Published: June 25, 2005, 7:20 pm
Although these stadiums are long gone, the baseball lore that took place in them will never be forgotten.
VISITING THE PAST
EBBETS FIELD (1913-1957)
In 1890, the Dodgers left the American Association for the National League. They played at Eastern Park for a brief 8-year stint before moving to Washington Park in 1898. (Named after George Washington, as this was the location his Continental Army fought the Battle of Long Island.) As the turn of the century came and went, Dodgers owner, Charlie Ebbets, was growing displeased with Washington Park. Ebbets wanted a much larger, more state-of-the-art facility for his club. He studied and surveyed the city for the best location for his future endeavor and chose a 4.5 acre plot in Brooklyn which was complimented by the much improved Brooklyn Rapid Transit Co. and a fast-growing, hard-working community.
On March 14, 1912, construction on the new Ebbets Field began but, Charlie Ebbets soon ran into some financial difficulties. In an effort to relieve his burden he offered half interest in the club to local contractors, Ed and Steve McKeever, in exchange for $100,000 to complete the ballpark. It was built on a location formerly used as a shanty town with several makeshift trash dumps, but despite the rough-looking surroundings, Ebbets Field was in a prime location. The area was served by nine trolley cars, which connected to 32 others, and two subway stations. Flatbush Avenue, the main street in Brooklyn, was only 3 blocks away as well.
Once Ebbets Field was finally constructed, the first game it hosted was an exhibition game on April 9, 1913 pitting the Dodgers against the New York Highlanders (the present-day New York Yankees). Three major problems were quickly realized. First, when the press showed up to cover the game, they found there was no press box whatsoever. This was resolved by removing two rows of seats in the upper deck, though a complete press box wasn’t built until 1929. Second, a shiny, new flagpole was erected in center field however, nobody had remembered to bring the flag. Third, when fans tried to enter the left field bleachers they found the gates locked, and no one had a key to get in. Despite these issues, 25,000 passionate Brooklyn fans showed up and were greeted by an amazing structure. As you entered, you walked through an 80-foot rotunda with floors made of Italian marble, which were laid out in a design replicating the stitches on a baseball. The main forum was lit by a huge chandelier with 12 arms hanging down in the shape of baseball bats. It was, in every sense of the word a ballpark. It was a comfortable, friendly place where fans could cheer on their beloved Dodgers, and eat a couple of hot dogs. The fans sat so close to the players “you could almost touch them”. According to former Dodger Pee Wee Reese, “You joked with the fans on a first-name basis, you were friends.” And still other fans would say, “You were so close to the players, you could hear anything they said.” Most people walked to the park and this kind of cozy, neighborly atmosphere is what made Ebbets Field such a special place.
The front entrance of Ebbets Field before a game in 1949.
The Brooklyn fans were another main source of this ballpark’s character. The phrase “moider dem bums!” was commonly heard dialect. Hilda Chester is still considered today to have been the ultimate Dodgers fan, as she would ring her cowbell from the left-center field bleachers (she started out banging an iron skillet with a ladle), her taunts of “eatcha heart out, ya bum!” echoing throughout the stadium. And, of course, there was Shorty’s Sym-Phony Band, whose enthusiasm outweighed their talent. The Sym-Phony Band is still around to this day, consisting of a trumpet, trombone, snare drum, bass drum, and cymbals, wandering around Dodger Stadium heckling the opposition while cheering on the Dodgers.
The ads there were also legendary in their own right. The Schaefer beer ad atop the scoreboard told the official decisions on hits and errors, as the “H” in Schaefer lit up for hits, and the “E” lit up for errors. At the base of the beer ad was an Abe Stark clothiers ad that challenged players to “Hit Sign, Win Suit”. Very few hit the sign as it was so low to the ground, right fielders would get the ball before it could hit the sign. In fact, the big, gaudy ads around the park actually played a part in making Ebbets Field the half asylum, half magical kingdom it really was. As put by one writer, “It was a place where you didn’t just expect the bizarre, you counted on it.”
Initially, Ebbets Field started out as a pitcher’s ballpark. Left field was 419 feet away, center field was 450 feet and right field was 301 feet. At one time, center field was as far back as 466 feet. By 1932, with two major renovations, the dynamics of the park had dramatically changed and it became a favorable hitter’s park; in 1924, bleachers were added in left field in front of the fences, and in 1932, the grandstand was extended straight down the left field line and all the way around to center field. When these dimensions were changed, it changed the whole nature of the park, as well as pushing capacity to 32,000. The left field line was shortened to 348 feet, center field was 389 feet and the right field line was 297 feet. Not only did the dimension changes wreak havoc on opposing outfielders and pitchers, but there was also a 19-foot wall atop a 19-foot fence in right field that kept several would-be homeruns in play. Also in right field, there was a spot where the wall angled away from the field, resulting in many odd bounces over the years, some said, “like a cue ball off of a cushion”. As Dodgers outfielders got used to the odd bounces, this became a big home field advantage for Brooklyn.
