The Sporting News list of 100 Most Powerful People in Sports for the 20th Century, December 1999
- Pete Rozelle
- Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis
- Roone Arledge
- Branch Rickey
- Marvin Miller
- David Stern
- Rupert Murdoch
- Avery Brundage
- Ban Johnson
- Muhammad Ali
- Walter O’Malley
- Steve Borstein
- Phil Knight
- George Halas
- Babe Ruth
- Walter Byers
- Lamar Hunt
- Ted Turner
- Paul Brown
- Michael Jordan
- Jackie Robinson
- Pierre De Coubertin
- Juan Antonio Samaranch
- Donald Fehr
- Tex Rickard
- Roy Hofheinz
- Horst Dassler
- Red Auerbach
- Bill France Sr.
- Arnold Palmer
- Al Davis
- Birch Bayh
- Billie Jean King
- Paul Tagliabue
- Charlie Finley
- Clarence Campbell
- George Steinbrenner
- Peter Ueberroth
- Bert Bell
- Jacob Ruppert
- Dick Ebersol
- Mark McCormack
- Al Neuharth
- Tex Schramm
- Bill Veeck
- Arthur Ashe
- Howard Cosell
- Fathers Theodore Hesburgh and William Beauchamp
- Don King
- Connie Mack
- David Falk
- John Wooden
- Andre Laguerre
- August Busch Jr.
- Peter Seitz
- Roger Penske
- Wilt Chamberlain
- Jack Nicklaus
- Bill France Jr.
- Bowie Kuhn
- George Preston Marshall
- Ed Barrow
- Abe Saperstein
- John McGraw
- Larry MacPhail
- Dick Schultz
- Gary Bettman
- Adolph Rupp
- Walter Brown
- Jesse Owens
- Deane Beman
- Phog Allen
- Wellington Mara
- Charles Comiskey
- Eddie Robinson
- Knute Rockne
- Arch Ward
- Jerry Jones
- Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.
- Bobby Orr
- Art Rooney
- Alan Eagleson
- Bud Selig
- Tommie Smith and John Carlos
- Pat Summit
- Laurence Tisch
- Bobby Jones
- Tiger Woods
- Leigh Steinberg
- Henry Iba
- Bill Bowerman
- Anatoli Tarasov
- Albert “Happy” Chandler
- “The Voices of Baseball” — Mel Allen, Red Barber, Vin Scully, Harry Caray, Jack Buck, Ernie Harwell,Bob Prince, Etc.
- Sonny Werblin
- Ed and Steve Sabol
- J.G. Taylor Spink and C.C. Johnson Spink
- Wayne Gretzky
- The Famous Chicken
ABC Sports ranks the Top Ten Most Influential People "off the field" in sports history as voted by the Sports Century panel in December, 1999
- Branch Rickey
- Pete Rozelle
- Roone Arledge
- Marvin Miller
- Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis
- David Stern
- Avery Brundage
- Walter O’Malley
- George Halas
- Mark McCormack
Attendance 1953-1957 Brooklyn Dodgers vs. Milwaukee Braves
Dodger Ticket Prices 1958-1978
One of the most powerful and successful businessmen of his era, or any other generation, Walter Francis O’Malley stamped an indelible mark on the global game of baseball. With his sharp leadership abilities and business acumen, combined with his love of life and keen sense of humor, O’Malley guided his Brooklyn and Los Angeles Dodgers baseball teams to international prominence.
His life and career were extraordinary in many ways. O’Malley’s crowning achievements were the important westward expansion of Major League Baseball in 1958 and the building of Dodger Stadium in 1962, which was the first privately-financed ballpark since Yankee Stadium had opened in 1923.
On December 3, 2007, O’Malley was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee in its ballot of executives/pioneers. Induction ceremonies were held on July 27, 2008 in Cooperstown, New York. In December 1999, The Sporting News named O’Malley the 11th Most Powerful Person in Sports in the last century, while ABC Sports ranked O’Malley in its Top 10 Most Influential People “off the field” in sports history as voted by the Sports Century panel. But, his good old-fashioned American success story starts when baseball was king in the city where he was born.
In a time when baseball had three New York-based ballclubs — the Yankees, the Giants and the Dodgers — at the height of their popularity, O’Malley understood the importance of creating a unique identity for his team. The Dodgers were hampered by a home stadium that was aging. While Brooklyn’s residents indeed had a long-lasting love affair with “Dem Bums,” the nickname for their appealing Dodgers, the cozy ballpark called Ebbets Field was landlocked in a neighborhood which provided parking for only 700 automobiles.
The automobile was both a curse and a blessing for the Dodger faithful. With construction of new highways and bridges outside of the city, Brooklynites had fled from the confines of their tightly-knit community to the suburbs in those same cars. In the early 1950s, O’Malley saw an immediate need to find land for another ballpark. Certainly, limited parking and no room for growth were not going to provide future success. But, try as he might O’Malley was unsuccessful in convincing the elected officials to assemble the necessary property for him to build a privately-financed, family-friendly new ballpark in Brooklyn. His determination to build his own stadium, control it and the team that played in it, certainly was bucking the trend. In the 1950s, stadiums such as County Stadium in Milwaukee (1953), Memorial Stadium in Baltimore (1954) and Municipal Stadium in Kansas City (1955) were being built with funding from cities and municipalities, not by ownership.“Take Me Out To The Ballpark” by Josh Leventhal, Page 87, Municipal Stadium in Kansas City was a complete refurbishment of Muehlebach Field and the capacity was nearly doubled with the addition of a second deck
From the outset, O’Malley felt the Brooklyn faithful deserved a home field that was state-of-the-art, clean and proudly represented the city in which they lived. Ever the visionary, O’Malley had communicated with and later worked with famed architect R. Buckminster Fuller to design a geodesic domed stadium with a retractable roof in the early 1950s.
In O’Malley’s stadium, many new inventions would have captured the imagination of the public, among them a pole-less grandstand permitting an unobstructed view from every seat; a shopping center right on the stadium grounds; electronic ticket sellers which would let patrons choose their own seats from a giant tote board; and even “hanging boxes” to provide 1,500 luxury seats suitable for rental to season ticket holders.
“It was treated facetiously by the press,” said O’Malley. “But why should we treat baseball fans like cattle? I came to the conclusion years ago that we in baseball were losing audience and weren’t doing a damn thing about it. Why should you leave your nice, comfortable, air-conditioned home to go out and sweat in a drafty, dirty, dingy baseball park?”Time Magazine, “Walter in Wonderland,” April 8, 1958
Had the support and enthusiasm for O’Malley’s vision been embraced by city leaders, the Dodgers would have remained in Brooklyn and history could have written a much different script.
But, O’Malley was unable to elicit the backing of strong-willed Robert Moses, who was an assistant to New York Mayor Robert Wagner and Commissioner in charge of public use of parks and highways. Moses, who controlled virtually every building project in that era, and the city balked at providing the specific parcel of land at the intersection of Flatbush and Atlantic Avenues in Brooklyn which O’Malley preferred. It would have alleviated the parking issue and provided space for a first-class stadium in Brooklyn. The site was just two miles from Ebbets Field and was home to the Long Island Rail Road depot and Fort Greene Meat Market. Transportation-wise, this would have been an ideal location as all of the subway lines and the LIRR converged there. Site studies showed that both the old LIRR terminal and the meat market could have been relocated, even with significant benefits to local residents, including lowering meat prices.O’Malley testimony, transcript of Hearings Before Special Subcommittee of the Judiciary Committee of the House of Representatives in Connection with Its Study of The Anti-Trust Laws, June 26, 1957, p. 968
The property O’Malley pointed to in Brooklyn required the city to acquire the land through “eminent domain” and Moses refused to do this because he felt that private land should not be condemned for “public use” in this case, citing Title I of the Federal Housing Act. Moses disagreed with the idea of the Dodgers, as a private organization, benefiting from “eminent domain” land. He did not balk at the difficult task of the Dodgers assembling and purchasing their own land in that area and having the city assist with roads and infrastructure. That was all that O’Malley had ever asked for, nothing more or less, but not at vastly inflated prices for acquiring the many properties.
While O’Malley held an open mind to alternate suggestions in Brooklyn, nothing feasible seemed to fall into place. After much deliberation, Moses offered land in Flushing Meadows in the Borough of Queens late in the game in 1957. O’Malley, who had reviewed the possibility of a Queens site three years earlier and felt he was on a wild goose chase, made it clear that a site “five miles or 3,000 miles” outside of Brooklyn was irrelevant, because it still was not in Brooklyn. Other sites were mentioned including “one between a cemetery and Jamaica Bay” according to the Dodger President. O’Malley quickly retorted, “...we weren’t likely to get many customers from either place.”Time Magazine, “Walter In Wonderland,” April 28, 1958 Realizing that Moses had a much different view of the situation and his own political agenda, O’Malley decided to explore all of his options.
In his Pulitzer Prize-winning book, “The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York,” Robert A. Caro writes that Moses, “killed, over the efforts of Brooklyn Dodger owner Walter O’Malley, plans for a City Sports Authority that might have kept the Dodgers and Giants in New York, and began happily to plan the housing projects that he had wanted on the sites of the Polo Grounds and Ebbets Field all along;...”Robert A. Caro, The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York, Alfred A. Knopf Publisher, 1974
Newly-built ballparks with greater seating capacity and more space for parking would attract additional fans. O’Malley only had to look at the success of the Milwaukee Braves, who had recently relocated from Boston, and were playing in a packed new stadium. The Braves’ move in 1953 was the first realignment in the majors since 1903. The Braves, drawing twice as many fans as the Dodgers in their new ballpark (see chart), were making a greater profit than the Dodgers, who had been linked to Brooklyn since joining the National League in 1890. Despite attendance of one million a season and loyal fan support, the Dodgers played in a ballpark that was limited to 32,000 capacity.
“If we had continued to draw around a million attendance back in Brooklyn while the Braves drew more than 2 million in Milwaukee, they’d have the advantage over us and every team in the league,” O’Malley told Sports Illustrated. “They’d have better scouts, better players, pay bigger bonuses — you’d see it work right down the line. It’s as certain as a lab experiment. Better tools lead to better products.”Robert Shaplen, O’Malley and the Angels, Sports Illustrated, March 24, 1958
The West Coast was calling and O’Malley had to listen. San Francisco and Los Angeles were interested in bringing the first major league baseball teams west of St. Louis. The burgeoning commercial airline industry with its affordable jet fares and additional flights allowed teams to make coast-to-coast road trips, which previously had not been available due to the prohibitive expenses and time associated with long distance travel. Trains and buses were the modes of transportation for baseball teams in this period. But, the Dodgers owned their own airplane. This provided the players and staff with comfort and flexibility in traveling. At an August 27, 1952 meeting of the Dodger directors, O’Malley explained that the company plane had flown player and office personnel in and out of Vero Beach, FL for spring training at a cost of $14,442. If commercial transportation had been used for these 31,286 air miles, it would have more than doubled the cost ($30,149). He stated “there is nothing to indicate that the plane is an extravagance.”Dodger Board of Directors Meeting Minutes, August 27, 1952
It would be the first of five airplanes the Dodgers would own during the innovative O’Malley regime, an investment that not only paid dividends and made him an efficiency expert, but established the Dodger organization as first class in every way.
The Early Years
At the turn-of-the-century in 1900, the relatively young sport of baseball was just hitting its stride, particularly in New York. Brooklyn had joined the National League of Professional Baseball clubs 10 years earlier and its team was known as the “Bridegrooms,” as a large number of players on the club were married the previous year. Later, the club was named for the complicated maze of trolley cars that weaved their way through the Borough of Brooklyn and residents became affectionately known as “Trolley Dodgers.” Headline writers of the time, didn’t always have space for the word “trolley” and eventually just left it out. So, they became simply the Dodgers, one of baseball’s most enduring and recognizable names.
Charles Ebbets, who at one time sold tickets and programs for the team, eventually worked his way up through the front office and became President of the Dodgers. Ebbets, too, realized a dream by building a beautiful new ballpark — Ebbets Field — which opened on April 9, 1913. Ebbets had to enlist the financial support of two brothers — Steve and Ed McKeever — who were in the construction business to finish the stadium which was fraught with cost overruns. Hard-pressed to pay the bills and complete the building process, Ebbets was forced to forgo one-half ownership of the Brooklyn franchise to the McKeever brothers. Two corporations were newly formed, as the Ebbets-McKeever Exhibition Company held real estate title to the land, while the Brooklyn National League Baseball Club took care of the business of baseball including player contracts. No grand opening of a ballpark ever seems to run entirely smoothly, as someone forgot to bring the key to open the grandstands on the first day and the game was slightly delayed!
During this same period, Walter O’Malley was a young boy in bustling New York. Born on October 9, 1903 in the Bronx, he was the only child of Edwin Joseph O’Malley and Alma Feltner O’Malley. He grew up in a pleasant section of New York, moving from the Bronx when he was just seven to Hollis, Long Island. In Hollis, he attended Public School No. 35. O’Malley worked hard at his studies, but equally liked many activities outside of school, including swimming, fishing and boating. He also thoroughly enjoyed his experience as a Boy Scout, where he first went camping, hunting and “learned how to cook and make a bed.” O’Malley attended some professional baseball games and became a real fan of the sport.
“I used to walk along a railroad trestle, up at Morrisania, with an uncle of mine, Clarence Feltner, to watch the Giants,” said O’Malley. “We lived in the Bronx then and the Giants were my team and the most wonderful guy in the world was Eddie Brannick. Eddie was terrific to us kids. He’d see we got a seat if we got into the park — and there were ways. Ho, ho, there were ways.”Robert Shaplen, Sports Illustrated, March 24, 1958
New York in the 1910s was filled with immigrants and family-run businesses. Edwin, whose family history can be traced to County Mayo in Ireland, was prosperous in the dry goods business and later became the city’s Commissioner of Public Markets, an important appointed post.
Edwin J. O’Malley was one of 14 children, the second of eight sons of Georgiana Reynolds and Thomas Francis O’Malley. Edwin was born on August 23, 1882 and lived to be 70 years old. Alma Feltner, Walter’s mother, was born on March 6, 1883 in New York City, the fourth daughter of German-born Dorothea Schmaus and F. George Feltner of Bavaria. Alma, who had four sisters and three brothers, passed away on June 1, 1940 in Amityville, NY.
Thomas’s parents were John O’Malley and Margaret Collins, who were married in County Mayo, Ireland before immigrating to the United States. Walter wrote a letter about his paternal grandfather Thomas, who was born on April 15, 1854, “In the late 1880s, he worked in the Brooklyn Post Office at a time when Brooklyn was a separate city and not part of the greater city of New York. His associate there was Albert Furman, who later became Postmaster of Brooklyn. Postmaster Furman was a respected and colorful figure in Brooklyn in those days. My late Grandfather...had been active in organizing an association of postal employees and that this effort was not appreciated at the time in Washington and that he was transferred from Brooklyn to San Francisco where he was assigned to the International Exposition in charge of the Post Office.
“He was never Postmaster of San Francisco but perhaps had that title at the International Exposition in San Francisco. One of my uncles was born in San Francisco during this period and my father (Edwin) attended grade school there as did his brothers and sisters. As I get the story, and after perhaps 4 years, he was reassigned to Brooklyn under Postmaster Furman, who had requested his transfer. He spent his entire adult life in the Postal Service and was devoted to it.”Walter O’Malley letter to Otto K. Olesen, Postmaster, Los Angeles, September 12, 1960
Walter was 14 years old when Thomas passed away on January 15, 1918 in Brooklyn. Georgiana, however, lived to be 86, a vivacious great-grandmother who enjoyed retelling Irish stories learned from her parents.
O’Malley was a popular student with his peers. His parents wanted him to receive the best education available. After he had attended Long Island, New York’s Jamaica High School for two years (1918-20), O’Malley was sent to the strict Culver Military Academy in Culver, Indiana for two years in the Fall of 1920 to get the proper upbringing for a young man. He had earned the responsibility of assistant scout master in the Boy Scouts for five years. In the Culver Military School regulations handbook of 1917, it states, “Any cadet who shall conduct himself in a trivial manner, or present an unsoldierly appearance while on post or who shall be grossly ignorant of his duties after having sufficient opportunity for acquainting himself therewith, shall be relieved from duty and reported at once to the Commandant of Cadets.”Culver Military School Regulations Handbook, 1917
“I went to Culver and graduated there in 1922,” said O’Malley. “It was there that I thought I might become a ballplayer — I tried out at first base. I never did make the varsity team, however.”Walter O’Malley interview on KFI Radio with host Loren Peterson, 1965
O’Malley was a talented communicator who even traveled with and wrote a column for The Vedette student paper about the teams at his alma mater Culver Military Academy. In 1922, he was named associate editor of The Vedette staff. His fairly short baseball playing career ended at Culver when he was hit on the nose by a ball. A hot grounder to him at first base caromed off his nose, breaking it, leading doctors to advise him not to play without wearing his glasses, something that wasn’t in vogue at the time.
“Yes, they banged my nose open and I was also handicapped by the fact that I wore glasses and, at that time, there weren’t many players who wore glasses,” said O’Malley.Ibid. “I played a little baseball there, but I just wasn’t good at all.”Walter O’Malley interview with Vin Scully for Union Oil record series, 1966 He took to the sidelines and became a manager for the baseball team.
Besides his parents’ strong influence, O’Malley would learn proper etiquette for behavior, dining and interacting with others at Culver. In the Roll Call yearbook at Culver for 1921-22, a description of O’Malley said, “A pleasing personality is perhaps his greatest asset, and with it he has won himself many friends. His next greatest feature is his home town, and although there may be many people in it, he is sure to come to the front before long.”Roll Call yearbook, 1921-22, Culver Military Academy, Page 118 He also learned how to properly shoot firearms in a safe manner. O’Malley earned a commission as 2nd lieutenant reserve in the U.S. Army in 1922 upon graduating from Culver.
O’Malley enrolled at the University of Pennsylvania following Culver. The popular leader became Penn’s first two-time class president in 25 years by successfully running campaigns and being elected for his junior and senior years in 1924-25 and 1925-26. He chaired the Penniman Bowl contest for two years; was President of the Theta Delta Chi Fraternity; a member of the Scabbard and Blade Honorary Military Fraternity; the Vigilance Committee; the Friars Senior Society; secretary of Cadet Officer’s Club; and treasurer, Culver Club at Penn.
“An interesting thing, when I got to college, I was elected senior class president and chairman of the student council,” said O’Malley. “And with those two positions went the privilege of serving on one of the most important sports committees on the council on athletics. Up until this time, the senior president had always elected to go on the football committee. But for some reason, and I really don’t know why, I elected to go on the baseball committee. And I was the first senior president to ever do that. There must have been something lurking in my system somewhere at that time because I went the baseball route instead of football.”Walter O’Malley interview with Vin Scully for Union Oil record series, 1966
He continued, “I was there (at Penn) from 1922 until I graduated in 1926. I was in the college and my degree was Bachelor of Arts. But, in the last two years, you are permitted a great many elective subjects and I took most of my elective subjects in courses that would lay the groundwork for engineering, in the event I wanted to make that a career or a profession.”Walter O’Malley on KFI Radio with host Loren Peterson, 1965
He was Salutatorian of his senior class at Penn and won the “Spoon Man” award as the outstanding overall student in 1926. It was while at Penn that O’Malley began corresponding regularly with Katharina “Kay” Elizabeth Hanson, a beautiful, shy young woman whom he had decidedly had his eye on from childhood. He frequently wrote whimsical notes to her about the goings on at college, as she was nearly four years his junior. A regular writer herself, Kay responded to O’Malley’s charming anecdotes with her own stories from home and later from the College of New Rochelle, where she was graduated.
Kay was the daughter of Peter and Elizabeth Hanson of New York. Peter Hanson and Edwin O’Malley, Walter’s father, were neighbors and friends.
Hanson was a judge in Brooklyn Domestic Relations Court, who protected children’s rights. Born in Sweden, his family moved to Brooklyn when he was six. He graduated from New York Law School in 1900. For 16 years, Hanson was President of Swedish Hospital in Brooklyn. His wife, Elizabeth, was a housewife, the daughter of Philip and Katherina Geyer, both of German descent. Hanson had two daughters — Katharina (Kay), the eldest and Helen, five years her junior.
While the two knew each other growing up, Walter O’Malley and Kay Hanson, were like any other neighbor kids, doing all the fun activities to pass the time. They did not develop their love story until much later.
“Kay’s folks lived in the house next to ours in Amityville, Long Island,” said O’Malley. “We were on the Great South Bay and we liked fishing and boating. I saw her grow up — she’s younger than I, of course. Gradually, it led into romance.”Ibid.
O’Malley continued his education, now with an interest in studying law, even though his undergraduate work specialized in engineering. Appreciating his dedicated studies and knowing his love of boating, O’Malley’s proud parents presented him a cabin cruiser as a graduation gift. The boat was later donated to the U.S. Coast Guard during World War II.
After graduating from Pennsylvania, O’Malley attended Columbia Law School in 1926, where he had enrolled prior to his father, Edwin, losing the family’s savings in the stock market crash and Depression. Walter juggled three jobs simultaneously and transferred to New York’s Fordham University School of Law, where he could somehow sneak in his law education at night. Fordham’s School of Law was housed on the 28th floor of the Woolworth Building, which was then the world’s tallest building. One of O’Malley’s night school classmates was New York Congressman Eugene J. Keogh, for whom the famed “Keogh Plan” is named. While completing his degree at Fordham in 1930, O’Malley gained valuable experience working in the offices of Judge Hanson.
Entering the Business World
Using his education, O’Malley briefly started a drilling company with partner Thomas F. Riley, but soon thereafter he decided to launch his own surveying company, Walter F. O’Malley Engineering Co., while at the same time serving as a junior engineer for the city of New York Board of Transportation (“That paid $3019 a year,” O’Malley once recalled. “I always remember the odd numbers.”).Penelope McMillan, Los Angeles Times, August 10, 1979 His third income was as city surveyor. His own company was responsible for geological surveys and foundation test borings for New York’s Midtown Tunnel.
After earning his law degree at Fordham on October 15, 1930, he began his career at the Lincoln Building located at 60 E. 42nd Street in New York City. O’Malley founded, published and was editor of “Sub-Contractors Register,” an important directory listing personnel and services for contractors, despite the fact that he listed his Uncle Joe O’Malley’s name as President in the published book. He quickly became President of the Society of Allied Building Trades, working on correcting troubles of labor. O’Malley also wrote an impressive and popular law guide to explain the New York City Building Code, initially selling 10,000 copies.Sidney Fields, 1956
His career off to a multifaceted start, O’Malley added a key partner to his law practice in Ray Wilson, who had significant associations with insurance and indemnity corporations.
It was in 1931 that O’Malley decided to tie the knot with his longtime sweetheart, Kay Hanson, literally marrying the girl next door. The charming Kay had overcome great adversity in her life. While Kay and Walter fell in love in their 20s, she had developed cancer of the larynx. Unfortunately, at the time, throat operations were very rare and doctors were experimenting to try and fix the problem. Although Kay had a “successful” operation in 1927, her voice box was permanently impaired, leaving her to speak with no more sound than a barely audible whisper for the remainder of her life. Those around her learned how to read her lips to communicate. That she would not be able to speak at a normal level did not matter to O’Malley. “She’s the same girl I fell in love with,” he told his father.Jim Murray, Los Angeles Times, August 10, 1979
The couple was united in marriage by Father Patrick Gallagher in New York City on September 5, 1931 in ceremonies at St. Malachy’s, known as The Actors’ Chapel, at 239 W. 49th St. in New York City. Newly-ordained Fr. Gallagher, who was performing his first wedding ceremony, might have been more nervous than the groom. The O’Malleys resided at Beekman Place, Manhattan. Kay had been told that having children would be a problem due to possible infertility aftereffects from her operation. Two years later, however, the first of the O’Malley’s two children, Therese (Terry) Ann, was born in New York City. The family moved to St. Marks Avenue in Brooklyn, relocating just a block from Judge Hanson’s home. In 1937, son Peter was born in Brooklyn. Kay referred to both births as “miracles.”
Years later, Peter would follow in his father’s footsteps, while Terry, who appeared in an Ivory Soap baby ad in The Saturday Evening Post in 1934, 20 years later graduated from the College of New Rochelle, the same alma mater as her Mom and worked for the “Dodgertown Camp for Boys” in Vero Beach, FL beginning in the early 1950s. Terry and Peter affectionately referred to their parents as “Mom” and “Pop.”
Now, the well-fortified O’Malley entered the business world as a young lawyer, as he began his practice immediately after he was sworn in at Manhattan’s 1st Judicial Department on April 10, 1933.
“Times were very rough indeed,” said O’Malley. “A good many professional men were actually selling apples on the street corners of New York. Two of my very early law clients were relatives. That’s not a bad way to start. And they had invested in guaranteed mortgage certificates. But, when the Depression hit us, the companies that loaned the certificates were not able to keep up the payments to the bond and certificate holders. I got interested in seeing what could be done legally to protect the investment of the people who had these certificates. This resulted in a rather interesting law practice during those troublesome years.
“Because we were involved in all sorts of foreclosures, reorganizations, both under the state and federal laws, as I look back now, I think we really did a terrific job. We saved the equity for most of the certificate holders and that really started my law practice off very strongly, because at one time we had a great number of lawyers working on these various reorganizations and that momentum carried us on to a corporate type of law practice — business reorganizations, business mergers and financing. We wound up representing several of the leading banks and trust companies and a number of the larger industrial companies in the East. Our law firm had 18 lawyers in the second year of my practice.”Walter O’Malley interview on KFI Radio with host Loren Peterson, 1965
That’s where O’Malley’s important association with the Brooklyn Trust Company began. That company, whose president and powerful civic leader, George V. McLaughlin, the former Brooklyn police commissioner, had to ensure the bank that Dodger ownership was not defaulting on its payments.
The Dodger Saga
“I started out, of course, as a baseball fan,” said O’Malley. “I had season seats at Ebbets Field (‘I guess back in the days when we had maybe 100 season ticket holders’Walter O’Malley interview with Vin Scully for Union Oil record series, 1966) and I found that that was a great way of entertaining clients, active or potential. I used my seats quite effectively for that purpose. It became pretty generally known that you could find Walter O’Malley at a Dodger ballgame in Ebbets Field almost each night. From that, led my active association with the ballclub. I represented the Brooklyn Trust Company; the bank was a trustee of 50 percent of the Dodgers’ stock. The ballclub was badly involved in a mortgage they could not pay off and the President of the bank assigned me as a troubleshooter to step into the picture and see what could be done.
