Reference Biography: Walter O’Malley

Los Angeles Bound

“We tried for 10 long years to acquire land, which we were going to pay for, to build a stadium, which we were going to pay for, all without success,” said O’Malley. “When a high-ranking official told us we ‘didn’t have a chance,’ I told him good-bye.” New York Times, O’Malley obituary, August 10, 1979

Members of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors met on Tuesday, September 17 to vote on a resolution “determining that County of Los Angeles will make available $2,740,000.00 to City of Los Angeles for public approach road improvements to the Chavez Ravine area and instructing chief administrative officer and road commissioner relating to funds required.” The resolution was adopted by a unanimous 5-0 vote of the County Supervisors, including Kenneth Hahn, John Anson Ford, Herbert C. Legg, Burton W. Chace and Warren M. Dorn to include the commitment of funds in the 1958-59 budget (Motor Vehicle Fund) to the City of Los Angeles. The Supervisors emphasized that “Major League Baseball would be a recreational and economic asset to this community.”

The Dodgers and Pittsburgh Pirates played the last game in Ebbets Field on September 24, 1957, as Danny McDevitt and the Dodgers shut out the Pirates, 2-0. It was an understandably solemn affair before 6,702 fans.

When Danny McDevitt blanked the Pittsburgh Pirates, 2-0, on Sept. 24, 1957, it marked the end of an era at Brooklyn’s Ebbets Field.

The right field scoreboard in Ebbets Field on September 24, 1957 shows the Dodger victory over Pittsburgh, 2-0 in their final game in Brooklyn.

Five days after their last home game, the Brooklyn Dodgers played their final game, losing 2-1 at Philadelphia.

In what would be the final game as the Brooklyn Dodgers, they lost, 2-1, in Philadelphia and the last person to record a pitch was none other than left-hander Sandy Koufax. The Brooklyn-born Koufax relieved Roger Craig in the bottom of the eighth inning, walked two batters and struck out Willie Jones to close out the chapter. Koufax by Sandy Koufax with Ed Linn, The Viking Press, Inc., 1966

The October 1 deadline by the National League to approve a shift in location for two members clubs — the Giants and the Dodgers — was extended so that O’Malley could complete all his negotiations.

Wyman related that prior to the vote of the Los Angeles City Council to make an agreement to bring the Dodgers west, she was asked to talk to O’Malley on the telephone to see if he was totally committed to making the move. She nearly gasped when she heard his response.

Rosalind Wyman, Los Angeles City Councilmember, Fifth District and L.A. Mayor Norris Poulson (1953-61) with Walter O’Malley at a Dodger welcoming luncheon at the Statler Hilton on October 28, 1957. The persistent Wyman and Poulson were two of the driving forces in gaining Walter O’Malley’s attention to consider Los Angeles as a new home.

AP Photo

“I talked to him (O’Malley) before the last vote (October 7, 1957). We made a phone call, (Mayor Norris) Poulson and I. Poulson was so nervous, he couldn’t talk to him and he put me on the phone,” said Wyman. “He said to me and it was very difficult, because up to that point we had never had a definitive thing that said ‘I am coming. I am coming.’ It was never that clear. In any statement, you can go through anything he ever said and you won’t find it in New York, or our papers, or anywhere. And that last night I said ‘Walter.’ I said ‘Mr. O’Malley’ and I was ‘Mrs. Wyman’ at that point. But, I said, ‘Tell us. I am going to the floor (it was at night. We had a night session’). And I said, ‘I would like to say you are coming.’ He said, ‘Mrs. Wyman, I am grateful for everything you have done, I am grateful for everything the mayor has done, but I have to tell you if I could get my deal in New York, I’d rather stay in New York.’ I said, ‘My God I can’t go to the council.’ He said, ‘I think everything is right for me there in L.A. I think baseball is an unknown out there.’ He said a lot of positive things. So I decided that I never would really tell the council, to tell you the truth, what the conversation was unless I was asked. And I did say the positive parts of the conversation. I mean I really used it as a tool. But, my colleagues never said, ‘Did he say he was absolutely coming?’ So, I never had to answer it. So, I really felt that if I had to say that, I would not have gotten the 10 votes.” Roz Wyman interview with Kitty Felde, National Public Radio, April, 1988

The city of Los Angeles agreed to exchange some 300 acres in Chavez Ravine and the grading and construction of access roads with help from the County of Los Angeles. O’Malley, in turn, would trade Wrigley Field to the city, valued at $2.25 million, plus provide a 40-acre public recreational area for 20 years (he was to set aside $500,000 plus $60,000 a year to support such activities) and pay annual property taxes of approximately $345,000. Of course, O’Malley was to privately finance 56,000-seat Dodger Stadium. On October 7, 1957, the Council of the City of Los Angeles by a 10-4 vote adopted an ordinance (No. 110204) which entered the city into a contract with the Dodgers.

