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The Biography of Walter O'Malley

Elected Officials Disagree
O’Malley was rebuffed by politicians in his attempt to assemble the land, pay for it and then privately build a domed stadium for the Dodgers in Brooklyn. Without the backing of Moses, who was pushing towards Flushing Meadows in Queens, O’Malley eventually chose the course of relocating the Dodgers to Los Angeles. It would change baseball forever, expanding its borders nearly 1,500 miles beyond the previous Mississippi River (in St. Louis) to the burgeoning West Coast. While at the same time, O’Malley knew the longtime rivalry with the New York Giants should continue, even if one of them were to move. Giants’ owner Horace Stoneham had privately made it known to O’Malley that he was planning on moving his team to St. Paul, MN (the site of his Triple-A team), as the old Polo Grounds, built in 1911, like Ebbets Field, was also dilapidated and suffering from sagging attendance. O’Malley suggested to Stoneham to take a serious look at San Francisco because travel expenses for all National League teams could be reduced if two clubs moved to the West Coast.
Stoneham’s new suitor became San Francisco, which was approaching major league teams and, unlike Los Angeles, its voters had agreed to fund and build a municipal stadium through a $4.5 million bond issue. Through a meeting arranged by O’Malley in New York, Stoneham discussed this move with San Francisco Mayor George Christopher. The Giants were ready to relocate in 1957 and San Francisco officials were eager to bring them to the West Coast. O’Malley, though, had his own problems to resolve.
He had to clear hurdles at every turn both in New York and when he initially moved to Los Angeles, but he was determined to make the right decisions and effectively direct his winning organization.
Los Angeles was a city in transition with big league dreams. The highest level of baseball played was in the Class Triple-A Pacific Coast League. O’Malley made a February 21, 1957 trade with Philip K. Wrigley, giving the Chicago Cubs’ owner the Texas League Ft. Worth team in exchange for Wrigley Field in L.A. and the Los Angeles Angels in the PCL. This swap provided O’Malley with the ability to secure territorial rights to Los Angeles if he later decided to make the big move. It would come with a hefty price tag, however, as O’Malley and the Giants each had to pay $450,000 to the PCL for those territorial rights. Each remaining PCL team received a share of the fee.
Voters in L.A. had turned down a June 1, 1955 ballot measure to finance a baseball stadium through municipal bonds which then lessened the chances of attracting a major league team. The apathetic vote meant the proposition’s $4.5 million bond issue was sunk. Understanding the importance of this vote, O’Malley saved the newspaper clipping on this topic.7 He realized that any owner who was headed west would have to take the enormous burden of financing and building a baseball stadium himself. But, to O’Malley it was an ideal match, as he wanted to wrap all the best features he had observed into a ballpark of his building. With his engineering background, it was a perfect combination.
Los Angeles officials approached O’Malley about moving there and, no doubt, he was skeptical at first, because of surroundings which were both unfamiliar and sprawling. But, then he realized the potential of the market, including a fine location to build his dream stadium and the great weather (no domed stadium would be needed in sunny Southern California). It is said that when O’Malley saw rugged Chavez Ravine, also referred to as Goat Hill, on a May 2, 1957 sheriff’s helicopter ride, he correctly estimated the amount of dirt that would have to be moved at nearly eight million cubic yards. He was also duly impressed by the confluence of freeways that surrounded the rugged terrain.

7 Gladwin Hill, New York Times, June 2, 1955, “Los Angeles Vote Vetoes Ball Park” article

On May 2, 1957, Walter O’Malley takes a 50-minute helicopter ride to view prospective sites for Dodger Stadium. From left is Los Angeles County Supervisor Kenneth Hahn, Undersheriff Peter Pitchess, Del Webb, co-owner of the New York Yankees, O’Malley and pilot Capt. Sewell Griggers at Biscailuz Center.

An airborne Walter O’Malley described the helicopter ride to view Los Angeles area land on May 2, 1957 by stating, “I was never so scared in my life.” The door on the side of the helicopter had been removed so that O’Malley would have an unobstructed view of the ground and possible sites for Dodger Stadium.

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Wrigley Field in Los Angeles, which O’Malley received in an exchange with Chicago Cubs’ owner Philip K. Wrigley on Feb. 21, 1957, could seat 22,000 fans. O’Malley traded the Dodgers’ Fort Worth (TX) minor league team and territorial rights to the Cubs.

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