Sunday, March 05, 2006

A New Home For 'Dem Bums'

Players hauling the flag on Opening Day
at Ebbets Field (The Library of Congress)
Courtesy of
Ebbets Field / April 9, 1913
By James G. Robinson

Despite a first-place finish in 1900 and a bona fide star in Zach Wheat, Charles Ebbets' Brooklyn Dodgers fell to the National League cellar in the first decade of the century. By 1911, Ebbets had decided that the best way to drag his second-class team out of the cellar was to build them a first-class facility, even though the only plot of land he could afford was in an unsavory area of Flatbush known as Pigtown. This malodorous garbage dump, surrounded by shantytowns, would become the future home of the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Ebbets' quest for a new home had been partially motivated by jealousy; the New York Giants' brand-new, fireproof Polo Grounds was set to open in 1912 after the previous Polo Grounds burned down in 1911. Dwindling attendance at cheap-but-small Washington Park also provided justification for Ebbets to pursue his dream: a magnificent, state-of-the-art stadium that would finally bring his team some respect -- and perhaps even help the Dodgers catch up to their far-more-successful rivals across the East River. The vision was so grandiose that Ebbets soon found himself unable to finance the park alone; he was eventually forced to make up the difference by giving a half-share in the team to the two brothers contracted to build the stadium.
Construction was finally completed in time for an exhibition game against the Yankees in early April, although a host of fans were disappointed by the news that someone forgot to bring the keys to the outfield bleachers. Even worse, it was soon discovered that the architects inexplicably neglected to include a press box -- and for some reason, an American flag was nowhere to be found behind Ebbets Field's deep outfield fences. (The vast expanses of the outfield peaked at 476 feet from home plate in center and 420 in left, but the right field fence beckoned at 301 feet).

Everything except for the press box (incredibly, not constructed until 1929) was fixed in time for Opening Day on April 9th. The centerpiece of the stadium -- an impressive rotunda of Italian marble featuring a baseball-themed chandelier and various mosaics -- became a logjam of confused fans as 25,000 Brooklynites braved wet and chilly weather to see Red Dooin's Phillies shut out Bill Dahlen's Dodgers, 1-0.

The Dodgers began to improve in 1914 (thanks more to new manager Wilbert Robinson than to their new surroundings) and would win pennants in 1916 and 1920 before Ebbets died in 1925. He would not live to see the team's first championship in 1955. Walter O'Malley moved the team to Los Angeles three years later, leaving the empty stadium to be demolished in 1960 to make room for a block of apartment buildings.

Courtesy of

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