In the summer of 2007, HBO aired The Ghosts of Flatbush, a documentary about one baseball’s most beloved teams. The Brooklyn Dodgers. This two-part documentary drilled into the passion, celebrity, and heartbreak surrounding the team that gave the borough an emotional anchor.
The Ghosts of Flatbush told the story of the Brooklyn Dodgers through interviews with players, reporters, and fans.
The first part details the tremendously rich history of the Dodgers, including an amazing tale of Charles Ebbets, the team’s owner from the early part of the 20th century until his death in 1925. Ebbets began his Dodgers tenure as an office clerk. He climbed the ladder, reaching the top rung of ownership. To fulfill his vision of a new stadium, Ebbets purchased parcels of land in the part of Brooklyn known as Pigtown. Ebbets Field debuted in 1913.
No history of the Brooklyn Dodgers would be complete without mentioning the courage, ability, and struggles of Jackie Robinson. The Ghosts of Flatbush offers insight about Robinson’s impact on baseball and society from his widow, Rachel.
The fateful 1951 season, a cornerstone of Dodgers lore, gets its due in The Ghosts of Flatbush. In 1951, the New York Giants made a monster comeback in the closing days of the season to force a three-game playoff for the National League pennant. Bobby Thomson hit a ninth inning home run off Ralph Branca in Game Three to win the pennant for the Giants. Russ Hodges, the Giants’ radio announcer screamed to the delight of Giants fans. “The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant!” It gives chills to fans of the Brooklyn Dodgers sixty years after it happened.
Part Two of The Ghosts of Flatbush explores, in terrific detail, the reasons behind the team’s move to Los Angeles. While a highly significant section of fans blame team owner Walter O’Malley for the exodus, The Ghosts of Flatbush makes an argument that economic reasons induced O’Malley’s actions. In the mid-1950s, the team began to lose its fan base because Long Island’s suburbia lured Brooklynites. Additionally, Ebbets Field had fallen into disrepair.
O’Malley envisioned a geodesic dome near a Long Island Railroad hub in another part of Brooklyn. Robert Moses, the legendary urban designer who held the true power of New York City in the palms of his hands, refused to use his authority to condemn the site so that O’Malley could easily get the land. Instead, Moses countered with a Queens site, the geographic center of the five boroughs of New York City. O’Malley refused, left Brooklyn, and moved the team to Los Angeles. The site later became the location for Shea Stadium, home of the New York Mets.
The Ghosts of Flatbush leaves no stone unturned in its exploration of the team’s move, an action that still inspires frustration, disappointment, and lament decades later. The Braves left Boston for Milwaukee, then left Milwaukee for Atlanta. The Giants left New York City for San Francisco. The Browns left St. Louis for Baltimore, changing the team name to Orioles.
But the Dodgers held a deep, lasting, and unyielding passion for its initial location. The Ghosts of Flatbush describes this passion that enjoys rare parallels in sports.