“So, I first went onto the Board of Directors of the Dodgers as a lawyer (in 1932), but actually representing the people who were trying to get some of their money out of the ballclub, the mortgage payments and the bank loan. It was about that time the economy of baseball turned the corner and the club started to do very well.”Walter O’Malley on KFI Radio with host Loren Peterson, 1965
Had the opportunity to join Brooklyn Trust Company, which specialized in post-Depression financing, not come into the picture, O’Malley once speculated that he might have become “a Supreme Court judge in Brooklyn.”Boston Globe, Sports Plus, July 28, 1978
O’Malley expanded his empire purchasing J.P. Duffy, a building supply company, as well as the successful New York Subways Advertising Company in 1950. He also became a sought-after director for the following: Brooklyn Borough Gas Company in 1932, Kingsbury Ordnance Plant in Indiana during World War II; Todd and Brown, Inc., supervisors of the building of New York’s Rockefeller Center and Virginia’s Old Williamsburg; and John F. Trommer Brewery, Inc.
But, since he was assigned to the Dodgers for legal issues and because the Brooklyn Dodgers were on the brink of bankruptcy, O’Malley was asked to join the club in 1943 and try to straighten out the mess. He made a bold career move, permanently leaving his successful New York law practice to join the Dodgers as their full-time Vice President and General Counsel. That led to O’Malley’s historic rise through the organization to owner. Formerly, the General Counsel position was held by U.S. presidential candidate Wendell L. Willkie, who penned the popular 1943 book, “One World,” suffered from ill health and died of a heart attack at age 52 on October 8, 1944.
At that time, though, no one could have predicted that O’Malley’s engineering and law background, plus his love of sporting activities, would thrust him to partial ownership of the Dodgers, one of the most storied teams in history.
But, that is exactly what happened. In a pair of transactions in 1944 and 1945, O’Malley, Dodger President Branch Rickey, plus John Lawrence Smith, then Vice President and later President of Charles A. Pfizer & Company (known for mass-producing penicillin, using fermentation technology), bought 75 percent of the shares of stock in the team. Smith had significant influence as he was one of the Brooklyn Trust Company’s stockholders and had big deposits sitting in the bank. Baseball executive Rickey, known for fathering the modern “farm system,” had been club president since 1942. The remaining 25 percent was held by Dearie McKeever Mulvey, the daughter of former Dodger President Steve McKeever. She was married to James Mulvey, who was President of Samuel Goldwyn Pictures, Inc. and a director of the Dodgers.
In the initial November 1, 1944 transaction, O’Malley joined with Rickey and Andrew Schmitz, a prominent Brooklyn insurance executive from McCooey and Schmitz, to purchase 25 percent of the stock from the Ed McKeever estate, of which Stephen A. Ryan was administrator. In the second transaction on August 13, 1945, O’Malley, Rickey and Smith purchased an additional 50 percent of the shares of stock after a nearly year-long effort, in an arrangement through the Brooklyn Trust Company, one of three executors of the Ebbets’ estate, along with Joseph A. Gilleaudeau and Grace Slade Ebbets, who had all willingly sold. Schmitz also agreed to relinquish his shares to the trio after the second stock transfer. Reportedly, the stock deals cost $240,000 for the first purchase and $800,000 for the second, meaning a total of $1,040,000 for 75 percent ownership.New York Times, August 14, 1945
“It was only a short step before I formed a syndicate to buy the outstanding stock that the bank represented and with that the stock,” said O’Malley. “We were then able to buy another 25 percent which gave us control of the ballclub. We reached a point where I found my association with the ballclub was just about as interesting as my law practice. I turned that over — my law practice— to my associates and I started to devote full-time to the ballclub.”Walter O’Malley on KFI Radio with host Loren Peterson, 1965
O’Malley signed an application on behalf of the Dodgers to the Federal Communications Commission requesting a new FM radio station, which would have been used for the play-by-play broadcasts of their games in February of 1948. The license would have been the first to be issued to a ballclub.
Already trying to look for a solution to the Ebbets Field situation, O’Malley wrote a letter on March 5, 1948 to thank famed architect Lorimer Rich for preparing drawings for the ballpark. Rich, who had graduated from Syracuse University, was the architect for numerous federal buildings, but is most famous for his design of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.
When a Boston Braves player broke his ankle at Ebbets Field and was rushed to a Brooklyn hospital in 1948, O’Malley went to see him. “I’ve always hated to see a ballplayer get hurt,” he said, “and I thought maybe I could cheer the fellow. Besides,” he smiled, “I’m a lawyer, you know. That makes it easy for me to chase ambulances.”Milton Richman, Provo, UT Herald, UPI story, November 26, 1951
He left his law practice, which he had built between 1933 and 1950, to reign over his beloved Dodgers at 215 Montague Street, the site of the ballclub’s offices.Vincent X. Flaherty, Los Angeles Examiner, February 28, 1957
Rickey’s contract as Dodger President was up for renewal in November 1950, but during their meetings the topic was never advanced by the board. Smith passed away on July 10, 1950, leaving his $4,000,000 estate, including his 25 percent Dodger stock, to his wife Mary Louise (May). The widow Smith and the Brooklyn Trust Company were named as co-executors. Due to the passing and funeral of their friend and partner Smith, O’Malley and Rickey were unable to attend the 1950 All-Star Game. O’Malley (with his 25 percent interest in the club) next bought controlling interest in the Dodgers.
In a complicated arrangement, O’Malley ended up paying $1,050,000 for Rickey’s one-quarter stock interest, which included an endorsed check of $50,000 from Rickey to real estate magnate William Zeckendorf’s company, Webb & Knapp, Inc. When he realized his days in power were numbered with the Dodgers, Rickey, through the suggestion of Pittsburgh Pirates’ owner John Galbreath, asked Zeckendorf to make a $1,050,000 bid for his stock, using this as leverage, knowing the O’Malley-Smith tandem had to match any offer or gain a new partner by their signed agreement. The whole Rickey ruse forced O’Malley’s hand to raise his initial offer for the stock by more than $600,000. Rickey used Zeckendorf’s name and bid to force O’Malley or Smith to pay the inflated price. In appreciation of tying up his one million dollars in the bidding process, Zeckendorf received a $50,000 endorsed check from Rickey. “I wrote two checks,” O’Malley said. “One for $50,000 and one for a million. The $50,000 check came back endorsed by Rickey to Zeckendorf.”Jack Mann, The Washington Star, Sports, August 10, 1979 O’Malley did pay, having felt taken by Rickey, but gained control of 50 percent of the Brooklyn Dodgers. Shortly thereafter, O’Malley took a purchase option on stock, which was retired by the Brooklyn club, once owned by Mrs. Smith to increase his holding to 66 2/3 percent. Stockholder James Mulvey also increased his family’s ownership from 25 percent to 33 1/3 percent.
A New Era Begins
After taking charge as Dodger President on October 26, 1950, the 47-year-old O’Malley immediately started running the team in a more business-like manner. While the on-field performance was still critical to him and one he never neglected, O’Malley also worried about the parking problems, the dilapidated seats at the ballpark and the cleanliness of Ebbets Field. He wanted to put money into fixing up the field, not just in the talent on the field. After all, fans did not want to attend games even to watch the best ballplayers, if the experience was sub par.
O’Malley also moved his family to Amityville, Long Island, NY in 1950. Previously, it was his parents’ summer house, but after remodeling it, the O’Malleys decided to live there on a full-time basis, relocating from St. Marks Avenue in Brooklyn.
Almost immediately, O’Malley was named to the powerful Major League Baseball Executive Council, a leadership committee he served on for 28 years, longer than any other owner in history. This important body was designed to give direction, set policies and deal with the global issues confronting the game. As a full-time owner, not one who made it a hobby, or just had occasional dealings with his team, O’Malley’s power grew quickly because he was acknowledged as the most informed and insightful of his peers.
Former Chicago White Sox owner and promotions guru Bill Veeck said about O’Malley, “He is probably the only owner in baseball who spends time thinking about baseball.Ross Newhan, The Sporting News, February 19, 1977 A great many owners never do think about baseball. He works at his business.”Augie Borgi, April 20, 1973O’Malley was looking at a nearly 40-year-old plus ballpark and wondering how he and the Dodgers could compete in the long term. Even while Vice President and General Counsel, O’Malley was working on a study with Madigan-Hyland designers in 1947 to find a site for a new Dodger stadium, because the inadequate facilities at Ebbets Field needed major attention.
Ebbets Field Revisited
However, Ebbets Field provided intimate spectator surroundings and was filled with its share of character and characters. It was the site of some of baseball’s most fascinating and memorable moments.
Up to that point, Ebbets Field had played host to the 1916, 1920, 1941, 1947 and 1949 World Series. The Dodgers had not won any of the World Series. The first night game outside of Cincinnati was played there on June 15, 1938. On that night at Ebbets, Johnny Vander Meer pitched a 6-0 no-hitter, the second of his record two consecutive no-hitters. Because of an overflow crowd, the game did not start until 9:45 p.m.Vin Scully interview with Jack Lang, June 15, 1988, KABC Radio Baseball under the lights, the brainchild of Dodger President Leland S. “Larry” MacPhail, became an instant success. The first televised game in baseball history emanated from Ebbets Field on August 26, 1939. The field was home to one of the most significant moments in society and sports — the breaking of the color barrier in Major League Baseball.
In 1947, Jackie Robinson took that mammoth undertaking squarely on his broad shoulders, as he figuratively and literally hit a home run and the sport has not looked back. Signing the first African-American player in the majors was a serious risk that had been taken by Rickey, with approval by the Dodger organization, including O’Malley as 25 percent owner and the club’s Vice President and General Counsel, but Robinson was more than equal to the challenges, catcalls and death threats. By learning not to fight back and keeping his emotions in check, while performing to MVP levels between the white lines, the uniquely-qualified Robinson opened the door for more black players in the majors.
In Ebbets Field, characters abounded. Legendary leather-lunged fans like Hilda Chester, whose voice could be heard above the din of the crowd shouting at players, along with her cowbells, were classic. So, too, was ballpark organist Gladys Goodding, who is the answer to a popular trivia question, “Who played for the Brooklyn Dodgers, New York Rangers and New York Knicks?” How about the zany antics by members of the Dodger Sym-Phony band, who drummed up excitement with their mock playing ability?
O’Malley once even staged a “Music Appreciation Night” at Ebbets on August 13, 1951 when fans bringing a musical instrument were admitted free. “Among the Dodger fans is a group of seven men, two of them professional musicians, who parade through the park during games serenading the spectators, playing salutes to the Dodgers and ragging the opposition eight to the bar — or worse,” wrote Milton Gross. “Except for being allowed free admission to the games, they are not paid. The two pros are card-carrying members of Local 802, Musicians’ Union. The union protested their playing in a unit with nonunion members. O’Malley met the crisis by reducing it to such an absurdity that the union pulled in its French horns in sheer embarrassment. What he did was stage a ‘Music Appreciation Night.’ Mayor Vincent Impellitteri (who officially declared it ‘Music Depreciation Night’) and members of the New York City Board of Estimate sang, Take Me Out to the Ball Game, accompanied by the most horrible cacophony ever perpetrated in the name of music...he turned a labor difficulty into a publicity bonanza that was carried on front pages all over the country. Immediately after, Local 802, fearful of its own good reputation, withdrew its protest and the “Dodger Sym-Phony” was back in business.”Milton Gross, The Artful O’Malley and the Dodgers, True, May 1954 A total of 2,426 musicians, or at least fans with musical instruments, showed up that night and the New York World-Telegram and Sun reported in retrospect, “The din was terrific. A flatted fifth or two may still be bouncing around in the left field seats.”Alan St. James, New York World-Telegram and Sun, March 16, 1956
Television personality Francis J. Felton, better known to all as “Happy” Felton, organized “The Knothole Gang” which was another Ebbets Field regular feature, enabling hundreds of thousands of local youngsters to attend games through a Dodger-sponsored donation of tickets. While fishing with then-Vice President O’Malley, Felton thought of the idea and O’Malley agreed it was a good one. He arranged for Felton to be interviewed by President Rickey. His popular pregame television program was launched in 1949, as Felton brought children onto the field to interact with Dodger players and learn more about baseball.
Another innovative idea was the addition of an artesian well located under the Dodger bullpen to provide water used in the Ebbets Field sprinkler system.Dave Anderson, New York Times, April 6, 1955
In the 1950s, the Dodgers had one of the most talented teams on the field. Led by Duke Snider, Pee Wee Reese, Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella, Gil Hodges, Carl Furillo, Jim Gilliam, Carl Erskine, Johnny Podres, Don Newcombe and Clem Labine, who made a mark that has been well-chronicled in baseball history and still has significance to the game more than 50 years later. Affectionately known as “Bums” in the Borough of Brooklyn, O’Malley responded to a letter from Joe Williams of the New York World-Telegram on October 12, 1953 regarding his feelings about the term.
O’Malley wrote, “As for the origin of the Bum, I think we can blame, or better yet salute, your pal Willard Mullin. The Bum is Willard’s brain child, and is, to my mind, a wonderful little creature indeed. The Dodgers, you know, are more than just a baseball team. They mean something to the people who have never seen a ball game and who wouldn’t know where first base is if they did go to one. The Dodgers are a symbol of the underdog, and well — so is the Bum...Willard popularized the little fellow after hearing the Faithful exhort their ‘bums’ to greater heights at Ebbets Field and through the years this has become a term of endearment rather than of contempt. I think this is mirrored in the face of Willard’s character. He is ragged, and occasionally he is a bit battle-scarred, but he is proud, defiant and persistent. And best of all, he has the mischievous twinkle of the downtrodden in his eye which has always spelled trouble for the high and mighty of this earth.”
The Memorable First Season
In 1951, O’Malley’s first season at the helm of the team ended as one for the history books. The Dodgers and archrival Giants were forced to play a three-game playoff series to determine the National League Pennant-winner. The Dodgers had led the Giants in the standings by 13 1/2 games in August until they hit a late-season slump and the Giants reeled off 16 straight wins. Tied at a game apiece in the playoffs, the Giants hosted the Dodgers at the old Polo Grounds on October 3, 1951 in what would become one of baseball’s most memorable moments, and one of the most painful for Dodger fans.
With the Dodgers leading 4-1 in the bottom of the ninth inning, the Giants got a single by Alvin Dark and another base hit by Don Mueller. Monte Irvin popped out, but Whitey Lockman doubled in a run and made it 4-2 against a tiring Newcombe, who had pitched frequently in the last week and was lifted by Dodger Manager Charlie Dressen for Ralph Branca, as Bobby Thomson was coming to the plate. Erskine, also getting ready in the Dodger bullpen had bounced an overhand curve and Coach Clyde Sukeforth told Dressen on the bullpen phone that Erskine had bounced a pitch and that Branca looked sharp. On that basis, Dressen summoned Branca in to pitch. In a playoff game two days earlier, Branca had yielded a home run to Thomson. Once again, Thomson connected and electrified the crowd when he hit a dramatic three-run home run into the left field stands off the beleaguered Branca. The Giants prevailed, 5-4, crushing the hopes of Dodger fans, as Russ Hodges said repeatedly on the radio, “The Giants win the Pennant. The Giants win the Pennant...!”
The agony of that shocking defeat lingered for some time according to O’Malley.
“No, I didn’t get over it too quickly,” he said. “That bothered me practically all that year. And then a very interesting thing happened. In January of (19)52, a club in Brooklyn known as the Cathedral Club was trotting out a young politician from Boston and they were sort of trying him on for size with the Brooklyn people and they decided they needed somebody to honor at this dinner. So, the dinner was given in my honor, even though we had dropped the pennant, as you and I both well remember, the last day of the season. And this young fellow got up and gave quite a speech at the dinner. And as part of the concluding ceremony, as was customary of dinners at that time, he presented me with a watch. This one even had works in it! Well, that fellow, who was then a young politician, turned out to be the President of the United States. He later became President (John F.) Kennedy.”Walter O’Malley interview with Vin Scully for Union Oil record series, 1966
Had fate taken a different turn, John F. Kennedy would have been president, all right, but not of the United States. In 1950, Joseph Kennedy was looking for something different for his son to do and he made several inquiries to O’Malley. The elder Kennedy wanted to buy controlling stock interest in Brooklyn and then hand the reins to his intelligent son.
“It seemed that Joe Kennedy was worried about Jack’s war injury,” said O’Malley. “Jack was then a freshman congressman, and his back was giving him a lot of trouble. Joe Kennedy said he had high hopes for Jack in politics, but he had begun to wonder if the boy was up to it physically. He said Jack was fond of baseball and, if politics was out, he might like to run a ballclub. Joe Kennedy said he was ready to meet anybody’s price for a controlling interest, with the idea of putting Jack in as club president.
“Then, while things were still in the early talking stage, North Korea invaded South Korea. (President) Truman sent troops, the Chinese came in, there were wild rumors out of Moscow, and Joe Kennedy decided that World War Three was upon us. He called off everything and predicted that soon there wouldn’t be baseball at all.
“Years later I saw Jack Kennedy at the White House. I said to him, ‘Mr. President, just think. You might have been president of the Brooklyn Dodgers.’ He laughed and said, ‘Walter, there are moments when I wish I were.’”“A Visit With The Artful Dodger” article by Gerald Holland, The Saturday Evening Post, July, 1968
Following the 1951 heartbreak at the Polo Grounds, O’Malley decided to turn his fortunes around by wearing a good luck cat’s eye ring, which was once owned by financier Diamond Jim Brady. It was “given to him by a friend who insists if the Flatbush boss had worn it last year, it would have prevented the ‘Miracle of the Giants.’”The Sporting News, September 3, 1952 A little luck of the Irish, or cat’s eye in this case, certainly couldn’t hurt and it didn’t.
As a major proponent of the idea of subscription television, O’Malley investigated the possibility of Pay TV for the Dodgers in Brooklyn as far back as 1951-52. He realized that a subscription TV service would add to the coffers of the ballclub, build additional interest in the Dodgers and reach many more fans than were attending games in person at Ebbets Field. “As far back as ’51-’52, when TV revenue was less than half it is today, O’Malley was talking about selling the games at 50 cents a shot. He even suggested that, given the go-ahead signal, a group financing him would wire some representative city, assuming the entire cost. At that time, he figured installation costs, per set, would run about $125.”Harold Rosenthal, Sports, New York Telegraph, April 29, 1962
O’Malley believed “that the time has passed when an operation like big league baseball can depend upon the revenue from gate receipts alone.” He said, “Even if we didn’t telecast, there isn’t a night in the week that our attendance won’t be affected by something like Milton Berle or ‘I Love Lucy.’ And we need night games, since too few people are free to come out in the afternoon.”Tommy Holmes, Sports, Brooklyn Eagle, February 9, 1953
A hot topic, subscription TV would become stalled because of strong opposition by the movie and TV industries, but, once again, O’Malley’s foresight into its revenue-producing potential for baseball was right on target, just 20 years ahead of its time. He was also correct in his desire to bring the fans closer to the players, as he designed the first Autograph Day in the history of Ebbets Field in June 1952, with Dodgers stationed in booths under the grandstand to sign.
Searching for New Stadium Answers
On June 17, 1952, O’Malley wrote a letter to The Brooklyn Eagle publisher Frank Schroth about the possibility of building a stadium with a retractable dome. He wrote, “I believe Brooklyn needs a modern athletic stadium seating approximately 52,000 people. A modern stadium with a movable roof would provide convention facilities unequalled elsewhere. Such a stadium could house motor boat, automobile, flower, sportsman and other shows and attractions. Such a stadium would have to be strategically located to give maximum convenience for rapid transit patrons. Present and future parkways should be designed to provide accessibility. The stadium could offer all year round parking facilities.
“Many special purposes to which the stadium could be put would include skating on artificial ice in the winter months and roller skating all year round. Such a stadium would lend itself to top attraction football games, boxing and basketball events and other recognized sports.
“We have definite ideas as to where such a stadium should be located and the site would be nearer Wall Street and Rockefeller Centre [sic] than the Polo Grounds, Yankee Stadium or Ebbets Field.
“Brooklyn has an international reputation as a baseball town. Much of the mention that the Borough receives, and some of it facetious, is in reference to baseball. If this is an asset, I believe it is, let us capitalize on the fact and encourage the erection of the first all purpose sports and convention arena indoor and outdoor in Brooklyn.
“I wish this were Bob Moses’ idea and not mine as he has the know how and zeal to see it through.”
O’Malley’s forward thinking of an all-purpose domed stadium with a movable (or retractable) roof was also years ahead of its time.
As part of the player development system, it was Rickey’s vision to have a baseball factory where the players were the widgets and he could push the best ones up the ladder to the majors. In his baseball breeding ground, more than 600 players participated on 26 teams in the early years of Dodgertown in Vero Beach, FL. The players would eat in the mess hall, sleep in the Naval barracks without heating or air conditioning and train on the numerous fields, in the batting cages and pitchers’ strings area. Every Dodger great trained at Vero Beach, after Brooklyn set up camp there in 1948 on the recommendation of local businessman Bud Holman, the influential General Motors automobile dealer and Eastern Air Lines director. O’Malley saw the long-term potential of the small Vero Beach community, an East Coast hamlet with not much happening except the airport.
But with his vision of how to develop the complex, O’Malley took the bare bones former U.S. Naval Air Station base with its barracks and simply elevated the training camp to a whole new level, first signing a 21-year lease extension with Vero Beach on January 30, 1952 and later purchasing the land (nearly 400 acres). The Dodgers helped to put the Florida community on the map and grow into a resort and retirement area, as the “snow birds” visited the training camp from New York, New Jersey and other points north.
Immediately, O’Malley wanted to upgrade the camp and make its stadium a more appealing venue for fans. On July 16, 1952, O’Malley awarded the contract to build the new ballpark to H.J. Osborne, who had 90 days to complete the “grading, concrete, fill work, ramps and fence.”Julie Autumn Luster, 2002 Dodgers Spring Training Yearbook, “Holman Celebrates Half a Century” Other contracts were awarded to complete the seats, press box, lights and refreshment stands. The seating area was originally to be 4,200, but was later expanded to 5,000 capacity.
On March 11, 1953, O’Malley dedicated “Holman Stadium,” which was designed and engineered by the trusted Capt. Emil Praeger, the intimate new ballpark named in honor of the man who had wooed the Dodgers to Vero Beach. Despite reports that architect Norman Bel Geddes had designed Holman Stadium, O’Malley wrote the words, “Geddes has nothing to do with this job” on an official internal document. Bel Geddes had, however, been asked earlier by O’Malley to evaluate Ebbets Field for possible expansion and other new stadium ideas. It well may have been a first major test for the talented Praeger in O’Malley’s circle which he passed with flying colors. The cost-efficient stadium was built of concrete with steel reinforcing. A plaque from O’Malley to the Vero Beach community commemorating the opening day ceremonies read, “The Brooklyn Dodgers dedicate Holman Stadium To Honor Bud L. Holman of the friendly City of Vero Beach.” Playing before many distinguished guests, the Dodgers won the first game played at Holman Stadium, 4-2, over the Philadelphia Athletics with an overflow crowd of 5,532 fans. Connie Mack, the owner of the Athletics and longtime former manager, also took in the opener.
It was the Dodgers who would not be denied in the next two seasons, as they won back-to-back National League Pennants in 1952 and 1953, although they would lose both seasons to the rival New York Yankees in the World Series. The powerful 1953 Dodgers with such stars as Robinson, Reese, Campanella, Snider, Hodges, Furillo, Newcombe, Erskine, Labine, Gilliam and Preacher Roe, won a club-record 105 games. Dressen, strongly influenced by his wife Ruth who drafted a letter to O’Malley, felt that he should be rewarded for his success with a long-term contract (preferably one for three years), instead of the routine one-year pact, a policy which had been established by Rickey. “So forcefully was it worded that O’Malley said he ‘didn’t want it kicking around in the offices’ of the Dodgers. He returned the letter to Dressen and magnanimously told him to forget he ever wrote it.”Ed Pollock, Sports, The Evening Bulletin, Philadelphia, PA, October 16, 1953 As Dressen wouldn’t budge from his stance, O’Malley disagreed with his position and decided to find a managerial replacement.
A significant letter was written by O’Malley to his old friend and mentor, George V. McLaughlin on June 18, 1953 in which he states, “Be good enough to let me have the benefit of your thoughts on the following: I would also like to talk the problem out with Bob Moses. We need a new ball park. It should be privately built and maintained. The Milwaukee story is an interesting one but I would prefer to exploit the possibility of private ownership. We could not acquire land suitably located without the condemnation assistance of the government. Title 1 of the Federal Housing Act of 1949 would probably have to be used. I am convinced that a ball park would have to have some use in addition to baseball in order to justify capital investment.
“I have been interested in the success of the Battery garage which, I believe, cost approximately $3,000 a car to build. There are one or two sites in downtown Brooklyn where a study might show that a parking garage would be successful, particularly if supplemented by patrons of a sports stadium...A combination parking garage and ball field would make an improvement that could justify Title 1 action.
“In 1947, I persuaded John Smith and Branch Rickey to retain Emil Praeger to make study of possible sites for a new ball park. In March 1948, Praeger recommended a site in an interesting report together with exhibits, diagrams and plans. Last year I asked Praeger to bring his report up to date and to advise me if such a stadium were to be built could it also serve as a parking garage. He has recently submitted several studies showing that anywhere from 1000 to 1750 cars could be accommodated in what would otherwise be the waste space under the lower stands.
“...In the meantime I have studied the interesting plans for the Ft. Greene slum clearance and improvements. Query: Is it too late to relocate some of the planned facilities provided for in the Ft. Greene plan, particularly the apartments, so that a ball park and parking garage could be located at the site picked in the 1948 Praeger report.
“...We can only park 850 cars at Ebbets Field in the odd and scattered parking lots. At the first night game Brooklyn played in Milwaukee last month 8,752 cars were parked for the game. Lack of parking accommodations, more than anything else, TV included, keeps people from coming to our games. Ebbets Field was built in the trolley car era. There are no trolleys to speak of today but there are automobiles and intelligently planned parkways.
