For reasons passing understanding, Charles Ebbets is not a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame. This is shameful at best and unforgivable at worst. Imagine a baseball lineage without Ebbets Field, which débuted in 1913, becoming the home for a team with various names—Trolley Dodgers, Dodgers, Flock, and Robins were interchangeable monikers until the Dodgers label was officially affixed through a vote of the press in the 1930s.
With an unparalleled loyalty to his Brooklyn brethren, Ebbets sold half his ownership in the team to finance the construction of the stadium bearing his name.
Hired on the first day of Brooklyn’s nascent professional baseball team in 1883, Ebbets rose from office clerk to team president; when Charley Byrne died in 1898, a shareholder named George Chauncey advocated for Ebbets to fill the team’s highest-level executive role. With a curriculum vitae of a decade and a half in Brooklyn, Ebbets could easily have found an executive position in either the major leagues or the minor leagues, perhaps garnering an ownership stake with another team.
Ebbets consolidated ownership in the team, became the sole owner, and realized his vision of a modern stadium. In an article for Leslie’s Weekly, Ebbets said, “We must give our patrons what they express an evident desire for, and in progressive baseball to-day this means comfort, safety and faster play than ever before.”
Buying parcels of land in a section called Pigtown—so named because it was filled with garbage, which pigs fed on—Ebbets made good on his promise to the Brooklyn fans.
Ebbets’s contributions to baseball, intangible and tangible, deserve to be recognized with a plaque in the building located at 25 Main Street in Cooperstown, about a five-minute walk from Lake Otsego. When Ebbets died in 1925, the New York Times eulogized, “Virtually the whole of Mr. Ebbets’ life was devoted to baseball. His sole interest was baseball and all his money was in it. He served the game wholeheartedly, with a fixed purpose which finally brought fulfillment.”
Credit the Brooklyn ball club owner with the following:
- Rain check
- Draft system
- Weakest teams getting first chance to hire minor league players
- Advocating for permanent World Series schedule
- Extending the National League season to include the Columbus Day holiday
Another eulogy summarized the feeling pervading baseball upon Ebbets’s death; it went further than the usual missives encapsulating a famous person’s achievements. Reach Baseball Guide stated, “He never played baseball ‘politics,’ was without guide, and so universally popular that he may be truly said to have been the best loved man, not only in his league, but throughout the entire realm of baseball. Ebbets was one of the comparatively few old time magnates whose interest in the affairs of the game never faltered.”
Ebbets Field is long since demolished, its presence existing in the memories of those who saw Brooklyn’s teams—good and bad—traverse the hallowed ground in what was the second home for the citizenry of Coney Island, Flatbush, Greenpoint, and every other neighborhood in the borough, a metropolis until 1898, when New York City annexed it.
Perhaps the legendary loyalty cultivated by Dodgers fans in Brooklyn—and then Los Angeles—traces back to Ebbets, who exemplified this trait in another example of dire financial straits. To raise money needed to settle a lawsuit, Ebbets could have sold two players to the New York Giants—Tim Jordan and Harry Lumley. Instead, Ebbets said no to Brooklyn’s rival squad, tempting though the offer was. “I felt that if I had sold those two star players at that time the fans would run me out of Brooklyn,” said Ebbets in an article for the Times. “To my way of thinking, it was my duty to Brooklyn fans to keep those players in spite of the fact that we needed money worse than we did players at that time. It wouldn’t have been fair to our patrons to sell those players.”
A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on February 27, 2017.