Posts Tagged ‘Coney Island’

The Hall of Fame Case for Charles Ebbets

Saturday, May 13th, 2017

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.

The Death of Charles Ebbets

Wednesday, December 7th, 2016

When Charles Ebbets died on April 18, 1925, Brooklynites lost their remaining link to the genesis of professional baseball in their beloved borough.  Ebbets began his baseball career in 1883, when Brooklyn inaugurated professional baseball for its denizens from Coney Island to Canarsie.  Starting as a clerk in the Brooklyn team’s front office, Ebbets mastered the art of the tedious.  In his 1945 book The Brooklyn Dodgers, Frank Graham wrote, “He sold tickets, hawked scorecards through the stands, attended to all the little drudgeries in the business office that the other employees were glad to shirk, and made friends for the club by his good humor and his patience.”

Ebbets took to baseball like a woodpecker to a tree.  Rising through the front office hierarchy, Ebbets achieved sole ownership status after several years of gradually accumulating the team’s stock.  He presided over a team that had many monikers before it cemented the Dodgers label in 1932; Dodgers, Trolley Dodgers, Superbas, Robins, and Flock were entries used in newspaper reports.  Sometimes, a headline used one name while the story used another.  Whatever the label, Ebbets fought for his team.  Loyalty personified, Ebbets jettisoned half his ownership to contractors Steve and Ed McKeever for the necessary funds to complete his vision of a stadium suitable for Brooklyn’s baseball fans.  Ebbets Field débuted in 1913, atop a site known as Pigtown.  Its name derived from pigs feeding on the wretched garbage.

To reach his goal, Ebbets needed to consolidate disparate parcels.  No small task, this.  He kept the process secret, buying the parcels through a dummy corporation.  And he had every piece necessary, save one.  It was 20 feet by 50 feet.  Tracking the parcel’s owner was a worldwide affair—California, Berlin, Paris.  Finally, Ebbets located him in Montclair, New Jersey and bought the land for $500.  When Dodgers owner Walter O’Malley revealed plans to build a successor to Ebbets Field in the 1950s, Arthur Daley recounted the Ebbets story in his “Sports of the Times” column in the New York Times.  “No one ever received five hundred bucks faster,” said Daley.

When former manager and minority owner Ned Hanlon attempted to overtake the team through litigation, Ebbets could have resolved the dispute by selling Brooklyn players Tim Jordon and Harry Linley to the New York Giants for the funds needed to settle with Hanlon.

Even if Ebbets decided to fight Hanlon rather than settle, the money generated from a sale could serve as a financial cushion if Hanlon won his case.  Despite the practical appeal of selling Jordon and Linley, Ebbets declined the offer from the rival ball club.  In a 1912 article in the New York Times, Ebbets said, “I felt that if I had sold those two star players at that time the fans would run me out of Brooklyn.  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 our patrons to sell those players.”

Brooklyn adored Ebbets, as did the baseball industry.  Reach Baseball Guide eulogized, “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 own 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.”

The New York Times obituary for Ebbets quoted Joseph A. Guilder, President of the Borough of Brooklyn:  “I am deeply moved to learn of the death of Mr. Ebbets.  It was my pleasure to know him many years.  His death is a distinct loss to the borough and to the national game with which he was so prominently associated.  At all times he exhibited a keen interest in Brooklyn affairs, and his advocacy of clean sport caused him to be held in high admiration by a host of friends.”  The Brooklyn Daily Eagle also highlighted the Brooklyn-Ebbets connection:  “Nothing could shake his conviction that Brooklyn was the best baseball community in the country and that it was deserving of the best he could give it in the way of a better playing field and good players.”

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on October 29, 2014.

Ebbets Field: More Than A Stadium

Friday, October 28th, 2016

A baseball shrine débuted in 1913, one in a string of ballparks ushering in a new era for the National Pastime.  Philadelphia, Detroit, Boston, and Chicago offered modern facilities for the fans.    In Brooklyn, a new stadium became a second home for borough residents from Canarsie to Coney Island.  Ebbets Field.  Home of the Brooklyn Dodgers.

When the Dodgers left Brooklyn after the 1957 season, Ebbets Field’s days were numbered.  Their spirit amputated, Dodger fans mourned the loss represented by the soulless void of a silent Ebbets Field.

Obsolete and vacant as a once gloried dominion of baseball excellence, Ebbets Field no longer served a valuable function.  What began as the innovative brainchild of then owner Charles Ebbets in 1913 aged into an archaic edifice.  Once a nucleic fixture for Brooklyn, Ebbets Field balanced on the precipice of ignominy.  Its storied life ended in 1960 with demolition that placed an arctic exclamation point on the end of an already frosty sentence—the Brooklyn Dodgers are no more.

If fans run their fingers over the memories, they feel scars that never fully healed and, consequently, trigger a bittersweet though palpable aura.  Bitter for the abandonment.  Sweet for the memories.

Vividly, they recall Jackie Robinson’s fiery, pigeon-toed style of running, Carl Furillo’s master of baseball caroms off Ebbets Field’s idiosyncratic right field wall, and Roy Campanella’s powerful swaths of National League pitching.

But the memories are more than homages to a great baseball team that patrolled the verdant pasture at 55 Sullivan Place, an address that no longer appears on Brooklyn’s Post Office rolls.  For those who saw the Dodgers play in the Jackie Robinson era, the memories reveal a depth of love betrayed in Shakespearean proportions.

Walter O’Malley’s decision to move the Dodgers a continent away from Brooklyn, a felonious act in the hearts and minds of the Dodger faithful, anchored in a sweetheart deal—the power brokers of Los Angeles gave O’Malley the real estate of Chavez Ravine in an exchange for the environs of the city’s Wrigley Field.  Not since Peter Minuit purchased Manhattan Island for 60 guilders on behalf of the Dutch had a land deal bared incalculable value for the land’s new settlers.

Dodger Stadium eclipsed Ebbets Field in look, feel, and modernity.  Its wavy outfield roof, capacity for approximately 56,000, and seat colors evoking a southern California warmth—yellow, light orange, turquoise, and sky blue—did not look anything like Charles Ebbets’s brick-faced structure that was a breakthrough for pre-World War I baseball, but a relic for the Space Age.  O’Malley’s new facility represented the post-World War II era, when migration to newly created suburbs forced travel by car, thereby creating a need for parking spaces at stadium.  Ebbets Field was a ballpark sandwiched into one city block with a capacity hovering around 36,000 and approximately 700 parking spaces.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on June 15, 2013.