“This proposal would bring activity to the Borough Hall section at times when rapid transit, tunnel, bridge and highway facilities are relatively slack. A new stadium properly located would house attractive sports events in addition to baseball. Do you think there is at least the germ of an idea here?”
McLaughlin responded by letter four days later: “I have your letter of the 18th and by this time you probably have heard from Bob Moses. There is nothing we can do, so far as the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority is concerned; in fact, it was a stretch for us to get the law amended to take care of the Coliseum. I am not inclined to believe that Bob will go along with the idea, because, with the City struggling to assemble as much funds as it can for slum clearance and other public improvements, I don’t think you would find members of the Board of Estimate sympathetic to using any Government grant for the construction of a ball park at this time. Sincerely, Geo”
Moses, who received a copy of the letter, also answered O’Malley’s letter by writing, “Various reliable people had already told me of your recent efforts to substitute a new Brooklyn ball field for the Title One slum clearance project at Fort Greene on which agreement was reached some time ago involving all the responsible federal and local officials. The law and facts on this matter have been repeatedly stated. This project has been delayed for a short time awaiting the decision of the Court of Appeals in a basic case involving broad constitutional questions and the interpretation of Title One of the federal law.
“We do not believe that the law would permit the use of the Fort Greene Title One area to establish a new ball field in any case. It is true that the New York Coliseum is a part of slum clearance at Columbus Circle under Title One but this project was specifically authorized and declared to be a public purpose by State law adopted under the Home Rule section of the Constitution. Moreover the federal provisions requiring predominantly residential uses have been complied with.
“Let me add that there are other reasons aside from those of law and sound policy why your plan is not one which justifies the exercise of the power of eminent domain not to speak of the use of public funds to reduce the cost of land. Our Slum Clearance Committee cannot be used to encourage speculation in baseball enterprises. You are, of course, the best judge as to whether in fact a new Dodger Stadium would be anything but a white elephant, and whether the extension of your present property with additional surface and other parking facilities would not meet every problem you mention except perhaps television competition. I am sorry to have to write this letter but I know you want it straight from the shoulder.”Robert Moses letter to Walter O’Malley, June 22, 1953
O’Malley also had to take care of business on the field, as he hired a virtual unknown when he replaced Dressen, naming 42-year-old Walter Alston manager of the Dodgers on November 24, 1953. Headlines exclaimed “Walt Who?” but that did not deter the astute O’Malley from his enthusiasm over his selection of a skilled baseball man from Darrtown, OH whose career had culminated in only one major league game as a first baseman for the St. Louis Cardinals. Alston had thrived in the Dodger organization, piloting the Montreal Royals to the “Little World Series” championship against the New York Yankees’ Kansas City club in 1953. He had also won the American Association pennant at St. Paul (MN) in 1948 and three times captured the flag in Montreal. Alston would successfully guide the ballclub for the next 23 seasons, cementing his name and legacy in Dodger lore. In each of those years, Alston had one-year contracts as he and O’Malley were mutually loyal. It was the way that O’Malley preferred to hire his skipper.
Asked at the press conference to introduce Alston what would happen following the 1954 season if the Dodgers did not win the World Series, O’Malley kiddingly replied, “Around December we’ll have to take that up, unless his wife writes a letter in the meantime.”Michael Gaven, New York Journal-American, November 24, 1953
In late June of 1954, Parks Commissioner Moses wrote Brooklyn Daily Eagle publisher Frank Schroth that O’Malley and the Dodgers should work on improving Ebbets Field and Moses’ office would assist in solving the parking problem. To O’Malley that was not a viable solution because his studies showed a make-over of Ebbets Field would be as costly as, or more expensive than, a new ballpark with all modern amenities already included. Besides, Ebbets Field sat on a small, landlocked parcel of land that would have made it difficult to remodel and add sufficient parking.
Los Angeles Sends a Message
Acting on the approval of City Council, on September 23, 1954, Walter C. Peterson, City Clerk for the City of Los Angeles, sent a letter to the Brooklyn Dodgers Baseball Club and every other major league club owner stating the following:
At the meeting of the City Council of the City of Los Angeles held September 23, 1954, the following resolution was adopted:
“WHEREAS, Major League Baseball is destined for the West Coast of the United States; and
“WHEREAS, Los Angeles will play an important roll [sic] in Major League Baseball as soon as a franchise is granted; and
“WHEREAS, numerous steps have been taken to start action in an effort to bring Major League Baseball status to the City of Los Angeles; and
“WHEREAS, it is possible to achieve the franchise of a Major League Baseball Club in the near future;
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, That this City Council does hereby go on record in urging cooperation of all agencies of the City, County and State government to the end that a site might be agreed upon which will be suitable to the Major League Baseball Clubs’ owners; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that all necessary preliminary steps be worked out to complete such arrangements; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that copies of this resolution be forwarded to the owners of the Major League Baseball Clubs.”
If nothing else, the idea was planted in O’Malley’s mind and a copy placed in his new stadium file.
This is Next Year!
Only once in their illustrious history did the Brooklyn Dodgers win a World Series. The year was 1955. The Dodgers jumped out of the starting gate to win their first 10 games. They proceeded to amass a 22-2 record and were never headed. By July 4, Alston had the club 12 1/2 games in the lead. The Dodgers went 98-55 and won the National League by 13 1/2 games over second-place Milwaukee. They set the record for the earliest clinch date, September 8, in N.L. history. It was Brooklyn’s 11th N.L. Pennant since 1890. Once again, the Dodgers played the New York Yankees in the World Series, a situation that had never returned positive results before. But when Podres hurled a 2-0 shutout in the seventh game of the Series over New York before 62,465 in attendance at Yankee Stadium on October 4 and at exactly 3:43 p.m. Brooklynites went berserk. O’Malley threw his right fist high in the air and jumped for joy! The Borough of Brooklyn overcame its second-class citizen complex and glowed in the spotlight.
The New York Press reports: “From 3:44 until 4:01, it was practically impossible to get a dial tone on Manhattan’s telephones: the system was overwhelmed by the largest volume of calls since VJ Day in 1945. Hundreds of thousands of Brooklynites poured into the streets, cheering, laughing, crying tears of joy.
“Motorcades clogged Flatbush Ave., Kings Hwy., Atlantic Ave., Ocean Pkwy., 86th St. and 4th Ave. Long into the night, Brooklyn resounded with clanging cowbells, popping toy cannons and firecrackers; there were bonfires and dancing in the streets, wild cheering, auto horns sounding and spoons banging against pots and pans. The bars were jammed and the drinks were free.”Old Smoke by William Bryk, “The Bums Go West,” New York Press (nypress.com)
The “losing” curse was finally over and the long time saying “Wait ‘Til Next Year!” was put to rest for good.
What made this Dodger baseball era so amazing was that as successful as they were, they had to face the equally talent-laden Yankee teams four times in the 1950s (1952, 1953, 1955 and 1956), coming on the heels of three World Series defeats to the Bronx Bombers in 1941, 1947 and 1949.
The talented “Golden Era” of the game resonates with a team busting at the seams with players who were later enshrined in the National Baseball Hall of Fame. The familiar names of Robinson, Campanella, Snider and Reese, plus Manager Alston were all inductees into the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY. Two more Dodgers just getting their feet wet in Brooklyn would emerge on the scene. Sandy Koufax was a wild, young left-hander in 1955 and strong-armed right-hander Don Drysdale joined the Brooklyn ballclub in 1956. Koufax and Drysdale would continue the momentum from the 1950s and carry it forward to the next decade, before both pitchers completed Hall of Fame careers.
Putting Their Domes Together
On May 26, 1955, O’Malley wrote a letter to noted architect R. Buckminster Fuller stating: “For some time we have been considering a new stadium for our Brooklyn Dodgers...My experience in operating a number of typical but antiquated stadia has convinced me that we lose a great deal of money each year because of inclement weather and for some time I have been talking about building a new stadium that, among other things, would have a dome over it of a translucent material...Baseball companies, unfortunately, do not have the resources of the large industrial companies. Price would become an extremely important issue...I believe this would open up a new horizon in baseball...I am not interested in just building another baseball park.”
This joint effort between Fuller and O’Malley led to the presentation of a domed stadium model. The domed stadium would have been the state-of-the-art baseball home that the Dodger President had always wanted for Brooklyn. The idea was at least 10 years ahead of its time, as the Houston Astrodome was not opened until 1965. Under Fuller’s tutelage, Princeton University School of Architecture graduate students worked on an impressive clear-span, translucent domed stadium design in November 1955.
Graduate student T. William Kleinsasser, Jr. heard the tail end of one of Fuller’s lengthy “guest” lectures. Later, he was prodded by his French class professor to incorporate Fuller’s ideas to help the situation involving the Dodgers and their search for a new stadium by designing a domed model. On November 23, 1955, O’Malley wrote to Long Island Railroad General Manager Thomas Goodfellow stating, “Today’s newspapers had a little story about a visit I made to Princeton over the week end on a matter connected with our proposed new Dodger Stadium. Mr. T. William Kleinsasser Jr., a graduate architectural student at Princeton is making this project a design problem for his Master’s thesis. I was greatly impressed by the model that the students made and which I saw at Princeton. I am particularly pleased with the way Mr. Kleinsasser is approaching the problem. There is nothing official in the Princeton study or in Mr. Kleinsasser’s work on his thesis insofar as the Dodgers are concerned but it is nevertheless of great interest and might ultimately prove of substantial practical value.
“The Atlantic and Flatbush Avenue site that is the subject of the study is one of the most important subway and railroad intersections in the city and there are detailed maps that I am sure could be made available to Mr. Kleinsasser.”O’Malley letter to Thomas M. Goodfellow, General Mgr., Long Island Railroad, November 23, 1955
Moses, however, strongly condemned this proposal stating in his suggested agenda for the Brooklyn Sports Center Authority on July 25, 1956, “Obviously, the Princeton bubble is simply the idea of an ambitious graduate reporting to a rather wild professor of architecture.” Fuller himself unveiled his concept of a geodesic domed ballpark, which could easily accommodate other year-round events, such as O’Malley envisioned, producing an additional $200,000 in revenue due to the all-weather nature of the structure.
The domed stadium was to be supported by a lightweight truss structure and would be 750 feet in diameter. No seat would have been obstructed, as no posts were to be erected in the first-of-its-kind domed ballpark, which was to sit 300 feet above the pitcher’s mound, or high enough to cover a 30-story building. According to the July, 1956 issue of Mechanix Illustrated, “Kleinsasser’s design is more detailed than Fuller’s and includes such novelties as a small sightseeing tramway over the top of the dome.” The article continued, “The dome design makes feasible the demand for a ball park big enough to hold the enormous Dodger following. It would also be an all-weather, year-round sports palace capable of pulling in big money as a showplace for every kind of sporting event and exposition...The Dodger Dome would certainly become an object of pride in Brooklyn. It might even rival the borough’s ball team in public esteem. In any case, no club could be more deserving of such a fabulous park than the Fabulous Flock.”
After reviewing the Princeton students’ display on November 22, 1955, O’Malley was “thrilled with the work”New York Herald-Tribune, November 23, 1955 and more than convinced that Fuller could achieve the impressive domed stadium that the Dodger President was looking for. However, newspaper accounts reporting that O’Malley immediately retained the inventor to begin engineering calculations on the 52,000-seat stadium at Fuller’s Synergetics, Inc. laboratories in Raleigh, NC and Cambridge, MA were incorrect.New York Post, November 23, 1955 O’Malley’s correspondence shows his concern about this error, because he had a fine relationship with engineer Praeger of Praeger and Kavanagh who was at the ready to design the stadium. Fuller wrote O’Malley a letter on December 1, 1955, “you had authorized me to say that ‘my friend, Walter O’Malley, has authorized me to undertake an informal study of the adaptation of the Geodesic dome to a theoretical new Dodgers stadium,’ and several weeks later that I had been authorized to carry out that informal study during my Princeton seminar. After this careful phrasing, I have always gone on to say that this is Walter O’Malley’s show and that any misstatement of these facts could be offensive to him or could even damage his potential realization of such a facility, should it develop into an actively desirable potential.”
For those who suggest that “you can’t throw stones at glass houses,” O’Malley firmly believed that you could throw baseballs (and maybe footballs) in them. Actually, O’Malley and several friends took on that challenge, requesting permission to throw rocks at one of Fuller’s plastic structures, a 1/2 geodesic sphere of 55-foot clearspan diameter dome at Huntington Station, Long Island, NY in August 1955. According to a Dodger press release on October 2 of that year, “They were granted permission and despite the explosive sound of the impact no damage to the dome resulted.”
Interestingly, O’Malley likened the translucent domed structure to that of a greenhouse, where he and his wife, Kay, spent many pleasant hours in their backyard in Amityville. Both he and Kay cultivated exotic and award-winning orchids in a family greenhouse. It was a source of enjoyment for them and O’Malley found it a soothing hobby, relieving him from the hustle and bustle of day-to-day work responsibilities. “A dome constructed of a translucent material would eliminate shadows and give a pleasant interior effect of the sort one finds in a greenhouse,” O’Malley said in a Dodger press release (November 23, 1955) regarding his proposed domed stadium. “Such a structure would make it possible to have controlled temperature inside.”
He also thoroughly enjoyed planting and watching everything grow...not only in the greenhouse, but in business, as well. The seeds sown, if properly cultivated and watered, would one day blossom and produce.
The Political Game - Part 1
While success on the field warmed the cockles of O’Malley’s heart, he had heartburn from the political landscape in New York, warning those in charge that he would look elsewhere for his beloved Dodgers if a suitable piece of land on which to build his new stadium could not be located. Since 1947, O’Malley had unsuccessfully tried to gain the attention of the politicians who could assist him in finding land so he could build a state-of-the-art ballpark in Brooklyn. His contact with architect Norman Bel Geddes began in earnest in 1947, as they studied possible scenarios to increase the seating capacity at Ebbets Field to 55,000. It was later determined that the costs of doing that, simply pouring money into an old structure with no growth potential, was not wise.
Although O’Malley planned to stay in Brooklyn if the support and assistance by Wagner, Moses and City Councilman Abe Stark had been there, it wasn’t and he could not wait.
Moses disregarded numerous pleas from O’Malley to explore the intersection of Atlantic and Flatbush Avenues site because of the complex land acquisition process that would be necessary. Moses was also concerned that it would take more than $100 million off the tax rolls, despite the run-down and congested area. O’Malley felt that the confluence of transportation (all major subways, Long Island Rail Road) to the ballpark would be a major boost to attendance and the surrounding areas. Ample parking could have been available in a connected structure, which would have benefited the entire area on non-game days and in the morning and afternoon hours when night games were scheduled. Moses repeatedly told a frustrated O’Malley that it wasn’t feasible or say “you can be sure that my boys will fully respect the wishes of the Board (of Estimate) and do everything possible to help.”Letter from Robert Moses to Walter O’Malley, August 15, 1955 But, nothing got off the ground. Moses was focused on the Flushing Meadows site in Queens, adjacent to the land used for New York’s 1939-40 World’s Fair. O’Malley even considered buying $5 million in bonds to help fund the $30 million Brooklyn Sports Center Authority’s proposed stadium, which would have made him a tenant on the opposite side of the Atlantic and Flatbush Avenues site to the one he preferred. Thus O’Malley was bound and determined to keep the Dodgers in Brooklyn, even if it meant being the number one and controlling tenant in a municipally-owned stadium.
Short of that, all other options would be explored.
More than 60 years after Walter O’Malley was prepared to privately build a domed stadium for the Dodgers at the intersection of Atlantic and Flatbush Avenues in Brooklyn, that location is still very much in the news. That’s largely because it was where Barclays Center was built and the NBA New York Nets play their home games.
To get the arena built and secure the Nets to play in Brooklyn, New York elected officials thought so highly of the location, that 1) they used eminent domain to acquire private property in “three upscale Brooklyn neighborhoods,” 2) “bundled that land with a rail yard that New York’s Metropolitan Transit Authority sold to (Russian Mikhail) Prokhorov’s group for $100 million, despite having internally estimated its value at $214 million; and 3) spent “somewhere in the neighborhood of $50 million on infrastructure projects related to the construction of Barclays Center and arranged for about $400 million in tax exemptions for it.”slate.com/news-and-politics/2019/09/Mikhail-prokhorov-brooklyn-nets-sale
As O’Malley kept having doors close on the East Coast, they started opening on the West Coast, as officials in Los Angeles showed their sincere interest in bringing a major league team to the glitz and glamour of Hollywood. Only the Los Angeles Angels and the Hollywood Stars, both of the Triple-A Pacific Coast League (PCL), had performed for the local fans. But that was the minor leagues, not the majors. Los Angeles’ leaders, in the mid-1950s, viewed the city in big terms — more cars, more entertainment, more attractions to visit than anywhere. But, in their estimation, it would take a major league baseball team to really place the city on the sports map.
Despite the desire of the city to have a major league team, the voters felt otherwise when it came to using bonds to fund the building of a municipal baseball stadium, as on May 31, 1955, Los Angeles turned down such a ballot measure. The apathetic vote meant the proposition’s $4.5 million bond issue was sunk and lessened the chances of attracting a major league team. This was a significant vote, since it meant that if the Dodgers were the right team to relocate in Los Angeles, O’Malley would have to build his own ballpark and not have a municipally-owned stadium, as was available in San Francisco, where voters there had passed a $4.5 million bond proposition to fund construction of a ballpark. O’Malley saved the 1955 newspaper clipping on this important topic.Gladwin Hill, New York Times, June 2, 1955, “Los Angeles Vote Vetoes Ball Park” article
On August 17, 1955, O’Malley served notice to all that his intentions were serious, as the 1956 Dodgers would play seven “home” games, one game against each National League opponent, plus an initial exhibition game in Jersey City, New Jersey’s Roosevelt Stadium. It was a bold move by O’Malley, who worked out a lease for the ballpark, sending a message to the politicians that there was an urgency in getting a response to his quest for land and a final solution to the aging Ebbets Field problem. O’Malley would pay $50,000 to help upgrade Roosevelt Stadium (30,000 capacity and parking for 4,000 cars) for major league games. In the Dodger press release that day, O’Malley explained, “We plan to play almost all of our ‘home’ games at Ebbets Field in 1956 and 1957 but will have to have a new stadium shortly thereafter. Our present attendance studies show the need for greater parking. The public used to come to Ebbets Field by trolley cars, now they come by automobile. We can only park 700 cars. Our fans require a modern stadium — one with greater comforts, short walks, no posts, absolute protection from inclement weather, convenient rest rooms and a self selection first come, first served, method of buying tickets. Baseball, with its heavy night schedule is now competing with many attractions for the consumer’s dollar and it better spend some money if it expects to hold its fans. Racing has found a way to get State legislation and financing for a super-colossal proposed race track. I shudder to think of this future competition if we do not produce something modern for our fans. We will consider other locations only if we are finally unsuccessful in our ambition to build in Brooklyn.”Official Dodger Press Release, August 17, 1955
|April 19||W, 5-4||Philadelphia Phillies|
|May 16||W, 5-3||St. Louis Cardinals|
|June 25||W, 3-2||Chicago Cubs|
|July 25||W, 2-1||Cincinnati Reds|
|July 31||W, 3-2||Milwaukee Braves|
|Aug. 7||W, 3-0||Pittsburgh Pirates|
|Aug. 15||L, 1-0||New York Giants|
|April 22||W, 5-1||Milwaukee Braves|
|May 3||W, 6-0||St. Louis Cardinals|
|June 5||W, 4-0||Chicago Cubs|
|June 10||L, 3-1||Milwaukee Braves|
|July 12||W, 3-1||Cincinnati Reds|
|Aug. 7||L, 8-5||New York Giants|
|Aug. 16||W, 4-1||Pittsburgh Pirates|
|Sept. 3||L, 3-2 (12)||Philadelphia Phillies|
|OVERALL RECORD: 11-4|
On February 21, 1956, O’Malley issued a statement regarding a site survey of Atlantic and Flatbush Avenues conducted by Brooklyn Borough President Cashmore: “Borough President John Cashmore, his survey committee and Mayor Bob Wagner have faced an important problem with courage and intelligence. The Dodgers, and for that matter all sports fans, are elated at the possibilities for a new stadium. We are also pleased this has the endorsement of Commissioner Bob Moses.
“Even without the Dodgers, this program is one of great Civic importance to New York City and the Borough of Brooklyn. Should the result be that a new stadium can be included at Atlantic and Flatbush Avenues, the Dodgers would be interested in
a., buying the land, building and operating the stadium; or
b., participating in a bond issue; or
c., being a tenant.
It will be sad to see Ebbets Field demolished but anyone familiar with its many limitations will understand that this fine old landmark has to go and soon.”
While O’Malley did have support from leading businessmen in New York, as well as many newspapermen, he couldn’t get the numerous involved parties such as Moses, Stark, the Board of Estimate, Brooklyn Sports Center Authority and Borough Presidents, to come together. O’Malley’s internal memos, correspondence and historic documents suggest it was not for a lack of sincere effort on his part to find a workable solution in Brooklyn.
On April 21, 1956, Chapter 951 of the Laws of 1956 was enacted in New York. New York Governor Averell Harriman went to Brooklyn to sign the bill into law and vowed his support to O’Malley and the Dodgers.
“This law created the Brooklyn Sports Center Authority for the purpose of constructing and operating a sports center in the Borough of Brooklyn at a suitable location in an area bounded by DeKalb Avenue, Sterling Place, Bond Street and Vanderbilt Avenue, for the use of such amateur, professional and scholastic sports events as the Authority shall deem advisable and for the conduct of meetings, exhibitions and other events of civic, community and general public use. The Mayor implemented this law on the 24th day of July, 1956, by the appointment of Robert E. Blum and Chester A. Allen as members of the Authority and Charles J. Mylod as Chairman.”Interim Report of Brooklyn Sports Center Authority, November, 15, 1956 Blum was a Vice President of Abraham & Straus department store, while Allen was President of the Kings County Trust Company and Mylod, a lifelong Dodger fan, was President of Goelet Realty Company. None of the three was paid, but were to oversee the Authority’s issuance of $30,000,000 in its own tax-exempt bonds to carry out a four-phase civic improvement program, including a new 50,000-seat Dodger Stadium.
The respected Mylod stated, “Aside from the new ballpark, a great part of the Authority’s activity will lie in the solution of other problems. The old meat market has created an area not particularly adapted for residential use. The Long Island station is outmoded, so much so that the road’s newest equipment cannot enter that station. Thus service to Brooklyn and Lower Manhattan is not as satisfactory as it might be. The problem is to put an entire program together to improve this part of Brooklyn.”William R. Conklin, New York Times, September 12, 1956
The three-man committee of Mylod, Blum and Allen representing the Brooklyn Sports Center Authority was under funded and lacked the support of the Board of Estimate.
The same month, Moses wrote a proposed agenda for the Sports Center Authority outlining a three-year work schedule for detailed plans for the Meat Market, Railroad Terminal, land acquisition, street and arterial improvements and financing. He also endorsed the engineering firm of Madigan and Hyland to be employed “to report on the various sports to be accommodated in the Center the year round, the revenues which might be obtained, including, of course, the rental to be charged to the Dodgers for baseball and football, income from parking, food and other concessions.”
O’Malley wrote to committee member Mylod on July 31, 1956: “Bob Moses is all pepped up about the entire proposition. He has given Bob Blum a proposed agenda and time table for the Authority. Moses sees the entire matter completed in three years. This is ambitious but with his willingness to advise and consult and with his impetus and know-how, it could be. The Moses outline contemplates the hiring of engineers other than Clark [sic] and Rapuano. This is important as retention of Praeger, Kavanaugh [sic] and Waterbury would be desirable. Moses has selected the Praeger site in reference to the Clark [sic] and Rapuano site. This is a bit delicate as it will, no doubt, bring into focus the disagreement between Moses and (Brooklyn Borough President John) Cashmore. From our standpoint, either site would be highly satisfactory with preference in favor of the one Moses wants. The LIRR also wants this site.
“Bob Moses in his agenda outline calls for the employment of a hard boiled expert on the roof. I spoke to Captain Praeger about this and he feels from talks with Moses that a roof would be a terrific thing but Moses wants to be convinced as to its engineering and economic soundness. Praeger thinks that Ammon and Whitney, Port Authority Building, N.Y., are the best consultants on the roof. They, like Praeger, are thoroughly familiar with the latest large span enclosures and we feel that a report will show that the proposal is not only sound but economic.
“Another letter I think you should dispatch at your early convenience would be to Thomas Goodfellow, president of the LIRR. He has been completely overlooked by the Cashmore study group and I believe that was a serious mistake as there is a strong likelihood that the LIRR would take Authority bonds in lieu of cash for land which would be condemned. Goodfellow is a sincere executive...he has a real pressing problem and he would like to see daylight on it. None of his new air-conditioned equipment can come into Brooklyn at the present time because of track curvatures and platform limitations. This means that all that equipment goes into New York and the Long Island people who want to come to Brooklyn in new equipment could be critical of the railroad.”Walter O’Malley letter to Charles Mylod, July 31, 1956
While preliminary plans for the re-development project on a 110-city block area in downtown Brooklyn were underway, two possible sites were studied for the new Dodger stadium. O’Malley favored the intersection of Atlantic and Flatbush Avenues, while the other side supported the recommendation of an engineering report by Clarke and Rapuano, which preferred a site across the street, bounded by Flatbush Ave., Fourth Ave. and Prospect Pl. and got the nod from Brooklyn Borough President Cashmore.Charles G. Bennett, New York Times, July 25, 1956
Mechanix Illustrated in its July, 1956 issue said: “Subway and train connections emerge inside the building’s promenade. (The site of the dome will adjoin the Long Island Railroad’s Brooklyn Terminal.) The whole project is laid out to handle the maximum number of people safely and to facilitate the flow of vehicular traffic peaks that sports centers are bound to generate.”