Ebbets Field was a stage for some very memorable moments, on and off the field. Of course, the most memorable off-the-field moment was Branch Rickey’s monumental signing of Jackie Robinson, breaking baseball’s color barrier in 1947. Robinson went on to a 10-year Hall-of-Fame career at second base for the Dodgers. Ebbets Field was the same place where, after being traded to Pittsburgh in 1918, Casey Stengel tipped his hat at home plate as a gesture to his home town crowd and then released a bird to fly off to freedom. This was the place where Johnny VanderMeer threw his second straight no-hitter in the first night game there in 1938. And, it was also where Dazzy Vance, Babe Herman and Chick Fewster all ended up on 3rd base at the same time because of a base-running blunder. In fact, Vance and Herman passed Fewster on the way. It was a place where you’d cheer on players with names like Babe, Dazzy, Jackie, Duke and Pee Wee. 28 World Series games were played here as well, consisting of 14 wins and 14 losses. The Dodgers won 9 pennants here, but only one World Series.
By the late 1950’s Dodgers owner, Walter O’Malley, was tiring of Ebbets Field and began a proposal for a new stadium. He sought to acquire a new plot of land elsewhere in Brooklyn and later, when that didn’t work, he tried in New York City. With city officials not being enthusiastic about the idea of a new, privately-funded stadium in Brooklyn, the best they would offer O’Malley was a strip of land in Queens. “We’ll not be the Brooklyn Dodgers if we’re in Queens.” O’Malley said. The final result was that Los Angeles gave O’Malley an offer he couldn’t refuse, lots of civic support and tons of land. When the Dodgers packed up and moved to Los Angeles in 1958, only two years after their one and only World Series title, it marked the end of an era for Brooklyn. It was the first time since the 1860’s Brooklyn was without a baseball team. The park was demolished in 1960 by the same wrecking ball, painted like a baseball, which would demolish the Polo Grounds 4 years later. A block of high-rise apartment buildings called the Ebbets Field Apartments now stands in the place of the old stadium.
EBBETS FIELD TRIVIA
- It was at Eastern Park where the team was officially dubbed the “Dodgers”, as fans were forever dodging trolley cars on their way to the game. “Dodgers” was actually shortened from “Trolley Dodgers”.
- On September 16, 1924, Jim Bottomley collects a record 12 RBI in one game, leading the Cardinals to a 17-3 win.
- Dizzy and Paul Dean each pitched complete-game shutouts for the Cardinals in a doubleheader against the Dodgers on September 21, 1934. Dizzy gave up only 3 hits, while his brother threw a no-hitter.
- On June 15, 1938 in the first night game at Ebbets Field, the Reds’ Johnny Vander Meer threw his second consecutive no-hitter, only 4 days after pitching one in Cincinnati.
- On August 2, 1938 during a game against the Cardinals, the Dodgers experimented with using yellow baseballs. It was thought the balls would be easier for players to see. The idea was dropped after only one game.
- On September 16, 1940, after making what was considered by Dodgers fans to be a bad call, umpire George Magerkurth was attacked and punched repeatedly in the face by an irate fan.
- In the 4th game of the 1941 World Series, catcher Mickey Owen dropped the 3rd strike that would’ve given the Dodgers the game and the lead in the series. However, the Yankees came back to score 4 runs in the inning, and went on to win the series on the following day.
- With two men out in the bottom of the ninth inning, Cookie Lavagetto hit a two-run double, ending Yankee Bill Bevens’s no-hit bid in Game 4 of the 1947 World Series.
- On August 31, 1950, Gil Hodges hit 4 home runs in one game against 4 different Braves pitchers while driving in 9 runs.
- In Game 7 of the 1952 World Series, Billy Martin’s lunging catch of a Jackie Robinson pop-up with the bases loaded in the 7th inning helped preserve the game and the series for the Yankees.
- Joe Adcock hit 4 home runs for the Braves on July 31, 1954. He also added a double to set the Major League record for 18 total bases. Adcock was also the only player to ever hit a ball over the roof at Ebbets Field.
Brooklyn Dodgers, 1913-57
Brooklyn Dodgers, 1930-43
Brooklyn Tigers, 1944
Brooklyn Dodgers, 1946-48
The Ballpark Book by Ron Smith
Take me out to the Ballpark by Josh Leventhal
- To the webmaster at ballparktour.com for letting me use his site’s images.
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