lafayette Walk apartment where Carl Eskine used to live.
Naturally, their fans were crushed — though, again, it’s a myth that the Dodger players were distraught about the move to sunny California (consider what it did for Koufax’s career!).
Indeed, Duke Snider once told Gilbert that it felt like that whole team had been traded together.
Yes, there were hard feelings when the team left, but some of the pain might have come from the lackluster final campaign. It opened 50 years ago Monday with a 7–6 win in Philadelphia, thanks to Gino Cimoli’s 12th-inning homer, but the team quickly became unglued.
They dropped four in a row to the Cincinnati Redlegs and the New York Giants, then won five straight on the road; then lost four in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia; then won five; then lost four again.
It was like that all season. The mighty Boys of Summer went 14 and 17 in June, 20 and 10 in July, 16 and 14 in August, and ended with a whimper by winning just 11 of their final 25 games.
The season ended was a loss in Philadelphia, a mediocre 84-70 record, and a third-place finish.
And then they were gone.
Team owner Walter O’Malley hadn’t even let the public know about his planned move to L.A. until after the season was over, yet another reason he lives on in infamy.
“O’Malley wanted to squeeze the last nickel out of Brooklyn,” said Tom Knight, a Brooklyn baseball historian.
Knight said it over a hamburger at a McDonalds across the street from where Ebbets Field once stood.
— with Josh Saul
Monday is the 50th anniversary of the beginning of the Brooklyn Dodgers’ last season. This year, The Brooklyn Paper will commemorate that final, dismal campaign with periodic reminders of the fabled Boys of Summer.
Opening day, April 16, 1957: Dodgers 7–Phillies 6 (12 innings)
Dodgers win on Gino Cimoli’s 12-inning homer off Robin Roberts.
Charlie Burke lives on 95th Street in Bay Ridge — around the corner from Carl Erskine’s place. When we told Burke that we were writing about the Dodgers’ last season in Brooklyn, the 71-year-old shared his poem, “Say Goodbye, Brooklyn,” with its references to Walter O’Malley and Mayor Robert Wagner:
Goodbye, Reese, Snider and Hodges —
Just a few stars of the once-Brooklyn Dodgers.
Goodbye to every Brooklyn street and also every alley.
We’ll miss the Dodgers very much, but not Mr. O’Malley.
Say goodbye, Mr. Wagner,
And not to be too critical,
But was the issue a baseball one
Or was it political?