On August 2, 1956, Moses wrote to Brooklyn businessman Charles Rickerson, “I am not a member of the Brooklyn Sports Authority, although I have on occasion been asked for advice. If my advice is followed, the only City capital money used will be for the purpose of moving the old meat market from its present location to Canarsie, eliminating an extremely bad vehicular traffic and parking situation, and providing some help in the construction of a new station for the Long Island Rail Road in return for railroad land so that the new improved air conditioned trains and modern freight cars can be accommodated. The Stadium itself will have to be self supporting. I don’t know in the absence of experts whether roofing over the Stadium is practical and economically feasible. It certainly might help to establish year round use and revenues.”Robert Moses letter to Charles Rickerson, August 2, 1956
O’Malley dealt with misstatement of facts, innuendo and outright lies in regards to his stadium proposal. For example, New York State Assemblyman John DiLeonardo wrote in a letter to O’Malley on September 8, 1956: “On behalf of the taxpayers of the City of New York, I ask that your organization turn down the invitation to occupy the Sports Stadium. The financial condition of the City of New York, as everyone knows, is such that it could not afford the loss of $5,000,000 in tax revenue. It is suggested that your organization concentrate on the plans for the expansion of the present ball park which were proposed a few years ago. Those plans called for enlarging your present stadium through the acquisition of title to an adjoining street and giving to the City of New York, sufficient land on other property held by your organization for replacing that street. May I suggest that you also give consideration to the proposal of the Queens Borough Chamber of Commerce for the construction by private capital of a stadium at the Sunnyside Railroad yards which has the best transit facilities in the City of New York and will also have ample parking areas.”
The Political Game - Part 2
In his response on September 10, O’Malley answered DiLeonardo’s charges: “A reading of your letter would indicate to me that you are not aware of the facts. I have not heard anyone suggest a loss of $5,000,000 in tax revenue. Where did you get that figure? I appreciate that you were not in favor of the Brooklyn Sports Stadium bill at the time when it came up for consideration in Albany. Approximately, ten years ago the site you now mention was given serious consideration by us but the cost of building over railroad yards proved to be in excess of our budget. The other point mentioned in your letter has to do with enlarging our present stadium. This too, has had considerable engineering attention and was abandoned for very practical reasons. Tell me frankly, Assemblyman, if the Sports Center were to be built in Queens instead of Brooklyn would your objections be the same?”
O’Malley had sold the Montreal Stadium in Canada on June 21, 1956 where the Triple-A Royals Dodger farm club played. On October 30, 1956, O’Malley made a much larger splash, selling Ebbets Field for $3 million to developer Marvin Kratter, who arranged to lease the aging stadium back to the Brooklyn Ball Club for five years. Kratter, who assigned the lease to Tillie Feldman for one dollar a year, even agreed to lease the property longer than that, if necessary, while O’Malley was building a new ballpark in Brooklyn. According to the New York Times, “The actual sale took place in mid-January of 1957 when title passed to Tillie Feldman, a little old lady in a small Brooklyn flat, who holds some $11,000,000 worth of mortgages in New York. She paid the Dodgers $100 and gave back the mortgage for $2,700,000 at no interest. Then she sold her holdings to Kratter and associates at a $90 loss. The Congressional Record uses sixty pages to accommodate transcripts of the papers in this real estate deal.”Arthur Daley, New York Times, December 10, 1957
The sale of Ebbets Field also enabled O’Malley to prepare for the financing of a new stadium, as he previously put all net proceeds back into the Dodger organization (drawing a salary of $50,000 per year), in order to possibly acquire land in Brooklyn, something he had hoped to do for nearly a decade with no success. It also established a ballpark timetable for O’Malley so that he would not drift forever in a sea of uncertainty. His heart told him to stay, but his head was telling him to look elsewhere.
The Dodgers made their final trip to the World Series while in Brooklyn in 1956. It was one of their finest team efforts; however, they once again fell to the Yankees, managed by the inimitable Casey Stengel. President Dwight D. Eisenhower got the Series festivities off on the right foot by attending Game One at Ebbets Field on October 3. Seated next to O’Malley, President Eisenhower stood and tossed the ceremonial first pitch from the stands in a game won by the Dodgers, 6-3. The Dodgers won the second game, as well, but then lost three straight games at Yankee Stadium, including the only perfect game in World Series history thrown by New York’s Don Larsen. The Dodgers evened the Series at three games apiece with a 1-0, 10-inning victory back at Ebbets Field, but were never in the last game losing 9-0 on October 10 on their home turf.
At the World Series of 1956, a young Los Angeles County Supervisor named Kenneth Hahn wanted to explore the possibility of bringing a major league team to the city of Angels. Hahn was to pursue the last-place team in the American League, the Washington Senators and make every effort to get their owner Calvin Griffith to commit, as they met at New York’s famed Toots Shor restaurant. He had traveled to New York along with John R. Leach, Los Angeles County Assistant Chief Administrative Officer and Los Angeles Examiner sports columnist Vincent X. Flaherty, who repeatedly was banging the drum to bring Major League Baseball to Los Angeles in his writings.
Flaherty had written to O’Malley in Brooklyn as early as October 20, 1953 in an effort to convince him that Los Angeles was the best place for the Dodgers. In that letter, Flaherty wanted O’Malley to meet with the Los Angeles Citizen’s Committee for major league baseball. The impressive committee members included Chairman Conrad Hilton, along with Leonard Firestone, Howard Hughes, Edwin W. Pauley, Gregson Bautzer, Louis B. Mayer and Reese Taylor (President of Union Oil). His letter continued, “I have said privately among them that it might be a good idea to try and get the Dodgers, even though it might be impossible. So even if it is impossible, this idea, would you come here anyway and listen to a couple of propositions?” Flaherty concludes by informing O’Malley that “the clamor has picked up astonishingly here within the past couple of years…There is no doubt whatever that the best and biggest franchise in baseball will materialize right here.”Vincent X. Flaherty letter to O’Malley, October 20, 1953
A note from Flaherty delivered to O’Malley during a 1956 World Series game from Dodger executive Arthur E. “Red” Patterson read, “Dear Walter, Supervisor Kenneth Hahn is here from Los Angeles. As things stand, he has the Washington franchise…Hahn is authorized to offer you immediate playing facilities for next April.
- Los Angeles will build finest park in world and will give you all concessions.
- LA will pay for all maintenance.
- All LA wants is the right to parking concessions which will hold 20,000 cars.
If Hahn can get Dodgers he will not take Washington.
Will you meet him after game?
P.S. LA also will buy out Wrigley. Know this is a hell of a time to bother you but
I must do this before any deal is closed with Washington.”
One of Supervisor Hahn’s business cards was attached with the note and his seat location Section 5, Row T, Seat 10 was jotted down, as well.
O’Malley wrote on the note and returned it to Patterson to tell Flaherty, “Not interested as our Brooklyn Stadium matter is progressing satisfactorily. Will be at Yankee Headquarters tonite. WFOM”
Still focused on completing an agreement to build a Dodger stadium in Brooklyn, O’Malley did, however, consent to meet with Supervisor Hahn briefly on a stopover in Los Angeles, as the Dodgers were embarking on their goodwill trip to Japan. The wheels of change had been set in motion at that moment. Aptly, as he was exploring new territory, on October 12, Columbus Day, the Dodger President listened to Hahn and other officials in Los Angeles.
The incredible Dodger tour of Japan to play 19 games was an important step in the continuing growth of global baseball and for furthering international relations. It certainly was not the first time that a major league team or players had visited the Land of the Rising Sun. But, it was an important visit, encouraged by the State Department, coming only a decade after the conclusion of a dramatic and bitter ending to World War II, the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The Dodgers were at the height of their popularity after beating the Yankees in 1955.
Under O’Malley’s guidance, the Dodger organization fostered friendly relationships with people from all over the globe. In fact, at 17 years of age, King Faisal II of Iraq was a visitor to Ebbets Field on August 13, 1952. He sat in O’Malley’s box and enjoyed watching his first baseball game between the Dodgers and the New York Giants. After winning the 1955 World Series, O’Malley thanked His Majesty King Faisal II for his cablegram of congratulations and commented in his letter, “One of our biggest thrills in winning our first World Championship was the knowledge we brought joy to so many of our friends all around the world as evidenced in letters from twenty-six countries.”Walter O’Malley letter to His Majesty King Faisal II, Iraq, December 2, 1955
O’Malley believed that a “true” World Series could be achieved and he felt that the game of baseball brought nations closer together, thus its global expansion was critical to overall unification and potentially peaceable relations.
The Dodgers played in Tokyo against the Yomiuri Giants and enjoyed success on their trip, visiting wonderful sites and meeting many officials. O’Malley and Matsutaro Shoriki, the “father” of professional baseball in Japan and the founder of the Giants in 1934, became good friends. An exclusive group of Dodgers were permitted to make a trip to Hiroshima. The Dodger organization presented a commemorative plaque on November 1, 1956 which read: “1955 World Champions and 1956 National League Champions Brooklyn Dodgers in Japan WE DEDICATE THIS VISIT IN MEMORY OF THOSE BASEBALL FANS AND OTHERS WHO HERE DIED BY ATOMIC ACTION ON AUG. 6, 1945. MAY THEIR SOULS REST IN PEACE AND WITH GOD’S HELP AND MAN’S RESOLUTION PEACE WILL PREVAIL FOREVER, AMEN. The plaque’s inscription included the words Brooklyn National League Baseball Club, followed by the names Walter F. O’Malley, President; Walter Alston, Manager; Pee Wee Reese, Captain; Fresco Thompson, Vice-President; Bud Holman, Director; Sylvan Oestreicher, Director; Harry Hickey, Treasurer; Richard Walsh, Road Secretary.
The Dodgers went 14-4-1 on the trip. While the long trip from New York to Hawaii, to Wake Island to Tokyo, Japan tired Dodger players, who had just completed a grueling season and World Series, it was nevertheless an honor to represent the country on a goodwill tour.
When O’Malley returned from his around-the-world family trip with Kay, Terry, Peter and family friend Bud Holman in November 1956, he found that no progress on the stadium issue was being made. In December 1956, when O’Malley learned that the Sports Center Authority was to receive only a small amount of the requested budget from the Board of Estimate, he was very disappointed. “I understand Mylod and Blum have been on the verge of resigning,” O’Malley wrote in a letter dated December 6, 1956 to Peter Campbell Brown, Corporation Counsel for the City of New York. “If there is anything I can do without muddying the waters and adding to the confusion, let me know.”
O’Malley wrote Brooklyn Borough President Cashmore on December 7, 1956, “...let’s be patient a little longer and if things do not seem to be working out we will have to be practical and reluctantly go elsewhere.”
In later testimony to the Study of Anti-Trust Laws Special Subcommittee of the Judiciary Committee of the House of Representatives, O’Malley remarked, “...when the Sports Center Authority went in for a budget so they could have their studies made in keeping with the time table which Mr. Moses had carefully prepared, that Mr. (Abe) Stark at that time showed dissent in the matter and he said, ‘What Brooklyn needs more than a new stadium are two legitimate theaters and an opera house.’ Well, that one really threw me because here was Abe, my pal, he has a sign right out in the middle of Ebbets Field on the score board. I let him have Ebbets Field each year for Music under the Stars for the benefit of the Israeli Institutions. I said, ‘Abe, you know I tried to get you in to see me to show you the model and all, but I understand you are busy with other very important civic matters.’ Now, he is a swell little fellow but he doesn’t know what this is all about. He still thinks that the city is supposed under this plan to be subsidizing the Dodgers.”Official Verbatim Transcript of Hearings Before Special Subcommittee of the Judiciary Committee of the House of Representatives in Connection With Its Study of The Anti-Trust Laws, June 26, 1957
1957 - Part 1
On January 4, 1957, O’Malley purchased a twin-engine Convair model 440 metropolitan airplane for the Dodgers. “This is the first time a major league club has bought an airplane,” said a proud O’Malley of the $734,908.96 acquisition. “We tried a plane once before experimentally to transport our farm clubs but the DC-3 we used was too small and we decided to get a bigger plane.” The 44-passenger seat plane was not only used to move the major league Dodgers from city to city, but the minor league teams from Montreal, St. Paul and Ft. Worth, as well. Asked by members of the media if the purchase meant the team was headed to the West Coast to relocate, O’Malley said, “If any club should go to the West Coast, it would have to fly and it would have to own an airplane. But our future for the time being is in Brooklyn.”Associated Press, January 4, 1957
O’Malley wrote a January 8 letter to Dodger stockholder Jim Mulvey stating, “Thomas Brothers of 2560 Glendale Boulevard in Los Angeles sells a booklet of Los Angeles County maps for three dollars. On page 35 of that booklet in the lower right hand is shown Elysian Park and at the bottom of the page you will find the name Chavez Ravine. You will note that this is the general area where Hollywood Freeway crosses Harbor Freeway and ties up with Santa Ana Freeway and San Bernardino Freeway. Also there are quick connection roads to Sunset and Glendale Boulevard. On page 44 of the booklet just to the right of the center on the top you will find Chavez Ravine Road. This particular map shows the freeways more clearly. There are about four hundred acres of sandy hills and undeveloped land in this area behind the Police Barracks...I wish you would drive out to the location at your convenience and study it. This happens to be the only spot immediately adjacent to one freeway but within a short distance of the intersections of the remaining highway. When you return to New York, we will have some interesting observations to compare...”
The Brooklyn Sports Center Authority was reviewing land on the opposite side of Atlantic and Flatbush Avenues from where the Dodger President had wanted his new ballpark. However, he was prepared to buy $4 million in first mortgage bonds (and in an internal memo dated January 29, 1957 he might have added another million) to assist in the project’s funding and would not have had major objections to building the new stadium on either his preferred location at the intersection of Flatbush and Atlantic Avenues on the site of the Long Island Rail Road, the same plan recommended by engineering firm Madigan-Hyland, or becoming a tenant (if that was the only way to stay in Brooklyn) on the opposite side of the street, which had been recommended by the engineering firm of Clarke and Rapuano. As long as it was in Brooklyn and had potential for transportation and parking, O’Malley would have embraced either plan, although he always reiterated that he wanted to build, own and maintain a new stadium.
Also prior to the 1957 season on February 21, O’Malley made an important swap with Philip K. Wrigley, the chewing gum magnate and owner of Wrigley Field in Los Angeles and the L.A. Angels. O’Malley acquired the Pacific Coast League ballclub, territorial rights and Wrigley Field in exchange for the Fort Worth team of the Texas League in the Dodger minor league system. Wrigley was a proponent of major league expansion to the West Coast. He understood the landscape was changing for his PCL team and, if Major League Baseball were to come to Los Angeles, his Angels would be worth much less. The Dodgers contracted to sell La Grave Field in Fort Worth with a lease-back. This stadium was built by the Dodgers in the winter of 1949-50.
“Our long range plans has caused us to take these steps to accumulate enough of our own dollars with which to build a new Dodger Stadium, preferably in Brooklyn,” said O’Malley in a Dodger press release in February 1957. “In buying Wrigley Field, Los Angeles, we are reinvesting baseball dollars in baseball. There is an element of protection for the future in this action.”
Indeed, O’Malley still had to figure out whether the Dodgers could potentially play at a renovated Wrigley Field or if there were other sites available in Los Angeles. Later, O’Malley and the Giants would pay a $900,000 indemnification to the PCL for relocating in its original territory, a fee that was divided in equal shares to the remaining clubs in the league.
On February 21, 1957, Mylod told the New York World-Telegram and Sun, “Soon after Messrs. Blum and Allen and I were appointed by Mayor Wagner, we set up offices opposite the Long Island Rail Road terminal on Flatbush Avenue. But we have not been able to send very much out of those offices. We asked the Board of Estimate for $278,000 with which to conduct a thorough survey. As you know, this request was turned down and we were told we could have $25,000. We asked for a grant and we were informed that any money we got would have to be considered a loan.
“The board then appropriated $100,000 to be given outright to a five-man committee which would take up all the problems which come under the jurisdiction of the Sports Center Authority.”
According to the Sun, “When the interviewer said it looked very much as if the Board of Estimate did not want a stadium in Brooklyn, Mr. Mylod replied, “Draw your own conclusions.’”Dan Daniel, World-Telegram and Sun, New York, February 21, 1957
For the 1957 season, the Dodgers announced they were going to again play games — this time eight — at Roosevelt Stadium in Jersey City, NJ. It was a call for attention from O’Malley, but not one that received much play from officials.
Certainly, O’Malley’s intent was to stay in Brooklyn, but to ignore the offers from Los Angeles would have been foolish for any intelligent businessman. While the New York politicos were in a high stakes card game with O’Malley, he eventually played the ultimate trump card, which may have surprised them.
On March 1, 1957, New York Mayor Robert F. Wagner sent O’Malley a telegram in Vero Beach which stated: “Dear Walter: Each year together with millions of New Yorkers I look forward to the opening of the baseball season. I am therefore deeply disturbed by recent reports indicating that the management of the Dodgers is seriously considering removal of its team from our city.
“Baseball is a part of American life which has always had an important influence on our youth. New York City has always been a great sports center. It still is and I am confident that it will retain its position as such. The Dodgers are uniquely identified with this city. It would be a great loss to the community if any one of its three major league teams departed.
“I realize that the problem of appropriate facilities poses serious problems for the Dodger management. As you know I have been deeply concerned with the problem. I am hopeful that the city administration will be able to aid in its solution. Concrete and constructive suggestions are under consideration. All possible efforts to arrive at a satisfactory solution in the best interest of the community will be made. Kindest regards.
“Robert F. Wagner, Mayor,
“City of New York.”
To that wire, O’Malley replied: “On the eve of a special stockholders and directors meeting we are pleased to receive official word from Mayor Wagner that ‘all possible efforts’ are being made. The Mayor, Borough President Cashmore and Commissioner Robert Moses have been concerned for some time about our problem. We trust they will have full support as time is running out.
“Walter F. O’Malley,
“President, Brooklyn Dodgers.”
Los Angeles Mayor Norris Poulson, County Supervisor Hahn and City Councilwoman Rosalind Wyman carried the torch to bring baseball to Los Angeles. Wyman had corresponded with O’Malley as early as September 1, 1955, explaining the interest that Los Angeles had in exploring the possibility of bringing the Dodgers westward and her desire to meet with him while on a business trip in New York. O’Malley declined, as he was entirely focused on finding a solution in Brooklyn, but he undoubtedly made note of the opportunity.
On March 6, 1957, Poulson, John Gibson, president of the City Council; Samuel Leask, city administration officer; Hahn; John Leach; and Milton Arthur, chairman of the county recreation commission met with O’Malley at the Dodgers’ progressive spring training complex, Dodgertown, in Vero Beach, FL and tried to persuade him that they were indeed ready to bring the major leagues to the city of Angels.
While O’Malley was undecided but obviously intrigued by the Los Angeles proposal, a very optimistic Mayor Poulson scored hometown headlines as he said to reporters, “Now, I am convinced that the Dodgers will bring big league baseball home to us.”Stan Wyman, Brooklyn Daily, March 8, 1957 Los Angeles officials made many promises that were not able to be kept (such as 500 acres of land in Chavez Ravine) in later official negotiations, but the important Dodgertown meeting got the initial dialogue off and running.
Sensing the sincerity of their interest, O’Malley scheduled a May trip to Los Angeles to view potential sites to build his dream stadium. It was to be a head-spinning year for O’Malley, as he sought and ultimately found a solution to his stadium problems. Again, he was not asking for a handout, just a handshake on a location for the ballpark.
Not surprisingly, Mylod, head of a three-man committee and chairman of the stalled Brooklyn Sports Center Authority, urgently announced on March 6 that “finally the ball is rolling” and it appeared that “I am proceeding on the basis that an all-purpose sports center can be developed.”Bard Lindeman This contrasts with Mylod’s December, 1956 newspaper statement when he said, “The Sports Center is a dead issue and everybody knows it. There isn’t anything to look forward or back on. I was as disappointed as anybody. Our report was prepared and submitted to the Board of Estimate. It is now up to the elected officials — the Mayor and the Borough President — if anything is to be done for this area of Brooklyn.”Bard Lindeman
The Board of Estimate was comprised of Mayor Wagner; Lawrence E. Gerosa, comptroller; Stark, president of the City Council; and Borough Presidents Hulan E. Jack, Manhattan; James J. Lyons, Bronx; Cashmore, Brooklyn; James A. Lundy, Queens; and Albert V. Maniscalco, Richmond.
O’Malley was prepared to put his money where his mouth was, as he had $4 to $5 million ready to invest in proposed Sports Center Authority bonds, having sold Ebbets Field to Kratter and his Montreal Royals’ (Triple-A) stadium and real estate.
“There still is a short time before we could be forced to take an irrevocable step to commit the Dodgers elsewhere,” O’Malley said. “We have done our part. We want to remain in Brooklyn and we should be allowed to continue there.”
O’Malley also had reason to be disenchanted with government officials, who placed a five percent admission tax on baseball tickets beginning in 1954. This added up to a hefty sum for the city, O’Malley once stating that the Dodgers had to pay some $165,000 in one year for this new tax, in addition to traditional property taxes.
Stark, president of the New York City Council, supported and proposed another wild idea on March 25, 1957, a baseball stadium on part of the Parade Grounds in the Prospect Park section of Brooklyn, which left O’Malley nearly speechless. Stark made the proposal through the Brooklyn Sports Center Authority. He supported the new idea because “the city could deed to the Sports Authority nine and one-half acres on which could be built a 50,000-seat stadium, with underground parking facilities.” Stark objected to the Flatbush and Atlantic Avenues site because “of the exorbitant cost of the land.”The Sporting News, April 3, 1957
“I am disappointed to learn of Mr. Stark’s new idea,” said O’Malley from his Dodgertown headquarters in Vero Beach. “Of late he seemed to show some interest in the Dodgers’ plan.”
On March 31, 1957, O’Malley wrote a personal letter to editor Frank D. Schroth at The News in Brooklyn stating, “Chester (Allen) has been a tremendous disappointment — not only as President of the Chamber of Commerce but also as a member of the Sports Center Authority. For your personal information, I have given up of ever getting the politicians and the saboteurs together. My efforts from now on will be quite seriously in the direction of a move. My guess is that he is trying to cover his back-trail against possible adverse publicity should the matter flop...To this day he has not even taken the trouble to look at the (stadium) model or plans. If (Robert) Moses has Parade Ground ideas, would he feel the same way about the Fort Greene Park? Now you see the inconsistency of the Irish mind. In one paragraph, I am sailing to a distant port and in the last above one, I am still trying to keep my anchor in Brooklyn.”
On April 11, 1957, O’Malley wrote an internal memo that addressed his thoughts on a number of issues: “While I was at a conference with Commissioner (Ford C.) Frick at his office Robert Moses called and I suggested that I drop out to his house later in the afternoon. I met Bob at his home in Babylon and we frankly discussed the general political apathy toward the new stadium in Brooklyn. Bob said there was not a chance of the Atlantic & Flatbush site being approved. Market men presented a problem and perhaps more important was the Borough President’s determination that the site was wrong. Borough President (John Cashmore) shows some interest in the site on the other side — the one which Clarke & Rapuano recommended. I told Bob that either site would be acceptable to us although we did prefer the LIRR one. Bob suggested that I be realistic and appreciate that the political implications were such that we just could not work out a solution in Brooklyn unless we were interested in the Parade Grounds. We discussed this quite frankly and we both can see many objections to it, minimum rapid transit facilities and also minimum parking. I then suggested that inasmuch as Bob was willing to give up park land which up until this point I thought was “verboten” would he then consider letting us build our own stadium on a lease basis in Ft. Greene Park. He told me that this could not be done — that the topography was against it and also Park Department needs. I told him that if the Dodgers would have to go out of Brooklyn any site would have to be weighed against such available locations such as Los Angeles. In other words, the Brooklyn Dodgers would not be Brooklyn anywhere else.”
Kenneth Hahn, along with Pepperdine College baseball coach John Scolinos, who was later named the NCAA Division II Coach of the 20th Century, surveyed the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in 1957 to see if the mammoth structure could be used for baseball. The Coliseum was originally built in 1923 and later was the site of the successful 1932 Olympic Games hosted by the city. It was used primarily for track and field events and football. Playing baseball in this large oval with its nearly 90 rows rising from the surface seemed questionable, at best. But, the diligent Hahn and Scolinos, with measuring tapes in hand, determined that the Coliseum could be used to lay out a baseball diamond, with some extreme modifications.
But, this did not deter the city’s aggressive approach and willingness to do whatever it took to bring the Dodgers to Los Angeles. When O’Malley learned of the plan, he embraced it. When it appeared the Coliseum’s other tenants (Rams, USC, UCLA) would have scheduling difficulties and renovation issues with the Dodgers, O’Malley spent time considering an alternative plan of using the vast Rose Bowl in Pasadena, which was built in a preferred north and south direction, as opposed to the Coliseum’s east-west orientation. That was a key concern because of the batter’s box facing into the sun. But, it was determined that the Coliseum could be used if the diamond was facing toward the north-east. Of course, O’Malley recognized that as a temporary home of the Dodgers while his ultimate stadium was being built, he would have to settle for the makeshift arrangements. Some Pasadena residents opposed the Rose Bowl plan due to traffic concerns in their Arroyo Seco neighborhoods, as well as the number of home games that a baseball team plays. In the meantime, what would become the future home of Dodger Stadium was also starting to take shape.
Flaherty wrote a letter to O’Malley in 1957 in which he outlined possible sites for a stadium in Los Angeles. Interestingly, he placed 21 numbered areas on a Los Angeles City map by Union 76 to the areas he considered feasible. One of his comments on the list was number six “Chavez Ravine...smog basin plus enormous traffic congestion. It is my guess you would need big six-lane one way roads in and out, and with a system of feeder roads fanning out from them.” He preferred two areas — one was County property bounded by Jefferson Boulevard and La Cienega. He wrote, “If a portion of this massive property can be made available it would be the best possible spot for a stadium.” His second choice was an area just south bounded by Centinela Avenue and east of Sepulveda Boulevard. Flaherty wrote, “It is not far from the Harbor Freeway, marked 18...This area is flanked by big, fast arteries. Spots marked 2 and 14 (which I consider the very best locations) are in Kenneth Hahn’s District. Hahn represents the largest District — over a million people.”
Like Flaherty had before them, city officials also suggested hilly Chavez Ravine, located to the north, high atop the downtown area. Many ravines traversed the area, but Chavez Ravine was well-known from the time that New Mexican pioneer Julian Chavez settled in Los Angeles in the 1830s. Chavez purchased the land for ranching purposes from the City Council and established Mexican-style corrals on the land. Chavez would later be active in Los Angeles city politics, holding many offices, including councilman.
