Sunday 17 July 2016

The Ghosts of Ebbets Field

"[It is] one of the most notorious abandonments in the history of sports." (U.S. Federal Judge)

Ebbets Field

Charlie Ebbets started buying up parcels of land in Brooklyn, a block at a time, including a garbage dump where pigs used to dine which they called Pigtown.  Within five years, he built a baseball stadium, but neglected to include a flag, keys to the bleachers and a press box.

The opening game featured the Brooklyn Dodgers, named after the streetcars that its fans used to dodge, and the Philadelphia Phillies.  The Dodgers quickly worked their way into the hearts of Brooklynites.  With the bleachers full, more seats were added in the 1920's.  Lights were added in 1938 to pave the way for the first night game.  The press box was added in 1929, along with a scoreboard in 1940.

The scoreboard came at the time of major success for the Dodgers, a baseball team that captured the pennant several times including 1941, 1947, 1949, 1952, 1953, 1955 and 1956.  

Probably Ebbets Field's biggest claim to fame came in 1947, when the color barrier in baseball was broken with manager Branch Rickey's hiring of Jackie Robinson.  Number 42 stole many a base at Ebbets Field with his wife Rachel, and later his children, cheering him on from the stands (

While the Dodgers kept knocking on the door of success, they were never able to clinch the World Series.  That all changed in 1955.  Once more, the Brooklyn Dodgers faced the New York Yankees, the heavy favourites.  Ebbets Field was packed for the series.  For Brooklynites who couldn't get tickets, they stayed home and watched the series on their televisions or listened to it on the radio.  One fan pointed out that he was going to the game to watch it "in colour, rather than in black and white".  Things looked bleak for the Dodgers after the Yankees took the first two games.  No baseball team had ever come back to win the World Series after such a start.  However, with players like Jackie Robinson, the team came back to win the championship.

Henry Petroksi, a former Brooklyn resident, said in his book Paper Boy that the streets surrounding Ebbets Field were surprisingly quiet at first, filled with disappointed Yankee fans returning home.  Brooklyn fans were in shock.  However, within 90 minutes, Brooklynites erupted in celebration.  After decades, Brooklyn's loyal fans had finally been rewarded.

Sadly, the celebration was short lived.  As one writer says, the Dodgers were "victims of their own success".  Dodgers owner Walter O'Malley wanted to expand Ebbets Field, but had no where to go.  He wanted to build a new stadium at the Atlantic Yards where an old market was being torn down.  New York City Commissioner Robert Moses (after whom the Parkway is named) wanted a baseball stadium built at Flushing Meadows.  However, Walter O'Malley said that his team was called the "Brooklyn Dodgers, not the Queen's Dodgers".  In 1956, real estate developper bought Ebbets Field.  The following year, the Dodgers moved to Los Angeles (

In 1960, Ebbets field met the fate of the wrecking ball.  Where famous ball players once played, a massive apartment complex was built, named Ebbets Field apartments.  In 1972, when Jackie Robinson died, the complex was renamed in his memory. 

Ebbets Field would not soon be forgotten.  Frank Sinatra sang about it in his tune "There Used to be a Ballpark".  Roger Kahn wrote about it in his book The Boys of Summer.  The HBO documentary filmed it in Brooklyn Dodgers:  Ghosts of Flatbush.  One U.S. federal judge called it "one of the most notorious abandonments in the history of sports".  

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