Lost in History, Vol. 39

by |
09/12/2007 12:00 AM |

And just like that it was over. With the hard thwap of a leather-strapped red-stitched sphere, thrown by pitcher Danny McDevitt, which landed quickly in Joe Pignatano’s catcher’s mitt, the Brooklyn Dodgers had shut out the Pittsburg Pirates 2-0, and the game, and a lifetime, ended. Not even six months later, the team decamped for the other side of the world — the empty, desert-like “sprawling, public-transportationless anti-Brooklyn of the New World," Los Angeles. Here in the artificial expanses of Southern California, the Los Angeles Dodgers would go on to inhabit their own field and enjoy a rousing and successful afterlife, yet retaining just enough of the iconography of their old soul to jab at the hearts of old Brooklynites. Some of the same players, all the same team colors, an identical cursive logo — but new fans, new merchandizing, another universe entirely. Less than three years after that, the beloved and much mythologized home turf of Ebbets Field would be demolished to make way for a public housing complex named after one of the team’s greatest assets, Jackie Robinson. The team that had once stood for “the meltiest part of the New York melting pot” — the textbook example of old-world immigration gone gloriously good, — vanished, poof, like the once-ubiquitous trolley cars that the team had stolen its name from; as in dodging the trolley cars that would deliver fans of every color, stripe, nationality and vitality to their hometown baseball nirvana.

It was 50 years ago today that the Brooklyn Dodgers played their last game, right in the heart of Brooklyn, at the intersection of Empire Boulevard and Bedford Avenue in today’s Crown Heights. But the last game was hardly the last anything, not in this city of arrogance and borough of aggrandizement. Brooklyn is brilliant at forever mourning a better time, a land of free-flowing egg creams and never-ending games of stickball, with nary an automobile or adult in sight. The departure of the Dodgers spawned a million mythologies, not least that the loss of the Dodgers was the death of Brooklyn itself. For an excellent, and affectionately grandiose de-and-re-mythologizing of Brooklyn, the Dodgers, and the impending Atlantic Yards fiasco, read last week’s New York magazine article Exorcizing the Dodgers, by Sam Anderson, from where the above quotes are plucked.

The mythology of the Dodgers still runs rampant. Even with the obverse events of “post-mythic Brooklyn,” in which our lovely 81-square mile home becomes overrun with high-rise condos and rampaging chain stores, turningBrooklyn into the new Manhattan and shoving affordable, working class communities even farther out on the subway lines. Even with the planning of a new stadium and housing complex that stands in direct opposition to the borough’s aesthetic, building up only yards from where Walter O’Malley would have moved the Dodgers had Robert Moses and a mountain of bureaucracy made it impossible. Even with all of these factors dangling like a piano over our tax-paying heads, the Dodgers are still there. Breaking color barriers and race relations and sending baseballs over the stadium wall. At the Jackie Robinson apartments, on a low-lying retaining wall on the Western fringe of where the stadium used to stand, is a sign over the parking lot. It reads, in no-nonsense terms: “No Ball Playing.”