As he arrived for a visit to Los Angeles on May 1, 1957 the good-natured O’Malley was wearing a lapel pin that read, “Keep the Dodgers in Brooklyn” to which Supervisor Hahn kindly removed in a friendly tussle with him. O’Malley was intrigued with the Chavez Ravine site because, on a 50-minute sheriff’s helicopter tour on May 2, he could view the many freeways that converged near the area. With his keen knowledge of engineering, O’Malley instantly envisioned the possibilities that existed with the little-used rugged and hilly terrain, which at one time had been designated as a Federal Public Housing project in the early 1950s, before the plug was pulled due to the charge of “creeping socialism” by key real estate interests and newspaper editorials. The aborted public housing project was comprised of 24 13-story and 163 two-story buildings, which had been designed by famed architect Richard Neutra.
Originally, the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles had sent a letter to all residents on July 24, 1950 informing them that “a public housing development will be built on this location for families of low income...It will be several months at least before your property is purchased. After the property is bought, the Housing Authority will give you all possible assistance in finding another home.” Residents were later offered independently assessed valuation for the properties and were evicted. The 169 acres had been sold by the federal government back to the City of Los Angeles in 1953 for $1,279,204 with the proviso that it be used for a “public purpose.” This did not have to include housing.
In fact, Mayor Poulson, who had run his 1953 campaign against the housing project and ousted supporter Mayor Fletcher Bowron, said a zoo, an opera house and a cemetery were considered by city officials, but nothing had materialized before the stadium project emerged. In O’Malley’s view, it was an ideal location as fans could easily access a stadium built on the site from any direction due to the confluence of freeways. It might have been the scariest ride of his life in a helicopter with an open door, but it was also the most important.
“I swear that I was sitting part in the machine (helicopter) and part out of it,” said O’Malley, recalling the mechanics removed the side door, and the pilot tilted the helicopter to give him a complete view of the topography. “I remember thinking, ‘I hope the seat belt holds.’ I was never so scared in my life.”Sid Ziff, The Inside Track, Los Angeles Mirror News, 1957
O’Malley was able to accurately estimate the amount of earth that would have to be moved to build his stadium at nearly eight million cubic yards.
While some Chavez Ravine land, trod by goats, was used for limited oil exploration, there were a handful of residents who remained there illegally, despite being told repeatedly by city officials to relocate.
O’Malley declared in the Long Island Press on May 7, 1957, “If we pull up our roots in Brooklyn, it won’t matter whether we go five miles or 50 miles away. So it’ll be Los Angeles or some place like that before it’ll be Queens.” Asked about Moses’ proposal to build a Dodger ballpark in Flushing Meadows, O’Malley replied, “I have not asked anybody, at any time or place, to build me a stadium. There is no appreciable change in the situation since Vero Beach (March 6 meetings with Los Angeles officials).” He said that he was willing to spend $8 million for a ballpark at Atlantic and Flatbush Avenues.Jack Lang, Long Island Press, April 7, 1957
1957 - Part 2
On May 28, 1957, the National League, meeting in Chicago, granted the New York Giants and the Dodgers permission to move to San Francisco and Los Angeles, respectively, if the two clubs would shift together before October 1, 1957. The next day, New York Mayor Wagner requested a meeting with O’Malley and Giants’ owner Horace Stoneham. The meeting was held on June 4 and O’Malley and Stoneham made it clear that they were neither committed to stay in New York or move to the West Coast. Stoneham had originally wanted to move to Minneapolis-St. Paul, site of his Triple-A affiliate, and pay a territorial fee to disband the minor league team, but O’Malley and others suggested that he consider burgeoning San Francisco as a new locale for the Giants. This way, costly travel expenses for all other National League clubs would be more economical, plus the longtime rivalry could be maintained.
In testimony before the House Antitrust Subcommittee of the Committee of the Judiciary in Washington, D.C. before Chairman Hon. Emanuel Celler on June 26, 1957, O’Malley was asked repeatedly whether the Dodgers were going to play baseball in Los Angeles in 1958. O’Malley’s response: “I do not know the answer for two reasons. One, I do not know what the result of Mayor Wagner’s study in New York City will bring. Two, I do not know whether or not Los Angeles will be ready for major league baseball next spring.”
Responding to charges that O’Malley was playing New York against Los Angeles for the purposes of going to the highest bidder, he explained, “It is a very simple situation, Mr. Chairman. I started out in 1947 trying to get a new ball park for the Brooklyn Dodgers in Brooklyn. We hired an engineer, we conferred with our civic officials, and made very serious studies of various sites.
“It developed that at that time the way could not be found to condemn land to assemble a plot large enough, and, of course, the ball club very properly does not have the legal right to condemn land. But it was hoped that there was enough of a public purpose in the activities surrounding a ball club, particularly if it could be tied in with other things of civic importance such as the relocation of a meat market. The meat market men said that if they were relocated, they could bring the price of meat down 5 cents a pound in Brooklyn. That seemed to be a pretty good civic proposition. There was a traffic intersection of Atlantic and Flatbush which is a very bad one, and some day it is going to be cured.
“That, too, becomes part of a civic purpose in trying to assemble the land at Atlantic and Flatbush. Then there is a question of parking in that area of our community where our department stores are located. Some parking facilities were needed in that area. There was also the observation that the property for the most part was substandard, and had been so designated by Mr. Moses as subject to a study for slum clearance.
“Then we had a railroad station at that project, an old-fashioned, real old country depot that also was dirty and improperly planned, and when the Long Island Railroad came out of bankruptcy, part of the agreement under the Railroad Redevelopment Act passed by the Legislature of New York provided that the railroad would have to purchase, I believe it was, $200 million worth of modern rolling stock and put on that railroad.
“At the time I presented this site for consideration, none of that new equipment, which was then on the tracks of the railroad, could come into Brooklyn, and those of us in Brooklyn were embarrassed because, if you wanted to get into a modern car, an air-conditioned car, you had to go to Manhattan, which meant that women coming in from the island to do their shopping in the summer months would not come in in the old Camp Yaphank troop trains into Brooklyn when they could get a modern air-conditioned car right into the shopping center of Manhattan.
“This plan would have provided for track curvatures so that the new railroad equipment could come into Brooklyn. We then would have had a railroad depot that we could have been proud of in Brooklyn. We would have relocated our meat market. We would have had parking facilities. We would have cleared up a traffic intersection that was terrible. And all of this would have magically left enough acres of land on which a ball park could be built, at the cost of the owners of the Brooklyn Ball Club, not one penny of which was to be paid by the city of New York. I think that is very important to know.”Verbatim Transcript of House Antitrust Subcommittee of the Committee Judiciary before Chairman Emanuel Celler, June 26, 1957
In its “Study of Finances Required for Brooklyn Stadium” report of August 5, 1957, consulting engineers for the Brooklyn Sports Center Authority Madigan-Hyland concluded that a domed stadium would run an estimated $12,502,000 and approximately $3 million less without the dome. “The stadium should be considered as a general-purpose facility which would be of wide service, not only as a major league ball park, but also as the site for staging other events. The principal use of the stadium is to serve as a home for the Brooklyn Dodgers. Since there are only about seventy days a year when the stadium would be used for Dodgers events, the facility is available for other uses during most of the year.
“The stadium would be ideally suited for football, basketball, boxing, tennis and various types of track events. While the present preliminary design and cost estimates have not made allowances for it, the stadium also could be equipped for use by ice events; ice hockey, ice shows and public skating. The stadium would also be available for revenue-producing events outside of the field of sports.”“Study of Finances Required for Brooklyn Stadium,” report by Madigan-Hyland consulting engineers, August 5, 1957
In July 1957, sensing that the negotiations needed to be spearheaded for the City and the County speaking with one voice, Los Angeles Mayor Poulson tabbed Harold “Chad” McClellan, who formerly served as Under-Secretary of Commerce for International Affairs in the Department of Commerce in the Eisenhower Administration, to begin formal discussions with the Dodgers and O’Malley. McClellan recalls the events that led to his first meeting with O’Malley in Brooklyn on August 21, 1957.
“Prior to my enlistment as negotiator for our City and County, two significant conferences had taken place,” he wrote in 1963. “The first was a meeting at Vero Beach, Florida with Mr. O’Malley, Mr. Dick Walsh and other Dodger officials. This meeting was attended by Supervisor Kenneth Hahn, Mr. Milton Arthur and Mr. John Leach representing the County and by then Mayor Norris Poulson, Councilman John Gibson and City Administrator Samuel Leask representing the City. The meeting got considerable publicity. The purpose, I was later instructed, was to get the Dodgers — if we could. No final conclusions were agreed upon.
“The second significant conference took place at the Statler Hotel here in Los Angeles on May 3, 1957. This second meeting, which included representatives from both City and County, resulted in what later became known as the Arnebergh Memorandum. This Memorandum represented the thinking of those in attendance as to what should be offered the Dodgers. At least this was the instruction given me two months later (early July, 1957) when I moved into Room 189 of the City Hall and went to work. The “Arnebergh Memorandum” was handed me as my basic guide in negotiations. Here it is:
The Arnebergh Memorandum
May 3, 1957
At a conference today, held at the Statler Hotel, discussion was had involving the possibility of bringing Major League Baseball to Los Angeles. It was indicated that the City and County should be prepared to make an offer containing the following provisions:
- City and/or County to acquire and deed to the Major League Baseball club 350 acres in Chavez Ravine, including the present 257 acres now owned by the City, the additional acreage to be adjacent thereto. Such 350 acres to comprise an approximate circle, if possible.
- City and/or County to provide access roads.
- City and/or County to superficially pave parking roads.
- City to accept dedication of circumferential roads.
- The 350 acres, together with improvements, etc., to go on tax rolls.
- There should be no deed restrictions on use of such 350 acres except that a modern major league stadium will be built and Major League Baseball brought to Los Angeles.
- Major League Baseball club, at its sole cost and expense, to build modern baseball stadium and bring major league team to Los Angeles.
- Wrigley Field to be deeded to City and/or County in present condition as partial consideration for said 350 acres, with restriction against Major League Baseball being played in Wrigley Field.
- Major League Baseball club, as further consideration for said 350 acres, will agree to construct, maintain and make available to the public, free of charge, various recreational facilities such as tennis courts, junior league baseball field, basketball courts, etc., these to be more specifically determined later.
- As further consideration for said 350 acres, Major League Baseball club to agree to admit, at specified times, juveniles to ball games free, as an aid to the City and County in combating juvenile delinquency, etc.
“There was another circumstance in 1957 of which we should all be mindful,” McClellan continued. “It would be difficult to overstate the zeal with which our City and County officials generally were then possessed, and their enthusiasm for the effort was shared widely through the community. Nor were Mr. O’Malley’s expectations for an attractive offer by the City discouraged by the conferences held with him prior to my entering the picture. Quite the contrary. I recall that during the early days of my work, while I was still searching out the facts on such matters as acreage available in the Ravine area, topography, zoning problems, deed restrictions and other items, and before I felt well enough informed with solid facts to start actual negotiations, a member of the City Council took me sharply to task in a radio news cast for ‘needless delay’ — promising to seek my removal as city representative if I didn’t go to New York at once and show more speed of action.
“When I joined the effort to bring the Dodgers here, no final determination had been made as to where a stadium would or could be built. Chavez Ravine was O’Malley’s choice I was told, if the Dodgers moved here, but other sites were to be considered as well. The main issue then was — not to get a stadium, but to get a first rate Major League Ball Club. It was recognized too, that a ball club is essentially a community institution — an organization of talented, colorful, skilful[sic] athletes — not merely a facility made up of land, bricks and mortar with a price tag on it. Our thinking was — without the Dodgers in it, any stadium — wherever built, at whatever cost would be of doubtful value to this community. Furthermore, we knew that any second rate, faltering club in Southern California would be more of a liability than an asset. People simply wouldn’t go to the games. It was the Dodgers we wanted. The prime issue then was — how to get the club to come. Consequently, the urgency imposed upon me by the officials to negotiate with speed, skill and some latitude was heavy indeed; not once however, did I exceed or violate instruction given me. No commitment was ever made by me without prior, specific authorization.
“My first meeting with Walter O’Malley took place on the morning of August 21, 1957 in Brooklyn, New York. By this time I was well prepared. I had benefited by numerous conferences with members of the City Council, members of the Board of Supervisors and with Mayor Norris Poulson. I had in addition obtained a great many of the essential facts.
“My first meeting with Walter O’Malley lasted all day. It was evident at once that while he knew all about the arrangements between other ball clubs and the cities where they were located, he wanted a completely different arrangement with Los Angeles if he moved here. Mr. O’Malley declared that he wanted to build his own stadium with Dodger financing. He was determined to make his club’s stadium the most modern, the most imaginative ever built. He told me he had dreamed of this for years — that he already had a model built, even though he had not yet decided where to build it, or when. (Mr. O’Malley, Captain Praeger and I spent some time during the afternoon studying the model together in relation to the Chavez Ravine property; I had a map with me.)
“Many questions were discussed in this first meeting I had with O’Malley. No commitments were made, but several points were made clear to him:
- Contrary to impressions earlier given, a maximum of 306 or 307 acres could be made available at reasonable price in Chavez Ravine. Three hundred fifty acres were not available.
- A City reservoir on the property — (within the area needed) must remain. Nor could the reservoir be moved or lowered. We must work around it or abandon the Ravine as a possible site.
- Any plan contemplating land ownership by the Dodgers Corporation must be developed on a legitimate buy and sell basis with values established fairly, in good conscience. There would be no free gifts or subsidy. We did not at this time discuss specific terms of a possible agreement. It would have been premature.
“Many weeks of discussions and negotiations followed, various possibilities were considered. Questions were raised and answered. Throughout this period, I worked closely with Samuel Leask, the Mayor and County Officials.
“On September 16, 1957, at my suggestion, the City Council of Los Angeles adopted a resolution giving me authority to make a specific proposal to the Dodgers (substantially, the terms as are now in the contract).”“The Truth About the Dodgers” by Chad McClellan, August 9, 1963
On August 26, 1957, the Dodgers issued an announcement stating in part: “The recent announcement (on August 19) that the Giants are leaving New York City has produced renewed interest in the Dodger problem here and abroad...Locally, the Dodgers are on the record as offering to build their own stadium with their own money at Atlantic & Flatbush Avenues if the land can be made available promptly and at common sense figures. For over a year the Dodgers have had a standing offer to put $5,000,000 in a new stadium to pay $500,000 annual rental plus 5% of gross admissions as a New York City amusement tax. If all efforts fail locally the Dodgers could buy the necessary land in Los Angeles on which to build their own stadium, which would be on the tax rolls. The same program has been offered to New York City where the Dodgers only need the help of the city in condemning the land.”
As the 1957 season wound to a conclusion, Brooklynites were becoming increasingly saddened that the tide had indeed turned to Los Angeles and they were about to lose a team that had meant so much to the fabric of their society. But, it was not the only factor that would leave Brooklyn, almost as fast as the populous. The famous Coney Island beachfront attraction was fading in popularity and the city’s neighborhoods and demographics were rapidly changing. The Brooklyn Eagle newspaper had folded and some 70,000 employees who had worked at the failed Brooklyn Navy Yard were looking for work, changing the look and feel of the city.Daily News, New York, Pete Hamill column, August 10, 1979 The Long Island Railroad Station at Atlantic and Flatbush Avenues needed to move to the opposite side of the street in order to straighten the tracks so that new up-to-date trains could run into Brooklyn and provide better service according to Commissioner Moses.Memo from Robert Moses to Mayor Robert F. Wagner, December 7, 1956 The loss of “Dem Bums” was one more disappointment to their city’s changes, and understandably a hard one for Brooklynites to swallow, along with the others, but O’Malley made the difficult decision that could be made under the circumstances left him by local politicians.
At the 11th hour, financier-philanthropist Nelson Rockefeller made a last-ditch financial aid proposal to keep the Dodgers in Brooklyn, which apparently was more of a grandstanding move than one that drew any real interest from New York City officials or O’Malley. By that point in mid-September 1957, the script was almost complete for a move west. However, O’Malley would not make any commitments to Los Angeles until the Board of Estimate had heard Rockefeller’s plan.
Rockefeller originally planned to purchase for $1.5 million the property that the city would then condemn in downtown Brooklyn. Madigan and Hyland engineering firm had placed the cost of condemning the land at $8 million. Later, Rockefeller’s offer grew to $2 million. In effect, the $2 million would be a loan to the Dodgers with interest and the acquisition of 12 acres in order to build a stadium. Rockefeller called his offer “a realistic reflection of today’s real estate values” and “a basis for permanent improvements which would increase values in the entire area and add to the city’s tax revenues so as to offset a temporary loss to the city in the price of the land.”New York Post, William H. Rudy, September 20, 1957
Rockefeller met at City Hall with Mayor Wagner and Goodfellow, president of the Long Island Rail Road, to discuss the proposed Atlantic and Flatbush site for the new stadium. Rockefeller commented that the Dodgers were willing to invest their own money for a stadium and that the city’s right to condemn the necessary land for slum clearance and re-sell it had been confirmed by Corporation Counsel Brown. In the meantime, a guarded O’Malley was weighing his attractive Los Angeles offer against the New York plan, which was not well-received by many. O’Malley stated, “If we are to stay, we must not only receive the site that is best suited for our purpose, but we must also be given terms that are most reasonable and fair.”Long Island Press, Joe Reichler, September 11, 1957 City Controller Lawrence Gerosa, a longtime opponent of any stadium proposal, called it a “giveaway” of taxpayers’ money.New York Post, William H. Rudy, September 20, 1957
Rockefeller then upped his bid to $3 million, but the Board of Estimate did not reach a decision during a three-and-a-half hour special meeting. Rockefeller would lease the land back to the Dodgers for 20 years. Then, if O’Malley did not purchase the land, it would be repurchased by the city at the price that Rockefeller had paid. An emergency board meeting had been held, after O’Malley, Mayor Wagner and Rockefeller met at Gracie Mansion, with O’Malley agreeing to delay any action in Los Angeles until the board could be consulted.New York Daily News, Dominick Peluso and Harry Schlegel, September 19, 1957
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.
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.
“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 $2.2 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.
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 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.”
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.”
Where to Play in L.A.
Meanwhile, O’Malley continued to review his options for a future home.
On January 13, 1958, O’Malley and Don C. McMillan, Pasadena City Manager jointly issued a statementThe Mirror News, Sports, January 14, 1958 regarding the failure of the Rose Bowl in Pasadena to accommodate the Dodgers’ needs.
“The cost of transforming the Rose Bowl into a major league stadium would amount to a minimum of $750,000,” the statement read. “The alteration would leave physical scars on the beautiful Rose Bowl. This amount of money could not be amortized in a short-term two-year lease after the payment of what in itself would be a substantial annual rent.
“In closing the negotiations Mr. McMillan expressed his deep admiration and appreciation of Mr. O’Malley and his fine staff who had worked long and diligently in a sincere effort to solve the overwhelming problems. It is our hope that all the citizens of Pasadena will give their complete and wholehearted support to the Dodgers’ organization in the solution of their problem and will continue their interest in our national sport of baseball.
“Mr. O’Malley is most appreciative of the courtesy of the Board of Directors of Pasadena in inviting the Dodgers to use the Rose Bowl. The City Manager’s staff has worked diligently to find a solution. Mr. O’Malley at this late hour feels constrained to select Wrigley Field as the site for the 1958 major league games.”
Another deterrent for playing in the Rose Bowl came from National League President Warren Giles, who wrote a letter to O’Malley on December 19, 1957, stating: “Press accounts indicate you will negotiate for the right to play some or all of your games in the Rose Bowl, which I understand is located within the city limits of Pasadena and of course outside the city limits of Los Angeles. There are two problems confronting us on that; one is very, very important. It is my belief that unless you would play a substantial number of your home games in a park located within the city limits of Los Angeles, the National League could not be considered as occupying Los Angeles territory in 1958. The other problem is, your club is considered to be the Los Angeles member of our league (or at least it will be when arrangements are finally completed) and therefore if you wanted to play a limited number of games outside of Los Angeles, league consent is required, just as it was in the Jersey City situation. Because of the park difficulties you are encountering, I feel the necessary consent to play a few games in Pasadena would be granted, but nevertheless it is a problem with which you are confronted. To play all of your games outside of Los Angeles would, in my judgment, leave the Los Angeles territory open and I am not sure but that some club might under our rules be able to move into Los Angeles, and at probably no cost to them. This would confront the league with a serious situation.”Letter to O’Malley from National League President Warren C. Giles, December 19, 1957
O’Malley in the meantime, reluctantly reviewed his own Wrigley Field property for possible use for the 1958 season, now less than three months away from Opening Day.
On January 13, he enlisted the use of a police car to hustle from the failed negotiations in Pasadena, to Wrigley Field, some 13 miles away, to make another announcement. He felt “constrained to select Wrigley Field as the site for the 1958 major league games.”Los Angeles Examiner, January 14, 1958, AP But when pressed by reporters if that was his final decision, he said, “Well no. I’m not burning any bridges behind me.” O’Malley still wanted to pursue the 100,000-seat Coliseum, rather than 22,000-seat Wrigley Field, which could have been enlarged by some 1,600 to accommodate only 23,600 fans.
Strangely enough, one of the big drawbacks to L.A.’s Wrigley Field was a lack of parking (one lot holding just 800 cars attached to the park, with makeshift peripheral spaces on homeowners’ lawns), the same nagging issue he had tried to resolve at old Ebbets Field in Brooklyn. Plus, Ebbets Field held nearly 10,000 more fans than Wrigley Field’s capacity. O’Malley didn’t want to take a step backward for certain. He met later that day with Mayor Poulson to discuss ways to overcome opposition to the Dodgers playing in the Coliseum.
Following long, arduous meetings with the Coliseum Commission, O’Malley finally decided on using the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum for his immediate needs, in an arrangement known as O’Malley’s “3 a.m. Plan.” This would enable the baseball diamond to be located on the west end of the Coliseum and did not remove any of the physical properties of the Coliseum. “This is made possible by erecting a screen on the north side of the Coliseum, a screen that would be removable,”Transcript of Recessed Meeting of L.A. Memorial Coliseum Commission, January 14, 1958, pg. 108 O’Malley said, plus his pledge to guarantee a rental fee per annum of $300,000, the highest ever paid by a baseball club.
The first modification was a 42-foot high screen that was erected in left field, to make up for a short 251-foot distance down the line. Additionally, a press box area in the stands, dugouts and three additional banks of lights would have to be added to the Coliseum. Foul territory would also be considerable in some areas.
After working out the details with the other co-tenants — the Los Angeles Rams, University of Southern California, UCLA, and others — O’Malley was ready to play in the classic stadium, though he made many sacrifices of typically lucrative home dates for the Dodgers, including the Fourth of July.
A massive downtown parade and welcoming ceremony on the steps of City Hall preceded the first game in Los Angeles, played on April 18, 1958 at the Coliseum and the Dodgers beat the San Francisco Giants, 6-5, before 78,672, a major league record crowd.
Ed Roebuck, pitcher for the Dodgers, perhaps said it best when describing the new surroundings and temporary home field: “It looks like Grand Canyon with seats.”Arthur Daley, The New York Times, April 18, 1958
The short left field dimensions, dubbed “The Chinese Wall,” at 251 feet with a 42-foot high screen were instantly ridiculed primarily by East Coast writers who thought that no home run records should count from games played at the vast Coliseum. Some 60 percent of the nation’s sportswriters polled by Associated Press felt that all “future home run records achieved with the help of the nearby Coliseum fences be declared invalid.”Joe Reichler, Los Angeles Times, May 5, 1958
However, O’Malley explained the temporary stadium this way: “The Coliseum is a better ball park than the Polo Grounds and it’s better than Ebbets Field. There is a larger playing area here than in either of those parks. You can add up the square footage and prove it yourself. The fans are not complaining about left field. They know this is a temporary park, they accept it as such — and if I am any judge, they like all the excitement brought on by the screen.
“Furthermore, the Los Angeles press is understanding. Most of the complaints are from the eastern writers who lost National League newspaper assignments when we moved. If we had a chance to re-design the Coliseum as a temporary ball park, I believe we’d do everything the same way. It wouldn’t help to raise the screen much higher than 42 feet. For one thing, it has to be removable for football, under the terms of our contract, and it’s unwieldy enough as it is. For another thing, our screen as it stands today is 26 feet higher than the wall in the Polo Grounds. If that wall was adequate for a half century, this one ought to get by for two years.”Bob Oates, Los Angeles Examiner, April 21, 1958
He added on April 22, 1958 to Al Wolf of the Los Angeles Times, “The Coliseum, of course, is far from perfect for baseball. But it simply demonstrates the necessity for building a proper stadium, which is precisely what we want to do.”Al Wolf, Los Angeles Times, April 22, 1958
In Los Angeles, Examiner Sports Columnist Melvin Durslag pointed out, “You must remember it wasn’t the Dodgers’ idea to have a fence absurdly short in left field, absurdly long in right and interplanetary in center. This is what circumstances dictated. The Coliseum Commission greeted Walter O’Malley with something less than open arms. And the football tenants greeted him with arsenic over the rocks. First, the aesthetes stepped in and spoke with horror of anyone’s ‘defacing’ even a square foot of the stadium’s sacred concrete. Then the football people shuddered at the thought of a skinned area on the turf, and suggested home plate in the stadium’s eastern extremities.
“So there O’Malley stood, living at the moment outside the Coliseum and needing badly to get in. After inviting the Dodgers to Los Angeles, the city was on the doorsill of becoming a national disgrace by having our team play in Pasadena. The present playing field was a last-ditch inspiration which came to be known as ‘the 3 a.m. Plan,’ conceived at that hour only because O’Malley was immersed in his troubles instead of sleeping.”Melvin Durslag, Los Angeles Examiner, May 4, 1958
Curveball Right Down the Middle
Battered but not bloodied, O’Malley had taken everything thrown his way in stride. Although he had plenty of solid support in Los Angeles, O’Malley found that the political atmosphere and obstacles were equally challenging as the decade he had spent in New York trying to build a stadium there, locked in horns with Moses, Wagner, Abe Stark, Chester Allen, et al. Now, only the names had been changed to John Holland, Earle Baker, Harold Henry, Patrick McGee, San Diego’s Smith brothers, and attorney Phill Silver, to name a few. But, the next curveball thrown his way was one that almost caused him to strike out in Los Angeles.