Walter O’Malley receives greetings from the press, politicians, and even a process server, upon landing in Los Angeles on Oct. 23, 1957.

Courtesy of University of Southern California, on behalf of the USC Specialized Libraries and Archival Collections

Los Angeles baseball fans excitedly greet the arrival of the Dodger-owned Convair airplane to their new home on October 23, 1957. Pilot Bud Holman, who brings the plane to a halt, is the responsible person for having “Los Angeles Dodgers” painted on the plane, the first time the designation is used.

Courtesy of University of Southern California, on behalf of the USC Specialized Libraries and Archival Collections

Those Council members who voted in favor were Wyman, Gordon Hahn (the brother of County Supervisor Kenneth Hahn), Everett Burkhalter, Ransom Callicott, James Corman, Ernest Debs, John Gibson, Charles Navarro, L.E. Timberlake and Karl Rundberg. The four opposing votes were cast by Earle Baker, Harold Henry, John Holland and Patrick McGee. Councilman Edward Roybal did not vote as he was on vacation.

The next day, October 8, as Mayor Poulson signed the ordinance, O’Malley announced in a short press release that the Brooklyn Dodgers were moving their ballclub to Los Angeles for the 1958 season.

It read, “In view of the action of the Los Angeles City Council yesterday and in accordance with the resolution of the National League made October first, the stockholders and directors of the Brooklyn Baseball Club have today met and unanimously agreed that the necessary steps be taken to draft the Los Angeles territory.”

Five years would pass until the expansion New York Mets would join the National League and their ballpark, Shea Stadium, opened in 1964, built by the city on the same site that Moses had offered to O’Malley in Flushing Meadows, Queens. It was still not located in Brooklyn.

While many a man has headed west to new frontiers, no one could have predicted how Walter O’Malley’s journey to the left coast would instantly strike gold. His historic westward expansion of baseball, at the same time that the New York Giants moved their beleaguered franchise to San Francisco, came in tandem with a major population shift to the West. The once proud and successful Giants, who won the 1954 World Series championship, were faced with similar challenges, playing in an out-of-date park known as the Polo Grounds, which was built in 1911.

Los Angeles Mayor Norris Poulson, left, and Walter O’Malley look over a map of Los Angeles at City Hall, October 24, 1957, prior to appearing before the City Council. Dodger executives and select players arrived the night before to a large welcoming crowd at LAX. The Dodger-owned Convair 440 Metropolitan airplane had been repainted with “Los Angeles Dodgers” to mark their arrival to their new home.

AP Photo/David A. Smith

Walter O’Malley and Los Angeles Mayor Norris Poulson on the steps of City Hall on October 24, 1957.

Courtesy of University of Southern California, on behalf of the USC Specialized Libraries and Archival Collections

Los Angelenos knew about baseball, they just didn’t know what they had been missing. As each major league team made its way to Los Angeles starting in 1958, fans got first-hand views of the play of Stan Musial, Hank Aaron and Willie Mays, to name a few. This was the big leagues and every fan could enjoy the upgrade from a very good PCL, which served as a fine farm system for the majors.

As thousands of fans greeted them to their new home on October 23, the Dodgers arrived at the airport in their team-owned plane, complete with the newly emblazoned name “Los Angeles” painted on its side. Baseball fans, local sportswriters and downtown businesses were excited about the prospects of having the Dodgers arrive in town. However, that did not stop some dissidents of Chavez Ravine from serving a summons to O’Malley at the airport on behalf of those opposed to the city’s contract for the Chavez Ravine land. KNXT “Newsmakers” interview, November 1964  A huge civic welcoming party was held at the Statler Hotel on October 28, where O’Malley and his front office expressed thanks to the city and the fans. An enormous banner stretched across the front of the packed ballroom of 1,100 fans reading, “The Greatest Catch in Baseball.”

The Dodgers are welcomed to Los Angeles at a huge party at the Statler Hotel on Oct. 28, 1957. Walter O’Malley is at the podium, while a banner behind him reads “The Greatest Catch in Baseball.”

Courtesy of University of Southern California, on behalf of the USC Specialized Libraries and Archival Collections

O’Malley told the audience, “I want to pay my respects to everyone who has been so wonderful to us. We of the Dodgers are a family people. And I assure you there never will be a time when anyone connected with the Dodgers will have to apologize for his conduct. This is a grass-roots movement. You can feel it at every turn — on the streets, in the cabs, all over the city. People, in welcoming us, make us feel they mean it and we want you to be proud of the day you decided to make the Dodgers the Los Angeles Dodgers.”