Thursday, April 02, 2009

Walter O'Malley Was Influential in Bringing Dodgers to LA

by Kitty Felde
From June 24, 2008
89.3 KPCC Website

Lots of people helped bring the Dodgers to Los Angeles 50 years ago, but the late Dodger owner Walter O'Malley was the only one with the vision and the business smarts to make it happen. The New York Irishman, who's still loathed in Brooklyn, out-maneuvered politicians on both coasts to find a bigger audience for his "Boys in Blue." In part three of her series on the Dodgers' move west, KPCC's Special Correspondent Kitty Felde profiles the old Irishman who brought big league baseball to L.A.

Kitty Felde: The late Dodger owner Walter Francis O'Malley grew up in New York cheering for... the Giants. He watched games at the Giants' home park, the old Polo Grounds, near his boyhood home in the Bronx. O'Malley played some baseball in school, until he was hit in the nose with a ball and gave it up for good.

Walter O'Malley: I also was handicapped by the fact that I wore glasses, and at that time, there weren't many ballplayers who wore glasses.

Felde: At the University of Pennsylvania, O'Malley was elected president of the junior and senior classes. He didn't dance, but he ran the school dances and made quite a profit. The late L.A. County Supervisor Kenneth Hahn remembered O'Malley as a tough negotiator.

Kenneth Hahn: A very tough business man. Work out with the pencils in dollars and cents. Very shrewd. You couldn't put anything over him. And he had an eye on the game, but an eye on the cash register, too.

Felde: O'Malley's engineering classes in college came in handy. He got a job as an engineer for the City of New York during the day and attended law school at Fordham University at night. Former L.A. City Councilwoman Roz Wyman says that's where he met the love of his life, Kay Hanson.

Roz Wyman: They were engaged, and she had a cancerous throat thing and she had to remove her box, her larynx, her speaking. And I'm sure a young man, many young men in that day and age, would say, what do I want to get into this? You know, maybe marriage, and how will it work? I mean, it was a beautiful love affair between Kay and Walter O'Malley. It was beautiful.

Felde: O'Malley's legal work introduced him to the Brooklyn Dodgers. He'd had season tickets for years so he could entertain clients. But in the late 1930s the ball club owed money to a lot of people, including some clients of O'Malley's law firm.

In 1943, O'Malley became the Dodgers' general counsel. He started buying stock in the ball club, and in 1950, O'Malley bought out Branch Rickey to become the majority owner of the Dodgers. That was the same year the team hired a new broadcaster, a red-headed college kid fresh out of Fordham named Vin Scully.

Vin Scully: Walter O'Malley was everybody's best friend. He was like my extra father. He was warm, genial, jovial. His favorite day, if anybody asked me about a Walter O'Malley favorite day, would be to get up very early and plant. He loved the earth, he loved to grow things, he was an orchid fancier.

He loved to be out on his hands and knees, digging and planting bushes, and doing all of that. Then, he would love to play golf, he would love to watch a ballgame, he would love to have maybe a steak dinner, and then he'd love to play poker with the boys. I mean, he was just that kind of a man.

Wyman: Walter O'Malley was a Democrat. Never changed, the richest, the richer he got.

Felde: Again, Roz Wyman.

Wyman: Walter O'Malley and I used to love to talk Democratic politics. He, as I say, was devoted to his family, but yet he was a hunter, and a golfer, and a storyteller, and an Irish drinker! (laughs) I mean, he had it all.

Felde: All except a new ballpark with enough parking for Dodger fans. In October of 1956, Walter O'Malley stopped off in Los Angeles on his way back from a Brooklyn Dodger exhibition tour in Japan. He met secretly with L.A. County Supervisor Hahn. It was the first of several clandestine meetings to discuss exactly where the Dodgers might build a ballpark if they came west.

Hahn: Walter O'Malley said to me, I'll deny even meeting you, and I'll deny even saying we're gonna go, because, he says, the Brooklyn Dodger fans, the bums, are so loyal or vicious, or whatever he said, I think, he said they'll murder me if I tell them I'm leaving. So he says I have another season to play, and I'm gonna deny it, because I got a whole 'nother season to go there.

Felde: Hahn and O'Malley started talking, and a plan to move to Los Angeles began to take shape. Next Tuesday, we'll find out exactly how the Dodgers ended up building a stadium just north of Chinatown, in Chavez Ravine.

by Kitty Felde
From June 24, 2008
89.3 KPCC Website

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