A major hiccup in the new stadium process occurred when a coalition to oppose the city’s ordinance to approve the contract for Chavez Ravine emerged. The opposition had to muster some 51,767 qualified signatures on a petition to force a vote of the electors on the referendum known as “Proposition B.” But, they did, meaning a public vote could have destroyed O’Malley’s longtime dream. “I was not aware of a thing called a referendum,” said O’Malley. “We don’t have them in New York.”Boston Globe, Sports Plus, July 28, 1978 A “Yes” vote meant that the contract with the Dodgers and the city would be approved, while a “No” vote meant the previously signed city contract would be rejected. The city went to bat for the Dodgers, granting their request to select the letter “B” for the proposition to remind voters of baseball.
O’Malley issued a lengthy press release on May 26, 1958 recapping all of the ways that the Dodgers had acted in good faith in moving west, stating the following:
“The National League does have the right to move the franchise BUT I shall fight any such attempt with all my strength. The players and our staff want to stay in Los Angeles. We like the location, the weather, the fans and the attendance records. We plan to be in Los Angeles PERMANENTLY. I pledge myself to try to keep major league baseball here.
“We appreciate the contract with the City and County of Los Angeles negotiated with the Dodgers has the support of every worthwhile civic organization...
“It is a miserable situation which finds our players and staff worrying over the opposition of two councilmen and one minor league owner. We regret being in the throes of a political controversy instead of a contender in the National League race for the pennant. J.A. Smith testified he and his brother own the San Diego Baseball Club and that he put up about 40% of the money to circulate the Referendum petition. His San Diego interest in keeping major league baseball out of Los Angeles is obvious. Without his contributions we probably never would have had the Referendum. As to the councilmen, they are public officials and they voted on the matter. I regret that they want to second-guess the official vote of their body.
“The Dodgers have acted in good faith and have obligated themselves as follows:
- We have already moved the franchise to Los Angeles.
- A contract has been signed by the Dodgers and Giants to pay the Pacific Coast League $900,000 for this privilege.
- We have contracted to pay the Coliseum $600,000 in round figures for a two-year lease. We receive no parking fees at the Coliseum.
- We have spent $300,000 converting the Coliseum for temporary baseball use, including restoration to original conditions for the following: Mary’s Hour, Scout-O-Rama, collegiate track meets, American Legion fireworks and college and professional football games at a cost of another $50,000.
- We gave up the Fourth of July date plus other dates to accommodate traditional tenants.
- We still own and maintain Wrigley Field. In addition, we are maintaining Ebbets Field in Brooklyn and Roosevelt Stadium in Jersey City. We are the only ball club in the country with three vacant ball parks while paying the highest rental in the country to play in a converted one.
- We have committed ourselves by contract to build what I know will be the finest and most modern baseball stadium in the world at Chavez Ravine. We will make up all excess costs for grading and interior roads. Yankee Stadium was built in 1923 with baseball money. All other major league stadia since have been built with taxpayers’ money on tax-exempt property. When the Braves move[d] from Boston to Milwaukee they became tenants in County Stadium. When the Browns went from St. Louis to Baltimore they moved into Memorial Stadium. Kansas City purchased the Blues’ Stadium from the Yankees and refurbished it for major league ball and the Philadelphia Athletics. San Francisco has voted on a bond issue to house the Giants in their new ball park. The Dodgers, on the other hand, will build, finance and maintain a baseball park, pay taxes and become part of your Los Angeles family. We believe this shows our faith in BASEBALL and LOS ANGELES.
- We have committed ourselves by contract to donate to the City of Los Angeles for twenty years a $500,000 Youth Recreation Center and to financially support it at the rate of $60,000 per year.
- We have committed ourselves and contracted to turn over Wrigley Field — land, stadium, equipment and lights — to the City of Los Angeles. This has been appraised at $2,250,000 by the City. Reproduction costs have been testified to as $4,250,000 by City officials. (Several years ago Mr. Wrigley had a careful study made and reproduction cost at that time was given as $4,500,000.) We bought Wrigley Field and the Los Angeles minor league franchise for $3,000,000.
- We have kept every promise we made and we know the City and County will do likewise.
“In view of the above,” O’Malley continued in the press release, “it is inconceivable that there is any merit to the suggestions made by opponents of major league baseball that this contract should be renegotiated. IT CANNOT BE RENEGOTIATED. There is a serious business recession on now as all wage-earners and business people know. Suppose the Dodgers at this delicate time had the temerity to ask that the contract be renegotiated downward? Can you imagine the uproar these same critics would raise? The Dodgers signed the contract offered to them and intend to remain honorable in its performance. The present referendum has already brought us to the time of economic recession. Immediate construction at Chavez Ravine would help employment and business and fulfill our National League commitments to be in the new ball park for the 1960 season.
“We are BASEBALL folks — not oil operators or real estate promoters. Out of 314 acres in a rugged terrain we can carve only enough shelves for the Stadium, Youth Center and parking fields for 17,500 cars.
“Finally, let me say this. All my inclinations are not to get into this fray. I have carefully refrained from doing so.
- We will fight to stay in Los Angeles.
- There is neither the time nor the willingness on either side to renegotiate what is already a fair contract — and suffer the chance of still another referendum election.
- The National League — and not the ball club — controls the franchise. They could force us to move if we cannot provide the home we promised them by 1960.
- We have fulfilled and will fulfill all conditions of the contract — and are confident that the voters will want to do likewise.”
In an Associated Press poll published on May 24, 1958, the “No on Proposition B” referendum voters were ahead by a 44.7 to 43.3 margin, while 12 percent had “no opinion.”Los Angeles Examiner, May 24, 1958, AP Poll The City Council had already approved of the Chavez Ravine contract by a 10-4 margin, but opposition grew from individuals who mistakenly didn’t believe O’Malley’s private enterprise should receive any special concessions using public money.
The “Proposition B” referendum vote took place on June 3, 1958 and O’Malley and the Dodgers, using all means of communication available, including straightforward television messages, brought their side of the story to the public. Two days earlier on Sunday, June 1, as the Dodgers completed a road trip in Chicago, a live, five-hour Dodgerthon on KTTV Channel 11 was held in support of the contract and O’Malley’s new stadium. A jam-packed lineup of civic leaders, celebrities, and sports stars, including Jerry Lewis, Ronald Reagan, George Burns, Chairman Joe E. Brown of the Taxpayers’ Committee for “Yes on Baseball,” Dean Martin, Jack Benny, Laraine Day, Debbie Reynolds, Ray Walston, Casey Stengel and Jackie Robinson (via tape) participated on the show. The culmination of the show was the Dodgers’ arrival via United Airlines at Los Angeles International Airport before thousands of adoring fans who crashed their way through the gate to push onto the tarmac and greet their hometown heroes. The next night O’Malley made his key points for supporting Proposition B on local television (Channel 13), while on the same show his opponent J.A. Smith gave opposing viewpoints.
Celebrity support was nothing new for the Dodgers, who had an impressive first-year list of season box holders in 1958, including Gregory Peck, Yul Brynner, Eddie Fisher, Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, Cecil B. deMille, Sam Goldwyn, Reynolds and Lewis. Doggone if even the famed four-legged star “Lassie,” who boasted her own series, purchased season seats.
The Dodgers had defeated the Cubs on a bitter cold day at Chicago’s Wrigley Field and the momentum of that victory helped to bolster the positive referendum vote in O’Malley’s opinion.
Every type of business supported “Proposition B,” including industry, labor, taxpayers’ associations, veterans, realtors, the ministry, entertainment, Chambers of Commerce and politicians at City Hall.
The largest non-Presidential election turnout in Los Angeles history resulted, as 62.3 percent of the city’s 1,105,427 registered voters cast ballots.New York Journal American, June 4, 1958, AP story The referendum favored O’Malley and the Dodgers by 25,785 votes, with more than 670,000 total votes cast.
Asked if he was surprised by the close vote on the referendum, O’Malley said, “In baseball we have learned to call it a victory and it counts in the standings, whether you win by 1 to 0 or by a big score.”Mirror News, June 5, 1958
Meanwhile, on the field, Los Angelenos embraced their new baseball team with gusto. They flocked to the Coliseum to watch the Dodgers, setting attendance records every year in the majors. One area that O’Malley had been dead-on target was the Los Angeles area fans’ support for a major league baseball team. When the Giants came to town, the rivalry which had started in New York never waned in California, something that owners O’Malley and Stoneham had hoped would continue and were delighted to see. While the 1958 Dodgers had trouble getting out of the gate, Major League Baseball was gaining acceptance in its new environs due in large part to one man.
The Red Head is a Big Hit
Vin Scully, the brilliant broadcaster, who had started his career under the watchful eye of mentor Red Barber and his sidekick Connie Desmond, was a major reason Dodger fans became Dodger fans in Los Angeles. Barber had been Scully’s “father” figure, while Desmond was like an older brother that he never had. Undoubtedly, Scully learned so much from those two by observation and through extensive preparation. When the team moved from Brooklyn, O’Malley wanted Scully to continue his broadcasting career in Los Angeles. O’Malley loved the talented young red-haired announcer like his own son, Peter.
Once, when Scully’s first contract in 1950 expired and he wasn’t sure of his future under the new O’Malley ownership, the telephone rang. Scully answered it and O’Malley was on the line. “Don’t worry about next season. We want you to come back and be our broadcaster again. See you in the spring,” said the Dodger President. Scully recalls that the owner of the ballclub certainly had more important things to do with his time than to worry about the third broadcaster of the team, who was just a 22-year-old kid at that. Maybe an assistant or secretary would call and let him know everything would be fine. But, no, it was the boss and he took the time to let Scully know not to worry. “It made me feel very special and happy,” Scully said of O’Malley. “He was the heart and soul of the Dodgers.”
Scully’s colorful descriptions and the transistor radio were catalysts for bringing fans to the Coliseum — and later to Dodger Stadium. Sitting 80-plus rows above the action, Dodger fans relied on Scully’s call of the game to tell them what was happening — even when they were at the game! It was later said, “Unless Vin Scully tells us that it happened, it didn’t happen!” That kind of trust in a broadcaster by the fans has given him a Hall of Fame career of 67 seasons. But, it also speaks volumes about Scully’s ability to woo families and especially women to the ballpark. If a listener did not understand the nuances of the game, Scully taught the fan with his poetic descriptions and storytelling style. The Dodgers, under O’Malley’s ownership, always welcomed families to the stadia. But Scully was a large part of bringing those families back, time and time again.
If he said to buy Union Oil gasoline, they did. If he said to buy Farmer John Dodger Dogs, they did. If he told children that it was free souvenir “Helmet Day” on Sunday and not to miss it, they didn’t. The impressive power of his voice made him Southern California’s most known, respected and loved radio personality. The vast number of people who brought radios to the Coliseum, and later to Dodger Stadium, meant that a fan could walk anywhere throughout the stadium and parking lots and Vin Scully’s mellifluous voice could be heard. Of course, Scully’s partner Jerry Doggett was also extremely popular with Dodger fans. He joined the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1956 and was one of four announcers, along with Scully, Connie Desmond and Al Helfer. As the number two man in the booth when the Dodgers came west, Doggett knew his role was not to challenge Scully but to stay in the background and complement him. The tandem worked to perfection.
“People ask me, ‘who is the greatest Dodger?’” O’Malley said. “It’s Scully. You know we hired him right out of school.”Boston Globe, Sports Plus, July 28, 1978 Obviously, Scully’s loyalty to O’Malley and his family was rewarded for nearly half a century.
“Mr. O’Malley always said if the Dodgers had lost that (day) game (on June 1, 1958) it would have influenced the referendum voting back in Los Angeles,” said Scully. “No one votes for a loser. He truly felt winning that game helped win the referendum.”Dennis McCarthy, L.A. Daily News, Sept. 26, 1983
Initially, O’Malley and the Dodgers did not plan to have road games aired on local television, but he decided on April 27, 1958 to place all away games from San Francisco on KTTV Channel 11 beginning with the May 9 game. It was the beginning of a longtime partnership with Channel 11 that lasted for 34 years.
1959: A Year of Change - Part 1
The transplanted Dodgers finished a woeful seventh place (21 games off the pace) in their first season in Los Angeles, trying to adjust to their new city, new stadium surroundings and new home. But, in 1959, everything would turn around for the organization trying to regain its footing in virgin territory.
In a seemingly never-ending battle, a series of lawsuits were filed to block the approval of the city’s contract with the Dodgers, further delaying construction of Dodger Stadium. One suit eventually went to the California State Supreme Court which overruled the lower court and voted unanimously (7-0), siding with the city’s and O’Malley’s position on January 13, 1959. The decision stated that the city could “hold harmless” the “public purpose” clause of the Housing Authority agreement deed restrictions. The State Supreme Court reaffirmed its opinion in a refusal to reconsider on February 11 of that same year. In the meantime, California Governor Edmund G. Brown pledged to sell 36 acres of state-owned land in Chavez Ravine to the city of Los Angeles to complete the agreement on the stadium site for $170,780.Los Angeles Times, February 18, 1959 After additional attempts to appeal to the California State Supreme Court in April 1959 by attorney Phill Silver, who represented the opponents of the city’s contract with the Dodgers, the court upheld the constitutionality of the agreement. But, Silver then appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court challenging that the city denied due process to residents of Chavez Ravine, who had not adhered to the repeated orders to leave the land and were illegally living there. The appeal request was not heard by the U.S. Supreme Court and was dismissed on October 19, 1959.
A special exhibition game against the New York Yankees was held to pay tribute to paralyzed Dodger catcher Roy Campanella on May 7, 1959. His car slid off an icy road and crashed into a light pole on January 28, 1958 leaving him paralyzed from the neck down. Immediately, O’Malley visited him at Glen Cove Community Hospital in Long Island, NY.
O’Malley worked for a long time in formulating the concept of a series of exhibition games with the Yankees. Originally, the game was suggested by the Hearst Newspapers in New York. Later, O’Malley and Yankees’ owner Del Webb, along with executives E.J. “Buzzie” Bavasi, Dan Topping and George Weiss, worked out arrangements to play a game in Los Angeles. O’Malley agreed to pay the Yankees their travel expenses and approximately $85,000 for the trip. He also provided Campanella with one-half of the proceeds from the game, setting up an account with the three-time MVP catcher’s attorney to monitor the funds.
In a tough travel schedule, the Dodgers played a regular-season game on the afternoon of May 7 in San Francisco, defeating the Giants, 2-1 at Seals Stadium, flew back to Los Angeles to play the night exhibition contest, losing to the Yankees, 6-2 and then returned to San Francisco for the next night’s game.
A major league baseball record crowd of 93,103 attended “Roy Campanella Night” in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. The Dodger team captain, Pee Wee Reese, pushed the wheelchair in which Campanella was seated out to the area behind home plate as the fans cheered. In the middle of the fifth inning, there was a pause in the game as the stadium lights were turned off and the crowd was asked to light a match in tribute to Campanella, who had never played a game in Los Angeles. The sparkling lights from the matches made it appear as if there were thousands of fireflies in the stadium. It was one of sport’s truly memorable moments. On the radio, Vin Scully asked the fans to say a prayer for Campy’s well-being. The game and tribute were considered a huge success. An appreciative Campanella once called O’Malley “a true pioneer who to me was like a father when I first came into the Dodger organization. He stood by me, and after my injury he stood by me and helped me through all of my crises.”Roy Campanella Comments, Dodger Line Drives, Special Edition, 1979
While O’Malley was preparing by contract to exchange Wrigley Field in Los Angeles, valued at $2.25 million for Chavez Ravine, which was valued at just over $2.28 million, another battle began, as a few remaining residents living on the hills refused to leave, even though they had been ordered to eight years before and asked to voluntarily leave on March 9, 1959 before the eviction was to take place on May 8.
One such family, the Arechigas were among the most vocal when time came to be evicted by the sheriffs from their property, as they had ignored the two months’ advance notice to voluntarily leave. A Housing Authority check for $10,039 had been sitting and waiting for them as compensation for their property since 1953 according to the Los Angeles City Attorney and was still available to them from the clerk of the Superior Court. After making a dramatic scene for the still photographers and on live television, as they were forcibly removed and stating that this was their home and land, it was later revealed that the Arechigas family owned 11 other dwellings throughout Los Angeles. Even as Manuel Arechiga refused to leave the land and slept in a trailer for 10 days on site, the truth came out in the press. Sympathy for the Arechigas dissipated.
One other longtime resident, Ruth Rayford, a trained actress who studied at the Perry School of Dramatic Arts in St. Louis, had been instructed to look upset by the eviction.Los Angeles Evening Mirror News, May 14, 1959 “The television man told us to look fierce, and I thought it would be fun, so I raised my cane and did the best I could. We knew the time would come when we would have to move, so we didn’t mind too much. We should have done it sooner, and then we would have been settled by now,” she told the Los Angeles Examiner on May 15, 1959. Another resident who resisted moving until she was forced out was Alice Martin. According to the Mirror News, Martin “named four men as advisers in her resistance against eviction...She displayed a small book with the names and telephone numbers of J.A. (Blackjack) Smith, C.A. Owen, John Loyd and Jerome Murphy. She identified them as men ‘working with Councilman John Holland.’
“(Blackjack) Smith is a shipbuilder, canner, banker, oil producer and rancher. He also has an interest in the San Diego Padres baseball club. Murphy is a businessman here and has been active in politics. She said today that Murphy ‘told me not to surrender. Let them break in. Mr. Murphy told me that if they let Chavez Ravine go they will take the whole city.’ Owen was chairman of the Citizens Committee to Save Chavez Ravine for the People and Loyd was identified as a tape recording technician who was active with the anti-Dodger forces during the campaign against Proposition B.”Los Angeles Examiner, May 15, 1959
Councilwoman Wyman, who had contributed to the collection for the families, said, “Naturally I was surprised to learn that the Arechigas had extensive land holdings. It was represented to City Council that these people were not only homeless, but very poor.”Los Angeles Examiner, May 14, 1959, “City Council Reactions” sidebar
California State Attorney General Stanley Mosk praised Mayor Poulson for his “forthright statement” on the handling of the evictions. Mosk added, “The spectacle created was a disgraceful reflection upon the City of Los Angeles and those responsible for creating the illusion that public officials are ruthless when they enforce the law and court orders have done a disservice to our nation and to its fundamental concept of justice.”Los Angeles Examiner, May 19, 1959
Residents were paid for their houses, but many felt that they should not have to leave, despite the property belonging to the city. O’Malley had acquired the land by contract with the city and was obligated to privately build Dodger Stadium on a portion of the land. But, what was the city’s stance of looking the other way on the area which was nearly dormant for six years, turned into O’Malley’s latest headache.
1959: A Year of Change - Part 2
Examiner columnist Flaherty wrote on May 17, 1959 about Chavez Ravine, “It had been a civic eyesore for years — a little lost dump of a wilderness, cut off from the heart of the city by-passed by the years and shunned by a growing community. Nobody wanted it. Few seemed to know what to do with it. It was to be a housing development and that was dropped. It was to be the site of a new jail, and then it wasn’t. It was to be cleared for a zoo, and that was forgotten.
“But when the Dodgers came to town, overnight Chavez Ravine became important! Then and only then, it seemed a few people did have long-standing schemes for the area for personal gain or self-aggrandizement, or both.
“Prior to that it was a dumping place for trash and tin cans. Main Street itinerants wandered into the area and camped out. Winos robbed one another there in the dark of night, and bodies of some were found there.
“But when the Dodgers came to town, induced by the city which offered the place as a site for a new baseball park, in return for Wrigley Field, the Ravine became a big thing. It became the most important piece of local real estate since Cecil B. DeMille and other movie pioneers started operations in a Hollywood barn.
“Glossed over during the furore of a calculated farce is the fact the Dodgers had absolutely nothing to do with the evictions in the area. Indeed, the Dodgers had never even heard of the place until the name was brought up by local officials during the orderly process of negotiations. The officials were glad for the opportunity to have the sickly area converted into a glamour spot, a tourist attraction, by the Dodgers. The incoming major league team pledged itself to building a $12,000,000 baseball stadium, finest in the world — in addition to a public recreation area that wouldn’t cost a penny.
“Years before the Dodgers decided to move to Los Angeles the Ravine property had been officially condemned and eviction notices had been served. The family that has raised most of the ugly hullabaloo has been living there ever since, tax-free. A check for more than $10,000 has been awaiting this family all the while for their ramshackle property. Yet the same family while owning 11 other known homes, didn’t raise a voice when a collection was taken up for it...Or when a new trailer was hauled into the Ravine to provide housing for the ‘destitute’ people. Of course, when the truth leaked out, the ‘destitute’ family was kicked out of the trailer and the trailer was hauled away.
“The truth always surfaces sooner or later. J.A. Smith, the man who put up most of the money to instigate a referendum vote on the Ravine, later admitted he wanted to promote a trade fair in the area. His name had been seldom mentioned during the taking up of petitions. Some of the petitioners were found to have been paid as much as 25 cents a signature. Many of the petitioners were found to have obtained signatures through absolute fraud.
“‘Sign here,’ they urged sports fans at the Coliseum, ‘if you want major league baseball.’ Hundreds who signed didn’t realize they were signing AGAINST major league baseball.
“...Los Angeles has been made to look like a stupid nut house of a town. During the whole drawn-out and unsavory business the Dodgers, through no fault of their own, have been made the fall guys.”Vincent X. Flaherty, Los Angeles Examiner, May 17, 1959
Setting aside major legal hurdles, O’Malley could finally do what he had wanted to do for nearly 10 years — begin construction of a new stadium.
He broke ground for Dodger Stadium on September 17, 1959, holding a shovel alongside Supervisor Hahn, his son Jimmy Hahn (who was designated as the Dodger batboy and years later became Mayor of L.A.), Mayor Poulson, City Councilman Gordon Hahn, Dodger Vice President, Stadium Operations Dick Walsh and members of the architectural and construction teams, including engineer and designer Capt. Emil Praeger, Jack Yount and Al Vinnell of Vinnell Constructors.
It was one of the proudest moments of O’Malley’s life, as he knew that he would finally see his stadium dream realized.
Praeger, senior partner of New York City firm of Praeger, Kavanagh and Waterbury, was a Navy captain who had an impeccable record as an authority on bridges, foundations and parkways. He was the consulting engineer for the structural and foundation design for the White House renovation in 1949. Previously, he provided his first stadium design for the Dodgers’ 5,000-seat Holman Stadium project in 1952-53 and was engineer for the Los Angeles Public Library. Captain Praeger, like O’Malley, was a stickler for details. “Skimp on the little things and the big thing won’t be a success. That’s engineering,” said Capt. Praeger.“Four Engineers + One Architect = Diversified Consulting Firm,” Engineering News-Record, February 7, 1963
The 1959 Dodgers surprised their new hometown following with an 88-68 record, good enough to tie with the Milwaukee Braves for the N.L. lead. The Dodgers beat the Braves in the best-of-three playoff series, 2-0, to earn the N.L. Pennant and the right to meet the American League Champion Chicago White Sox. The Dodgers defeated the Sox in six games, four games to two, behind the pitching of Larry Sherry, the World Series MVP. For the first time, Los Angeles would have a World Championship banner fly over its city. It was O’Malley’s second World Series title in five seasons. According to Southern California Business published by the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce in its October 26, 1959 edition, “Southland business received a boost of nearly $3,000,000 spent by out-of-town visitors attending the 1959 World Series games at the Coliseum.”Southern California Business, published by the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce, October 26, 1959 edition
Another of numerous darts was thrown O’Malley’s way a month after the 1959 World Series. A majority of Los Angeles City Council voted 9 to 5 to change the zoning for Chavez Ravine, permitting commercial development and parking lot areas and insisted on a new subdivision map before Dodger Stadium could be built, delaying the process for up to two years.
An irritated O’Malley proclaimed, “If these constant delays occur our location in Los Angeles may become untenable and we may accept offers to move elsewhere. If you attempt to rewrite this contract, which I do not believe you can do, I will not be able to finance the Dodger project in Chavez Ravine.”Los Angeles Herald-Express, November 5, 1959
City Planning Director John E. Roberts said at the meeting that new subdivision and tract maps would have to be filed and that it would take at least six months to process. In addition, a conditional use for the building of the baseball stadium would have to be approved by Huber E. Smutz, City Zoning Administrator. That process could take months to complete.
Given the opportunity to speak before the City Council by Mrs. Wyman, O’Malley reiterated his position that if the contract which had been approved by the Council, the mayor, the voters and the courts was changed, the Dodgers would have to look elsewhere to make a new home. Given O’Malley’s sincere approach, this was no idle threat by a man who had quickly become disillusioned with the entire process.
In fact, O’Malley had several options, if Los Angeles could not honor its contract with the Dodgers. Although New York politicians dreamt about him returning there when things were on shaky ground in Los Angeles, O’Malley was approached by many California cities and Chambers of Commerce, as well as private landowners. The cities of Downey, Westminster, Norwalk, Buena Park all approached O’Malley about providing the necessary land for Dodger Stadium, while Chambers of Commerce from El Monte Community, Quartz Hill and Manhattan Beach did the same. Individual landowners and developers contacted the Dodgers from San Fernando, Venice, Dominguez Water Company in Long Beach (Dominguez Junction in Torrance), Compton, Maywood and Universal-International in Studio City. City Councilman Harold Henry wanted to explore an arrangement with the State of California, City and County of Los Angeles to finance a stadium in Exposition Park, leasing it back to the Dodgers.
However, the process was expedited when the Los Angeles City Council voted to impose a conditional use restriction on the Dodger Stadium land. This gave O’Malley the ability to secure financing, while the zoning and planning departments stepped up their timelines. The Council’s close decision also limited the events that could be held by the Dodgers.
On October 19, 1959, the Silver complaint eventually went to the U.S. Supreme Court, where an appeal request was not heard and was finally dismissed.
“The Supreme Court of the United States, by this decision, has upheld the two unanimous decisions of the California Supreme Court,” O’Malley wrote on October 19, 1959. “We trust it will remove from the scene any further political delays so that we may proceed to build the beautiful Los Angeles Dodgers Stadium and Recreation area. I look forward now to a spirit of cooperation and understanding among all public officials that will permit us to complete the new stadium at the earliest possible date next fall.
“I wish to give our sincere thanks to the voters and public officials of the City and County of Los Angeles who have supported the Dodger contract. The decision reaffirms, and again vindicates, their judgment.
“I do hope there will be an end to further dilatory tactics. During the course of the years of litigation we have been careful not to discuss the merits of the matter but now we can point out that the hardship was not only one of delay but one of financial concerns. The cost of the new stadium project was increased $2,500,000 by the delay and further an increase of $500,000 is expected in May. This is one reason why we have been reluctant to exercise our option on the Coliseum for next year. We will soon confer with the Coliseum Commission and I am sure we will be able to arrange a lease that will be fair to the Coliseum and in keeping with other baseball leases in effect in Milwaukee, Baltimore, Kansas City, Cleveland and other cities where municipally-owned stadiums are rented.
“All we want to do is to be able to meet our financial obligations caused by increased costs of the new stadium necessitated by the legal delays.”
But delays there would be. As O’Malley was preparing by contract to exchange Wrigley Field in Los Angeles for Chavez Ravine another battle began, as a dozen remaining residents banded together to sell their property in unison. The City of Los Angeles made its last and best offer based on fair-market appraisals, but owners were not accepting it, blocking the way for O’Malley. The city dropped its condemnation proceedings, forcing O’Malley to act. Records show the appraised total for these 12 properties to be $85,750 in 1960. O’Malley ended up spending a greatly-inflated $494,200 to purchase the 12 properties so that he could continue to move forward in the process. O’Malley had all legal right and title to the land, but nevertheless many residents held it against him and not the federal government, Housing Authority or city officials. The fact remains, however, that no property owners should have been on the land after 1951-52.
Perhaps, O’Malley’s feelings might have been summed up best by well-respected baseball writer and historian Leonard Koppett of the New York Post on June 4, 1958, who took the liberty of re-writing the words to Cole Porter’s “Begin the Beguine” in parity which starts “Why did I begin with Chavez Ravine?” The little ditty continues, “Who roadblocked my path to fabulous riches? Where did I slip, get caught in the switches, When all appeared so serene? *** Chavez Ravine — looked so green, Green as the sheen that you’ve seen on something called money, But who could know that referendum are funny? No one can tell what they mean. *** Not even a “Yes” completes my endeavor. I still have to press for roads on my site. Lawsuits now may continue forever, Though I know it’s clever never to fight. *** So, though it’s a sin to stick to the screen, To stay in L.A. I may play in the Coliseum, Even if Chavez winds up as a mausoleum With my hopes just a dream. Oh, why did I begin the ravine? Why did I tumble for the pitch of a betrayer? Now I’ve got me a ditch — but which? — with Paulson, the mayor, Both of us need some morphine. *** Though I’m winning an election, I’m still not in. I’ve lost votes among councilmen who last year I took in. Now and then I can’t help but wish I’d stood in Brooklyn, Where I wouldn’t have been In the trouble I’m in Since I started in — that ravine.”Leonard Koppett, New York Post, June 4, 1958
Home Sweet Home
O’Malley started to get his family’s roots settled in Los Angeles. His wife, Kay, an enthusiastic fan of baseball, was Walter’s great friend and love. At their north shore Alpine-like chalet in Lake Arrowhead, nearly 90 miles east of Los Angeles and exactly one-mile high, Kay and Walter could get away from the fast-paced life of team ownership and enjoy the calm serenity of the blue skies and equally blue crystal clear water. When business kept him closer to Los Angeles, O’Malley had a suite and office in the Statler Hotel at 930 Wilshire Boulevard that he used for the night. During the complicated construction process of Dodger Stadium, O’Malley literally lived at the Statler in order to be close to the process and conduct countless meetings. An avid outdoorsman, O’Malley loved to boat and fish on the lake. He even named his 20-foot Chris Craft boat which motored around the lake, KayO, for his wife.
“I like Lake Arrowhead,” said O’Malley. “I like the water. Once I got out of college, from that time on, we’ve always lived on the water back East. I like boating, fishing and sailing. Lake Arrowhead gives us a change of seasons. You can see the leaves change. I can get away from the phone calls and just relax up there, play golf and enjoy the outdoors. I feel our hours and days are very long and I like to get away occasionally when the team is not at home. My wife is an excellent driver and I can get caught up with the newspapers and magazines and office papers while we’re driving up and down (the mountain).”Walter O’Malley on KFI Radio with host Loren Peterson, 1965
O’Malley described his chalet in the mountains, “It’s a bit unusual. It’s built on the side of a hill and the living room floor just happens to be exactly 5,280 feet high, so it is one mile high. Kay has put a great deal of effort into making it a comfortable place. It’s not fancy at all. For example, we don’t have help at all. We do our own work and that gives us the privacy that we look for in our Lake Arrowhead retreat.”
O’Malley was also equally comfortable in the kitchen, where he often baked sourdough bread or made his daughter, Terry and son, Peter, blueberry pancakes for breakfast.
“I like to cook,” said O’Malley. “Sometimes, the family is quite complimentary. Actually, it is something for me to do that keeps me on my feet and keeps my mind off a lot of problems. It is good recreation. Very few people today bake bread. I think there’s nothing more interesting in a home than to smell bread baking in the oven. I keep a sourdough pot going all the time and we can always dip into it and make sourdough pancakes or waffles or sourdough French bread, which I think is pretty good bread.”Ibid.
But, always by his side was his friend and confidant, Katharina “Kay Kay” O’Malley. Perhaps, his wife was the more rabid baseball fan of the two. She greatly enjoyed being around the game, the players and her family. A decade later, Kay was named as one of the 10 Los Angeles Times’ Woman of the Year recipients.Los Angeles Dodgers Press Release, December 16, 1971
Construction of Dodger Stadium
In Los Angeles, the task of building a new stadium was no easy assignment. O’Malley worked hand in glove with the architects, engineers and the construction personnel over all aspects of 56,000-seat Dodger Stadium. He was concerned about the colors of the seats, the paint on the walls, parking issues, temperature of the hot dogs, landscaping, pitcher position in the bullpens, type of grass for the field, press box location, type of modern scoreboard, guard rail for parking lots, location of toll booths, ratio of male to female restrooms and cleaning operation. He meticulously built a stadium designed exclusively for baseball with unparalleled sightlines, which had been his goal all along.
Every idea and suggestion was carefully reviewed for its merit by the detail-oriented O’Malley, who encouraged his staff and others to give input for the best stadium ever to be built. Some of the ideas that were considered included a monorail system; trams from the parking lot to the entrance gates; a milk and ice cream bar for kids; dancing, illuminated water fountains in center field; a chuck wagon restaurant; staff living quarters; an air-pumped flag pole to keep the flag waving; a zoo as part of the recreation area; a helipad; infrared heating near the seats; a bowling alley; moving sidewalk; sing along on the outfield message board; miniature golf course; and a large crossed bat with a ball on top monument at the Top of the Park parking lot.
The Vinnell Construction team moved eight million cubic yards of dirt and brought in 21,000 precast concrete units, some weighing up to 32 tons, to achieve this goal under the watchful eye of Dodger Vice President Dick Walsh and engineer Capt. Praeger of Praeger, Kavanagh and Waterbury of New York.
Then Dodger Vice President Fresco Thompson wrote: “To give you an idea of the vastness of the project, one might visualize a building whose walls encompass a city block of 400 feet by 200 feet. If a building of those dimensions, and 260 stories high (the Empire State Building is eighty-five stories high), could be erected and filled to the top, it would then hold the earth and rock which had to be moved to create the site for the Stadium.”Fresco Thompson book, “Every Diamond Doesn’t Sparkle,” ©1964
In describing some technical highlights about Dodger Stadium, a memo was sent to O’Malley by the designers and electrician and illuminating engineer J.S. Hamel of Los Angeles. Among the tidbits were that a “reflectorized” lamp was to be used for the first time in lighting and stadium history. A total of 1575 1200-watt lamps, each 10 inches in diameter totaling nearly two million watts and each lamp mounted in an optically precise reflector glare shield, directs the light rays to the playing field. This flood light is unique in that most of the massive glare of flood lights which shine in the spectators’ eyes will be eliminated by the “glare shield.” The lighting intensity on the playing field will be in excess of 200 foot candles, which will make Dodger Stadium the brightest and most uniformly lighted major baseball stadium in the U.S.A. More than 10 miles of steel and alluminium [sic] conduits carry a total in excess of 50 miles of insulated copper wires to supply power and miscellaneous electrical services to all parts of the stadium.”
Vinnell construction chief Yount, who meticulously oversaw every detail after the formal signing of the contract on August 25, 1960, recalled: “We didn’t get started until after Labor Day in 1960, so we had only 19 months to...get the place built. We had to have a crane about 120 feet high that would reach out 150 feet with a 40-ton load and set the load down like a feather. There were no cranes we could get hold of that would reach out that far with that load, so we built our own crane. After we were through, we tore it all up. It was the only job it was used on. It cost about $150,000.
“Since this was a controversial project, the city people wanted to make sure they kept their skirts clean,” Yount continued. “They made everything difficult for us. For instance, they made the Dodgers over design for earthquakes.
“There is a lot more strength in this stadium than there is in highway bridges. On this structure, we used almost seven sacks of cement a yard. On freeway bridges (which Yount built plenty of, including the 10 and 5 Freeway connectors in Los Angeles), they use five. For paving, they use four or less. So every yard of concrete poured at the stadium cost O’Malley about $1.50 extra just in cement alone. There are about 45,000 yards in the whole stadium.”Charles Maher, Los Angeles Times, April 8, 1971
The influence of Disneyland for its layout, parking facilities, trams and high level of customer service did not go unnoticed by O’Malley, who had his executives visit the Magic Kingdom in Anaheim and take notes. O’Malley had corresponded with Walt Disney and asked if he might have some suggestions as he built his new ballpark. Interestingly, Disney had rejected the idea of using the same unattractive Chavez Ravine land for a potential Disneyland site (quite possibly because of the massive amounts of earth that would have to be moved).Cary S. Henderson, Los Angeles and the Dodger War, 1957-62, Southern California Quarterly, Fall 1980, page 286
Dodger Stadium might have opened in 1961, instead of 1962, but court delays held back the construction process and prevented what might have been a move from the L.A. Memorial Coliseum a year earlier. Legal challenges to the passed 1958 Referendum took time to finally resolve, adding to the delay in building Dodger Stadium. The playing field and general construction took a beating with the inclement weather early in 1962, causing a frenetic pace to the last-minute work, but O’Malley vowed to play there as scheduled on April 10 no matter what.
In 1960, O’Malley assisted the efforts of famed singing cowboy Gene Autry to bring an expansion club, the Los Angeles Angels, into the American League, even though it meant the Dodgers would have to share valuable territory and compete for broadcast coverage. In their first season in 1961, the Angels played in Wrigley Field, once owned by O’Malley but had reverted back to the city as part of the contract with the Dodgers. Originally, Autry’s radio station, KMPC 710 held the radio rights to Dodger games, but the Dodgers shifted to the more powerful 50,000-watt clear-channel KFI for the 1960 season. Dodger games could be heard in many states and as far away as Hawaii on KFI AM 640.
Autry credited O’Malley with his support and a place to play beginning in 1962, where the Angels shared new Dodger Stadium for four seasons. “It was only because of his help that we were able to bring an American League team to L.A.,” said Autry. “The Angels have a tough row to hoe.”Bud Furillo’s Steam Room, Los Angeles Herald & Express, April 27, 1961
In February 1962, O’Malley had incurred a $500,000 overage because of the deluge as construction was halted. Without question, he wanted an April opening. Under the heading of “Touching All the Bases,” he even made an inquiry to Angels’ owner Autry about temporarily playing games at Wrigley Field.
O’Malley vowed, “I’m a stubborn man. We will hit the target date, no matter what the weather.” The paving was 90 percent completed at that time. He continued, “Actually, I guess all we’ve lost is time, money and some top soil. And, I may have to chase that top soil down to the Los Angeles River.”Bob Hunter, Herald Examiner, February 11, 1962 That month, a heavy “jet engine drying machine was brought onto the field in order to get the turf ready for sodding. Blasts carried as far as 300 feet.”Photo Caption, Los Angeles Times, February 23, 1962 But, the timing of the stadium’s opening was almost perfect.
The grass did not look like what O’Malley expected for the unveiling of the ballpark. His friend and studio producer Mervyn LeRoy gave him an answer — dye the grass green (the color of spinach) just like in Hollywood. That is what the Dodgers did and it worked to perfection, short of a few green paint-stained pant legs from the players!
A nervous O’Malley wrote a Western Union telegram to American Seating Company, who was the only sub-contractor unaffiliated with Vinnell Constructors, which had the task of putting in all of Dodger Stadium’s seats. On April 2, just days before the first game, O’Malley wrote, “Engineer, General Contractor and Owner shocked at lack of progress by your workmen at this late date. We want your work finished by Wednesday midnight and your people off the premises so we can wash down and clean the stands and get the house in order. You might have had an excuse for parts delayed in arrival but you have no excuse for not setting in final condition those parts already on the job.”
The seats selected by the Dodgers were theatre-style, up to 22 inches wide with arm rests between each seat. The back and seats are steam-bent hardwood and the standards were made of cast gray iron. Approximately, three tons of aluminum nuts and bolts were used in the seat construction. If placed side by side, the multi-colored seats would form a continuous row of more than 33 miles long, from Los Angeles to Pomona.
L.A.'s Sparkling New Jewel Opens
Opening Day finally arrived with all of its excitement and anticipation in Los Angeles, as O’Malley’s dream stadium took center stage. One day prior to Dodger Stadium’s public unveiling, a special invitation-only dedication ceremony was held for sponsors, politicians, key team executives and the media. The Grand Opening dedication ceremonies began on the steps of City Hall in Los Angeles, followed by a parade to the ballpark. Ford C. Frick, the Commissioner of Baseball, made a speech in which he called O’Malley a man “with the courage, imagination and stamina to move a mountain. When you see that thing out there, that stadium, then you will visualize the answer to some of those crybabies who say baseball is dying.”Walter Bingham, Sports Illustrated, April 23, 1962 Once the dignitaries arrived at Dodger Stadium for additional on-field ceremonies, all were in awe of its beauty with its colorful seats and unique column-free construction, so unlike other ballparks of the time.
This was a modern stadium built for baseball and not multi-purpose in conjunction with other sports. There were even an equal number of women’s powder rooms, 24, to men’s restrooms — an unheard of ratio in stadium building annals.
Kay O’Malley was selected to throw the ceremonial first pitch on Opening Day, which she did from behind the Dodger dugout on the Field Level to catcher John Roseboro. The Dodgers selected Latina diva Alma Pedroza to sing the national anthem. It christened the stadium which, since 1962, has provided more than 140 million fans through the 2006 season, countless hours of fun, excitement and great memories.
The First Lady of the Dodgers was the perfect choice to immortalize Dodger Stadium. She was by her husband’s side each and every step of the way, from the bold move from Brooklyn to establishing their new home in Los Angeles. She kept a scorebook with details of every game (both at home and when the team was on the road). Kay’s only funny mistake in scorekeeping was that when Brooklyn friend Ed McLoughlin taught her the player position numbers he reversed the right fielder and the left fielder. Thus, the position numbers of 7 and 9 were incorrect in her book.Bob Hunter, The Sporting News, June 15, 1968 The lyric “You’ve Gotta Have Heart” from the popular Broadway hit, Damn Yankees, became her theme. Later, O’Malley presented her with a 1963 World Championship ring, which he made into a charm with a gold heart and the inscription, “You Gotta Have Heart.”
Mrs. Dearie Mulvey, the daughter of former Brooklyn Dodger part-owner Steve McKeever, was also honored at Dodger Stadium’s Opening Day and had the unique status of having attended both the Grand Opening of the new ballpark as well as witnessing the first game at Ebbets Field on April 9, 1913 with her father. Unfortunately, the Dodgers lost both home openers at their new ballparks with Mrs. Mulvey, still a partial stockholder, in attendance.Jack Butler, The Tablet newspaper, April 21, 1956
While two oversights in the newly-opened Dodger Stadium became fodder for the media, O’Malley and his team immediately worked to correct both. The first was that only two drinking fountains in the dugouts were in place for Opening Day and the press called this oversight “O’Malley’s Oasis.” However, the construction team had simply run out of time and, already in the works, this was instantly resolved and the appropriate drinking fountains were added to all levels. A week after the first game, only six complaint letters had been sent to the Dodger offices on the topic according to executive Red Patterson. The second issue was more cumbersome, as the foul poles, which normally are placed in “fair” territory were actually located in foul territory. For the 1962 season only, the Dodgers received special dispensation from the National League to leave them in place. The following season, they were moved to the proper location. But, while there was some ribbing in the media about the stadium, fans were giving their new surroundings high marks, as they flocked to the ballpark in record numbers. That season the Dodgers attracted 2,755,184 fans, a major league record.
As a stickler for cleanliness, O’Malley ensured that one could practically eat off the floors at Dodger Stadium. The sparkling concrete floors welcomed fans through the walkways to their colorful seats. The 48 restrooms, more than at any other ballpark, were equally well-kept. In Los Angeles, the concession stands were large and accessible. The entire experience was family-friendly in a comfortable, safe and clean environment at Dodger Stadium, where the game was the star. Traditional organ music and large informational scoreboards enhanced fan enjoyment. Extensive plantings, signature swaying palm trees, colorful flowers and exotic landscaping around Dodger Stadium and its surrounding hillsides were immaculately maintained, adding to the first-class image and brand name the Dodgers were to sustain throughout the O’Malley regime.
A time capsule was placed at Dodger Stadium, and according to official documents it includes the following collectibles: sports pages of April 8-12, 1962; Yearbooks — one for each year of the Dodgers in Los Angeles; World Series program for 1959 and the All-Star Game program from Los Angeles in 1959; Scorecards — one for each year of the Dodgers in Los Angeles, including the first 1962 scorecard; stories on the Grand Opening ceremonies from the Los Angeles Times and Herald Examiner; some pictures of the largest crowd in baseball history, the exhibition game between the Dodgers and New York Yankees, the 1959 World Series, team pictures of the 1959 World Champion Dodgers and Sandy Koufax’s 18-strikeout game; and a story on the Referendum victory. Also included are a city charter; a 1962 county budget; county charter; official ribbon from Grand Opening, April 9, 1962; a list of members on the Citizens Committee; a program from April 9, 1962; Governor’s statement; and agenda for the city and county, April 9 & 10, 1962.
The 1962 season ended in a three-game playoff series with the rival Giants. The Dodgers won 102 games in 1962, their most victories since 105 in 1953. After losing the first playoff game in Candlestick Park, 8-0, the Dodgers won the second game in Los Angeles, 8-7. But, the Giants took the decisive contest, 6-4, with old nemesis Don Larsen earning the come-from-behind victory (trailing 4-2 in the ninth inning) to disappoint Dodger fans and bring back painful memories of 1951. That season in New York, O’Malley went to the Giants’ clubhouse to offer his congratulations to the winners. On this 1962 shocking day for the Dodgers, O’Malley immediately asked his son Peter to take a flight to San Francisco and personally return a block of World Series tickets. As he was fond of saying and related to Peter at that moment, “It’s tough to do, but you have to do the right thing.” He also hosted the Dodger front office executives and their spouses at one game of the World Series in San Francisco. The next day, meetings and planning began as the focus started on winning in 1963.
On March 2 and 3, 1963, O’Malley held the first non-baseball sporting event at Dodger Stadium, the 1st Dodger Stadium Sports Car Races in the parking lot. The races attracted an estimated 11,500 the first day with two bleacher seating areas set up in the parking lot. The Dodgers had to get the permission of the city to grant a three-year variance to permit sports car racing on the private roads and parking lots located at Dodger Stadium. It was the first of many experiments of using Dodger Stadium as a venue for other sporting activities. For instance, on February 2, 1964, O’Malley welcomed the world-famous Harlem Globetrotters to his venue and a crowd of 12,405 roared with laughter at the antics of Meadowlark Lemon and Co. against the outmanned Atlantic City Seagulls (The ’Trotters prevailed, 46-35). The basketball court (previously used by the L.A. Jets) was placed across home plate from the first and third base dugouts. According to newspaper reports, “fans even in the fourth deck had no trouble seeing or hearing the comments of leather-lunged Lemon and (Tex) Harrison.”John Hall, Los Angeles Times, February 3, 1964
1963: A Taxing Year with a Positive Finish
O’Malley was always interested in horticulture and he spent an additional $1.5 million on colorful landscaping to Dodger Stadium grounds in 1963, including gardens and tree plantings,Trees include 1,000 Eucalyptus, 1,000 Acacia, 750 Fiscus-Nitida, 150 California Peppers, 95 Olive, 85 Canary Island Pine, 75 Washingtonia Palms, 75 Brazilian Peppers, 36 Evergreen Ash, 34 Chinese Elms, 20 Orchids, 20 Jacaranda, 20 Date Palm, 12 Mediterranean Palms, 12 Evergreen Pear and 10 California Rosewood, in addition to 300 Olympic Rose bushes according to 1990 “Dodger Stadium A to Z” brochure making it much more than just a baseball park, but an oasis and showplace in Los Angeles.
Off the field, O’Malley endured slings and arrows once again as, on July 23, 1963 the Los Angeles County Tax Assessor amazingly increased the value of the Dodger Stadium property to $32.3 million, meaning the Dodger tax bill would jump from $345,000 per annum to about $750,000. O’Malley contended the property was worth $19.5 million. He was asked whether he would sell the property for the $32.3 million assessed value. O’Malley’s answer, “You’re darned right I would.”
McClellan clearly remembers during the negotiations that “taxes were never a part of the negotiations. It was established during my first meeting with O’Malley in New York City that no free gifts or subsidies would be provided. The Dodgers would pay taxes like any other enterprise. It was essential, as a matter of common sense business judgment that the Dodgers know their budget and operating costs before committing themselves.
“Walter O’Malley asked me what he could expect as a property assessment tax on the completed stadium. I referred him to the County Tax Assessor. We all knew that it is unusual to state in advance of construction just what the tax bill will be. But the circumstances here were unusual too. The Dodgers had a real need to know. No special rate was sought or expected — that issue had already been settled. But it was exceedingly important to Walter O’Malley to know where he stood. The whole Chavez Ravine area had been producing only $7400.00 per annum in City and County tax revenues for ten years. Studies were made...the Dodgers were instructed by the then County Assessor, in his office that, presuming the same tax rate as then prevailed, the tax on the completed stadium would be approximately $330,000.00. Later, when 6000 additional seats were added to the stadium plan, the tax estimate was increased to $345,000.00. This figure was accepted at that time by all concerned. It was used in publicity employed by both sides in the subsequent controversy.
“This tax commitment was not a concession to get the Dodgers here. It was not a negotiated figure. The only concession given was that of telling the Dodgers in advance what they would be up against, tax wise, before they made the move.
“I realize of course that some of our citizens still contend that the Dodgers got a land bargain. The record clearly shows however, that the Mayor didn’t think so, the City Council didn’t think so, that the Board of Supervisors didn’t think so, that the Chamber of Commerce didn’t think so, that the foremost appraisers in the area didn’t think so. O’Malley didn’t think so and neither did I. The Dodgers have kept their part of the bargain.”“The Truth About the Dodgers” by Chad McClellan, August 9, 1963
O’Malley and his son, Peter, attended a County Board of Supervisors hearing on July 24, 1963 regarding the tax matter to protest the huge and sudden increase by Philip E. Watson, County Assessor. O’Malley attorney James J. Arditto claimed that one of the main differences in the assessed value had to do with the 41 acres of land for recreational use that the City held title to until O’Malley had spent $1.2 million, which Watson placed a value of $425,000. Arditto argued the Dodgers would not even take ownership of this land for another 18 years and it should therefore be eliminated from the tax discussion. O’Malley’s position was rejected by the vote of the Board, a blow that he vowed to change in court.
However, O’Malley had much to smile about on the field in 1963. With the exception of 1955, the Brooklyn Dodgers had fallen repeatedly in World Series to the cross-town American League New York Yankees. The Dodgers were 99-63 in 1963 and finished strong by winning 19 games in the final month. Tommy Davis won his second consecutive N.L. Batting Championship with a .326 average to lead the offense, while Drysdale had a league-leading 25 wins, Koufax notched a Dodger record 11 shutouts and relief specialist Ron Perranoski amassed 21 saves to guide the pitching staff. Now, they had an opportunity to face their old nemesis once again. In uncharacteristic style, the Dodgers earned sweet revenge for all of those years of frustration, sweeping the Yankees in the 1963 World Series in four games. It is the only time the Dodgers won a World Series title on their home field. While winning the World Series in Brooklyn in 1955 was unforgettable, the 1963 sweep stood out to O’Malley as his favorite.Interview with Bud Furillo on KABC Radio’s Dodgertalk Show, 1974
For the second time in only six seasons in Los Angeles, the Dodgers were World Champions and the city’s fans embraced their team ever tighter.
As one whose mind was always active, even to the point that he could not sleep but a few hours at night, O’Malley had an idea to enhance the usage of Dodger Stadium, which he felt was underutilized at 81 home games a year. In December 1963, O’Malley wrote a letter to old acquaintance R. Buckminster Fuller in New York regarding the possibility of designing a geodesic dome at Dodger Stadium that would start at the skin of the infield extending to behind home plate on the Reserved Level. The design would enable hockey and basketball games to be played at Dodger Stadium with 20,000 covered seats. Fuller wrote O’Malley a reply letter stating that a 100% demountable dome was completely feasible.Letters from O’Malley to R. Buckminster Fuller and Fuller to Walter O’Malley, December 1963 The brainstorming idea, however, was not pursued.
The Business of Baseball
The fans were uppermost in O’Malley’s thinking and decision-making process. While he ran the Dodger organization in a businesslike fashion, he also appreciated the loyal fans and longtime sponsors, especially Union Oil, Bank of America and Farmer John, who supported the team through thick and thin. There was no increase in ticket prices (ranging from 75 cents to $3.50) from 1958-75 to keep baseball affordable for families (see chart), a point quite important to O’Malley. He ordered his front office staff to return all phone calls and letters immediately as part of his complete commitment to fan servicing. O’Malley read and answered every fan letter written to him with help from his able secretary Edith Monak, who worked for him more than 40 years.
“I think they appreciate it because they come out in greater numbers than they do for any other ballpark,” said O’Malley. “Our whole attitude in the Dodger organization is that we want to go first class in everything we do. That’s a little more expensive, but it’s a lot more satisfying to do things the way the public wants them done.”Interview with Geoff Witcher on KABC Radio’s Dodgertalk Show, March 31, 1976
Longtime NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle, who was General Manager of the Los Angeles Rams when the Dodgers played at the Coliseum, said of Dodger Stadium, “When he built it, he brought a whole new class level to all new sports arenas...I mean a level of service and style and even the dress of the ushers. He showed those that followed how to avoid running a schlep operation.”Jerry Izenberg column, New York Post, August 10, 1979
O’Malley had his stadium ushers wear sport coats, straw hats and a smile. The warm and friendly atmosphere pervaded throughout Dodger Stadium, but unquestionably, it started at the top.
Most longtime baseball observers agree that O’Malley was the most powerful force in the game of baseball. He claimed that the recognition wasn’t anything more than his full-time attention was focused on the sport, where other owners used the game as a secondary business venture.
“I devote all of my time to baseball,” said O’Malley. “Therefore I’m available to serve on more committees than some of the other men who have as their principal occupation their more important and much larger businesses.
“So I’m baseball all the time and if they need someone to go out and pull the weeds or plant a tree, I’ll take a shovel and do it if I have to. It does not necessarily mean that I agree with all the decisions the owners are making.”Associated Press story, June 22, 1968
He served as a Board Trustee for many years for the Little League Foundation. He once said, “The growth of Little League Baseball is the greatest thing to happen to American youth since the Boy Scouts of America was founded.”Jimmy Powers, New York News, The Powerhouse Column, January 11, 1953 He said, “There is nothing which has been a greater boon to baseball than Little League. If we get our youngsters baseball-minded at that age, we don’t have to worry about them for many years to come. Out of Little League will come our baseball players and our baseball fans of the future.”O’Malley feature, The Bedford Stuyvesant Little League News, Vol. 1, No. 2, July, 1955
From the day they arrived in Los Angeles, O’Malley realized the importance of the diverse marketplace in which the Dodgers played. Long before other sports teams placed games on radio in multiple languages, O’Malley’s Dodgers were the first major league team to offer selected games on radio (WHOM in NY) in Spanish beginning in 1954 with Buck Canel at the microphone. In Los Angeles, all home games and weekend road games were carried in Spanish on KWKW Radio. By 1960 all away games were aired live. The road contests were first re-created and then, in the mid-1970s, the broadcasters traveled with the Dodgers.
English-language radio was thriving with Scully’s unparalleled descriptions and captivating voice, which captured the feel and excitement of each game, providing a storyline that kept fans glued to their transistor radios. Popular Spanish-language broadcaster Jaime Jarrin from Ecuador arrived on the scene in 1959 and completed his 45th year in 2003, providing colorful play-by-play accounts which have expanded the interest and listenership in that market to record numbers. His longtime partner, Rene Cardenas, of Nicaragua, who helped to establish Dodger games on KWKW Radio in 1958, was Jarrin’s sidekick in the booth for 21 years, serving two tours of duty after leaving the club to formulate the Houston Astros’ Spanish radio network and then returning to L.A. in 1982. In 1977, O’Malley chose popular local KNBC sportscaster Ross Porter to join the Dodger broadcast team. Porter completed 28 seasons with the Dodgers. By winning the Ford C. Frick Award, Scully was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1982, Canel posthumously in 1985 and Jarrin received the same honors in 1998. Three Hall of Famers in the broadcast booth and many more on the field, became hallmarks of the O’Malley era.
In 1965, O’Malley’s coaches included an African-American, Jim Gilliam, and a Cuban, Preston Gomez. Later, the popular and talented Gilliam would have his uniform number 19 retired by the Dodgers, the only non-Hall of Famer to have received that prestigious honor. Gomez later became a major league manager and scout. When O’Malley’s African-American players were precluded from playing golf in Florida during spring training, he built a nine-hole golf course, the first public course in Vero Beach, on Dodgertown property with equal rights for all. The African-American players were appreciative of O’Malley’s foresight in further breaking down barriers. In 1950, O’Malley was quoted as saying, “People are waking up...prejudices have no place in our society — and certainly not in sports.”The Old Scout column, “Dodger Still Seek Negroes,” October 30, 1950
In 1971, O’Malley expanded his golf interests on Dodgertown property by building the Dodger Pines Country Club, featuring an 18-hole course with a rare par-6 hole which was nearly 667 yards long. “I designed this course myself, from start to finish. I may have made a few mistakes, but this par six wasn’t one of them. I wanted to do something that would make people talk about this course. I wanted a conversation piece. That’s why I went the par six route.”Denis McCarthy, Indian River magazine, “Walter O’Malley’s Golf Musings”, June/July 1976 As a competitive golfer, O’Malley enjoyed getting a group of Dodgers and executives together and relaxing on the links after the baseball work day was done.
A bright, young gentleman and scholar from Waseda University in Japan came with résumé in hand and approached the Dodgers about working for them. In 1965, O’Malley hired Ike Ikuhara and initially sent him to Spokane, WA to help his son Peter, who was President and General Manager of the Pacific Coast League club. Ikuhara had a thirst for knowledge and O’Malley asked him to learn about the entire organization. He established a broad knowledge of baseball, working in various Dodger departments, including minor leagues, scouting, accounting, ticketing, concessions and public relations. Ikuhara became the liaison for the Dodgers during numerous international visits by the Tokyo Giants in 1967, 1971 and 1975. The goodwill ambassador of the Dodgers, Ikuhara represented O’Malley on many international trips and was an integral reason for the success of such outreach with his many contacts. He wrote two books published in Japan, “A Real Pro — Becoming a Major Leaguer” and “Dodger Way — A Winning Tradition.” Ikuhara was named Assistant to Dodger President Peter O’Malley in January 1982. Ten years after he passed away at 55 in 1992, Ikuhara was inducted into the Baseball Museum and Hall of Fame in Tokyo in summer of 2002.
The Dodgers were once again the toast of the town in 1965, as a little known player at the time, “Sweet” Lou Johnson filled in with great success when two-time National League Batting Champion Tommy Davis broke his ankle and was out for the season. Catalyst Johnson went on a tear and, with the outstanding quality pitching that Dodger teams were known for in that era, they won the N.L. Pennant by two games. Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale combined to win 49 of the Dodgers’ 97 victories during the regular season. The Dodgers rolled to their third World Championship in seven seasons in Los Angeles, defeating the Minnesota Twins, four games to three, in a seven-game World Series. However, Koufax and Drysdale had a big surprise awaiting boss O’Malley to begin the 1966 season.
Taking time out of his work schedule to relax a little, O’Malley was asked to play a bit part on an episode of the popular “Branded” TV series, starring former Dodger player Chuck Connors. O’Malley played a doctor, Doc Woods (the same name as the actual Dodger team doctor) on the episode, “Bar Sinister,” which first aired on October 10, 1965. O’Malley had invited actor Connors to recite “Casey at the Bat” at the Bohemian Grove to entertain some friends. Connors said he would do it, but only if O’Malley would play a part in the western show. O’Malley was paid $300 for his time, but donated the check to the Motion Picture Relief Fund. O’Malley joked of his two-minute appearance, “That’s just the figure I signed Connors for in ’49. Three hundred dollars a month.”
Also in October of 1965, O’Malley and California Angels’ President Robert O. Reynolds proposed sweeping changes for the Office of the Commissioner, including the establishment of front office staff positions — administrator, deputy commissioner for player affairs, secretary for broadcasting, secretary for public information and secretary for amateur baseball. It was a joint proposal to other ownership, in which O’Malley and Reynolds saw the need for expanding and centralizing the Commissioner’s office duties and responsibilities to grow the game. They wrote, “This program should enhance the dignity of the office of the Commissioner, and free him to use more of his time as the public symbol of Baseball. His age and the term of office would not be the important factor it otherwise would be — as we would have a competent staff capable of serving in an emergency.”
The two aces of the Dodger pitching staff, Koufax and Drysdale decided to do something that had never been done before — to negotiate their contracts in tandem in the final week of February 1966. They wanted significant salary increases at a time when the average salary was about $30,000 and the minimum was $6,000. The mound men even hired prominent entertainment attorney J. William Hayes to represent them in the sometimes bitter negotiations standoff. O’Malley knew the serious nature of the negotiations, which he normally would rely on Executive Vice President and General Manager Buzzie Bavasi to resolve.
But, as time passed and the inflexible hurlers made it clear that they would just sit out and wait, that got the attention of O’Malley. He believed that the worst thing to do from a marketing standpoint was to bang the product. In the wacky world of the business of baseball, the product is the players. Thus, he could not very well bash the pitchers and then promote them, asking fans to come and spend money to watch them play. He had to take a smarter and higher road.
“No two players, before or since, negotiated jointly,”Bob Hunter, Daily News, June 29, 1984 (First of three-part series) said Hayes in a 1984 interview recalling the double holdout, after asking the Dodgers for $1 million to sign the pair for three years.
Hayes drew upon the illegality of a personal-service contract in the movie business and applied the precedent in New York and California to sports. He told O’Malley, “We have an excellent chance to negate their contracts. If you want to test their validity in court, you will lose.”Bob Hunter, Daily News, June 30, 1984 (Second of three-part series)
Not wanting the negative publicity of a court fight, O’Malley met with knowledgeable friend and studio producer Mervyn LeRoy, as well as Dodger-turned-actor Connors to find out if there was a way of bringing this stalemate to a conclusion.
O’Malley acknowledged the tactic of united negotiations when he jokingly said, “The boys are showing some nice strategy coming in together. Charlie (Dressen) came alone...They are entitled to everything they can get out of Buzzie Bavasi. Their only problem is what Buzzie can get out of me.”Melvin Durslag, Los Angeles Herald-Examiner, March 12, 1966
Finally, after some marathon negotiations, the players agreed on March 30 to be compensated $125,000 for Koufax and $110,000 for Drysdale, making the duo the highest paid pitchers in baseball history at that time. It was a financial hit for O’Malley to agree to, but he also realized the talent-level of the pitchers was extraordinary and key to winning the 1966 N.L. Pennant. That is exactly what happened, as the two reported at the tail-end of spring training, as the team had already left its Dodgertown headquarters in Vero Beach and moved to Arizona for exhibition games. While their Dodger teammates embraced them with open arms after the holdout, the pair rounded into shape during the early part of the regular season. While Drysdale worked out at Van Nuys High School, his alma mater, Koufax had not even picked up a baseball since his Cy Young Award-winning 1965 season.
The 1966 Dodgers were a fine bunch of players, including such notable stars as Maury Wills, Wes Parker, Ron Fairly, Willie Davis, Tommy Davis, Jim Lefebvre, John Roseboro, Claude Osteen, Phil Regan and Perranoski. Koufax set an L.A.-record with 27 wins in 1966 and earned his third Cy Young Award. The Dodgers won 95 games and finished one and one-half games ahead to win their fourth N.L. Pennant since moving to Los Angeles. However, the pitching strong Baltimore Orioles overpowered the Dodgers in the 1966 World Series, sweeping them in four games and limiting them to just two total runs scored.
O’Malley realized that running a sports organization takes significant talent and personnel. Although his staff was not large by today’s standards, O’Malley felt that the best way to develop and prepare individuals to work in the business side of sports was to teach them. He had discussed this with his friend, Dr. James Mason and others in 1957. At that time, Dr. Mason was at the University of Florida, Coral Gables. By 1966, Dr. Mason had moved to Ohio University when he established the first degree-granting curriculum for sports administration. O’Malley has long been recognized for his foresight in this area, as thousands of students have graduated from this and other schools in sports administration programs, enabling them to move into the world of professional and collegiate teams with the background and tools necessary to succeed, instead of on-the-job training. In the dedication of his book, “Modern Sports Administration,” Dr. Mason wrote, “This book is dedicated to Walter O’Malley...whose creativity, vision, and foresight advanced the idea that sports administrators need academic preparation.”“Modern Sports Administration” by Dr. James G. Mason and Jim Paul, Prentice Hall, copyright 1988
To O’Malley, an employee’s ability to give his all and to do his job properly were the important factors in hiring. Ability also led to stability, a hallmark of O’Malley’s Dodger organization. O’Malley had just two managers, Hall of Famers Alston and Tommy Lasorda, from 1954-79. He had three General Managers — Buzzie Bavasi, Fresco Thompson and Al Campanis — during that period, as well. And only two farm directors, Thompson and William P. Schweppe and two scouting directors, Campanis and Ben Wade. In other words, loyalty, dedication and hard work meant something. O’Malley did not make changes with the manager, even when pressured to by outside sources, because it was his opinion that, if the team did not compete successfully, it was an entire organizational breakdown and the blame should not be shouldered by the manager alone.
O’Malley could not run a large organization like the Dodgers without the backbone of workers and a total team effort. He was blessed to have hired some of the most knowledge individuals in their respective fields. Behind-the-scenes names like Thompson, Bavasi, Campanis, Schweppe and Dick Walsh, plus top-notch scouts and coaches like Bert Wells, John Carey, Steve Lembo, Arthur Dede and Johnny Corriden helped to take on challenges and shape the Dodgers into winners on and off the field. An appreciative O’Malley thanked them for their input and for pulling together. Many dedicated scouts, coaches and minor league managers also had 20 to 30 years of service time working for the Dodgers. The Dodgers finished either first or second place in 12 of 19 seasons that he was at the helm (1951-69), including eight N.L. Pennants in 1952, 1953, 1955, 1956, 1959, 1963, 1965 and 1966. The Dodgers won World Championships in 1955, 1959, 1963 and 1965 under O’Malley. While serving as Chairman of the Board, the Dodgers won three more N.L. Pennants. No N.L. team won more games, more pennants or more World Series, or drew more fans than O’Malley’s Dodgers.
The fans were a large part of his concern on a daily basis. He read letters from them, talked to them both at Dodger Stadium and elsewhere to feel the pulse of how his organization was being run and accepted. O’Malley sent regular year-round communications to his season, group and individual mail-order ticket purchasers, including the popular Line Drives newsletter. He also held the line on ticket prices, making Dodger baseball affordable to families, which he always encouraged to attend games. For 18 seasons, the Dodger ticket prices remained unchanged in Los Angeles. The Dodgers set records for attendance, breaking the Major League record in 1962 with 2,755,184. The Milwaukee Braves had gone over the two million barrier for four straight seasons in their new ballpark from 1954-57, after moving from Boston in 1953. The Dodgers would become the first Major League Baseball team to top the three million mark in attendance in 1978.
Growing the Game Internationally
The Dodgers made a return trip to Japan for a goodwill tour beginning with their arrival on October 20, following the four-game sweep at the hands of the Baltimore Orioles in the 1966 World Series. It was hailed as another successful trip for international relations, as Japanese fans flocked to the ballparks to watch the much-heralded and respected Dodgers, although they wound up with a 9-8-1 record on the barnstorming tour. O’Malley received the high honor for a non-Japanese, the Order of the Sacred Treasure Gold Rays with Neck Ribbon award, for promoting better relations with Japan through baseball. The presentation ceremony for O’Malley was held on November 15, 1966 at the Prime Minister’s Office in Tokyo as he was decorated by Kiyosi Mori, director general for Prime Minister Eisaku Sato.
On the trip, Dodger shortstop Maury Wills told O’Malley that he needed to fly home for treatment of a knee injury. However, O’Malley later learned that Wills had gone to Hawaii and was playing the banjo in a well-known nightclub and had not returned to Los Angeles. Wills was subsequently traded by the Dodgers, but would later return to play for them in 1969-72.
The Dodgers’ international involvement was widespread, as the team staffed nearly entire teams in the Winter Leagues in the Dominican Republic, Cuba and Puerto Rico, sent scouts to search for talent around the globe and conducted educational exchanges. They invited representatives from many countries to study and learn about coaching and training techniques at Dodgertown. As early as 1964, the Dodgers made a trip to Mexico City to play exhibition games against the Red Devils. Mexico’s President Adolfo Lopez Mateos was in attendance and tossed the ceremonial first pitch. O’Malley had developed and maintained excellent relations with countless Japanese baseball officials, including professional baseball founder Mr. Matsutaro Shoriki, his son Toru, Sotaro Suzuki, all-time home run leader Sadaharu Oh and Tokyo Giants’ Managers Shigera Mizuhara and Shigeo Nagashima.
In 1951, a 23-year-old fan named Alistair Forbes from Aberdeen, Scotland wrote O’Malley a letter asking for an autographed Dodger Yearbook. The Dodgers sent him a book of rules and a baseball cap. The grain store employee wrote another letter in 1952 for a yearbook. While many team presidents would gladly oblige, O’Malley took the request to a completely new level, realizing he had a true fan in Forbes, who used to listen to broadcasts in Europe via Armed Forces Network. O’Malley flew Forbes from Scotland to New York so he could personally get the autographs he sought and be the club’s guest for a week’s worth of games at Ebbets Field.Murray Robinson, New York World-Telegram, June 9, 1952; Milton Gross, The Artful O’Malley and the Dodgers, True, May 1954
Following the 1966 season, Koufax announced at a press conference that he was retiring from baseball due to an arthritic elbow. That was the first blow to the success of the Dodgers in the late 1960s and it would take them a while to recover. However, with the most successful first-year player draft ever in 1968, it wouldn’t be long until the Dodgers rebounded with some fresh, young talent that emerged as pennant contenders in the early 1970s. The 1968 draft included Steve Garvey, Ron Cey, Davey Lopes, Joe Ferguson, Bill Buckner, Bobby Valentine, Tom Paciorek and Geoff Zahn, among others.
Campanis, who had been Dodger Director of Scouting for many years, was named Vice President, Player Personnel in December 1968, a position he would hold until 1987. During that time, the Dodgers would win six N.L. Western Division titles, four N.L. Pennants (1974, 1977, 1978 and 1981) and a World Championship in 1981.
Grooming his only son as his ultimate replacement for the presidency of the Dodgers, O’Malley took Peter under his wing and taught him every facet of the baseball business, including as a camp counselor for the Dodgertown Camp For Boys in its initial year of 1954. He later was named as Director of Dodgertown in Vero Beach, FL, General Manager of the Spokane Indians Triple-A team and Dodger Director of Stadium Operations. Through these valuable learning experiences, plus his own outstanding education at the University of Pennsylvania, Peter O’Malley emerged not just from his father’s footsteps, but as a true leader and innovator in his own right. He did more for the development of baseball on a global scale than any other team owner, building fields, arranging for goodwill exchanges of teams, coaches and officials in Asia, Mexico, South America, Australia and Europe. Peter O’Malley continued to guide the Dodgers in a first-class manner, as his father did before him, and one recognized and honored for excellence in business.
Moving to Chairman of the Board
On March 17, 1970, 32-year-old Peter succeeded him as Dodger President and the elder statesman moved gracefully to the background as Chairman of the Board. It was an important move that would set the tone for the organization for many years to come and strengthen the Dodgers’ family atmosphere as the sceptre was symbolically passed. Peter, though free to run the day-to-day business, still had his father’s voice and opinions to lean on for more than nine years.
In preparing Peter to succeed him as Dodger President, O’Malley remarked, “He’s been given difficult jobs deliberately. If you want to make silver strong you beat it with a hammer.”Akron Beacon-Journal, August 10, 1979
The younger O’Malley made his father most proud and achieved a tremendous amount on the international scene. Although O’Malley never saw it to fruition, Peter gave baseball impetus to become a gold medal sport in the Olympics by arranging and hosting an eight-team 1984 exhibition tournament at Dodger Stadium before sellout crowds.
In 1972, O’Malley advanced Dodgertown to new heights, constructing state-of-the-art villas to replace the old Naval barracks, which were eventually torn down. In addition, improvements at the spring training home included a new 23,000-square foot building housing clubhouses, dining room, medical offices, working press room, radio studio, photo darkroom and equipment storage areas in 1974.
O’Malley, an avid reader of light and heavier books and a renowned poker player, was always one to have a good time. The jovial O’Malley knew all of his employees by name and would frequently walk up and down the halls of the executive offices at Dodger Stadium making small talk and greeting them with a smile or a joke.
His St. Patrick’s Day parties at Dodgertown were legendary. They were jammed-packed with entertainment, food and drink (corned beef and cabbage and green beer), plus a sketch or two put on by employees of the ballclub. At one such memorable evening, Messers Campanis, Patterson and Lasorda went “on stage” dressed with large barrels around their waists and danced to the Irish music. It was a time for laughter and frivolity, but always presented in the manner that Walter O’Malley did everything — first class. Umpires, league presidents, Players’ Union Chief Marvin Miller, former players and even the Baseball Commissioner himself were guests at the famed O’Malley St. Patrick’s Day shindigs. No one would have missed it for the world. O’Malley knew how to throw one terrific party and acted as the perfect host! But, surrounded by his many friends and family, the man who undoubtedly enjoyed the wing-dings the most was O’Malley himself. The true gentleman was most proud of his Irish heritage and had a famous saying that has been repeated in many articles about him. O’Malley was fond of kidding, “Half the lies they tell about the Irish aren’t true!”
O’Malley also used to take the players’ wives and special invited VIP guests on exotic excursions from Dodgertown. He would fly a whole group to the Bahamas, Puerto Rico and Mexico City for magical fun, picking up the entire tab, of course. Big-hearted and family-oriented, these delightful annual junkets were highlights that Dodger family members talk about to this day.
The Last Inning
In 1978, O’Malley was the first recipient of the equivalent of the Most Valuable Player award for baseball. He was named winner of the August A. Busch, Jr. Award for “meritorious service to baseball” as voted by a committee from baseball, the National League, the St. Louis Cardinals’ board of directors and a member of the Busch family. Busch himself was owner of the Cardinals and established the honor in 1978 to be awarded to “an individual involved with baseball in a non-playing capacity, and has the stature, on the front office level, the Most Valuable Player award has on the playing field.” The handsome silver trophy was designed by Tiffany and Co. and was presented at Grant’s Farm to a grateful O’Malley.
The Dodgers made World Series appearances again in 1974, 1977 and 1978. In 1979, the Dodgers signed a young left-handed pitcher who would enthrall the hearts and minds of their fans in a magical 1981 World Championship season. For years, O’Malley had asked his scouts to find a Mexican player to appeal to the ever-growing Hispanic fan base in Los Angeles. When it finally happened, they certainly got more than they realized as Fernando Valenzuela, from a tiny village in Mexico, became a larger than life hero in Los Angeles, the United States and in his home country. Unfortunately, O’Malley would never see the results of this diamond in the rough. Also in June 1979, the Dodgers scouted and signed another fine young pitcher by the name of Orel Hershiser, who would, years later, make headlines for his heroics on the mound and for guiding the team to the 1988 World Championship.
In the years in which he worked about four hours a day as Chairman of the Board at Dodger Stadium, O’Malley continued to enjoy the love of his expanded family. Daughter Terry had married native Californian Roland Seidler, Jr. at St. Therese Church, Alhambra in October of 1958 and the couple gave Kay and Walter their first grandchild when John was born in 1959. Son Peter was married on July 10, 1971 to Annette Zacho in St. Ansgar’s Church in Copenhagen, Denmark and their first child Katherine was born in 1972. By 1975, the O’Malley’s had 12 grandchildren, seven boys and five girls with whom he would spend time either at home in the Hancock Park area of Los Angeles or at Lake Arrowhead. Birthday parties and family gatherings were a regular part of his routine and he and Kay loved every minute of it.
On July 12, 1979, the First Lady of the Dodgers, Kay Hanson O’Malley passed away in Los Angeles. The compassionate and loyal Dodger fan had seen so much in her time as her husband rode the elevator from student and sports enthusiast to powerful baseball executive. She had achieved a great deal herself, as a loving and dedicated wife, mother and grandmother, community volunteer, recognition as Los Angeles Times’ Woman of the Year in 1971 and the ability to continue on and not let her impairment ever stop her from living a full and exciting life. To honor Kay and her affection for the organization, the Dodgers named two team-owned airplanes used for transporting the players for her — the Kay O’, a 1962 Lockheed Electra and the Kay O’II, a 1971 Boeing 720-B Fan Jet.
A mere 28 days later, Walter O’Malley followed the great love of his life, passing away at the age of 75 at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN. He was buried alongside Kay, his wife of 47 years, at the family grave site at Holy Cross Cemetery in Los Angeles.
Recognition and sympathy poured in from throughout the country and around the world in honor of O’Malley. In Japan, the Tokyo Giants held a moment of silence and “prayed for the repose of O’Malley’s soul” prior to a game with the Taiyo Whales. The Dodgers and their fans mourned and held a moment of silence, with the flags at the house that he built, Dodger Stadium, flying at half mast in his honor. Tributes and kind words were written and spoken by countless friends, colleagues, fans and media members.
Former Los Angeles Times syndicated columnist Jim Murray wrote: “O’Malley belongs in the Hall of Fame as surely as Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb and certainly Judge Landis. He made more people rich, quicker than the gold strike of the 49ers who beat him west by only a century. Ted Williams might have had the vision to see a ball curving 60 feet ahead, but Walter O’Malley had the vision to see three decades ahead.
“...can anyone deny that what Walter O’Malley did served baseball — if not, indeed, saved baseball? There are now — count ‘em — six major league franchises on the West Coast and two in Texas, where there were none before. O’Malley built a Taj Mahal of a ballpark, setting the tone for subsequent edifices. He brought the game kicking and screaming into the 20th Century.”Jim Murray, Column, Sports, Los Angeles Times, August 10, 1979
And so it was, that O’Malley dined with world leaders, was honored by Pope Paul VI, received the B’nai B’rith “Man of the Year” award, the George Washington Carver Supreme Award of Merit for “contributions to sports, better race relations and human welfare” and the Silver Beaver Medal from his beloved Boy Scouts. A not-so-complicated man, this New Yorker named Walter O’Malley, who loved life and his family, a wide circle of friends, cooking for everyone, a good game of poker with the boys, an even better cigar, cultivating orchids in his greenhouse and most of all, baseball.
Pioneer, visionary, leader, sportsman, family man. The eclectic O’Malley touched all the bases in a fulfilling and successful career.
O’Malley once said, “I’ve had a marvelously interesting life. I don’t know what there is that I missed.”Penelope McMillan, The Boston Globe, Sports Plus, July 28, 1978
And no one would dare disagree with that.