Spring’s Eternal at Dodgertown

The Sporting News list of 100 Most Powerful People in Sports for the 20th Century, December 1999

  1. Pete Rozelle
  2. Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis
  3. Roone Arledge
  4. Branch Rickey
  5. Marvin Miller
  6. David Stern
  7. Rupert Murdoch
  8. Avery Brundage
  9. Ban Johnson
  10. Muhammad Ali
  11. Walter O’Malley
  12. Steve Borstein
  13. Phil Knight
  14. George Halas
  15. Babe Ruth
  16. Walter Byers
  17. Lamar Hunt
  18. Ted Turner
  19. Paul Brown
  20. Michael Jordan
  21. Jackie Robinson
  22. Pierre De Coubertin
  23. Juan Antonio Samaranch
  24. Donald Fehr
  25. Tex Rickard
  26. Roy Hofheinz
  27. Horst Dassler
  28. Red Auerbach
  29. Bill France Sr.
  30. Arnold Palmer
  31. Al Davis
  32. Birch Bayh
  33. Billie Jean King
  34. Paul Tagliabue
  35. Charlie Finley
  36. Clarence Campbell
  37. George Steinbrenner
  38. Peter Ueberroth
  39. Bert Bell
  40. Jacob Ruppert
  41. Dick Ebersol
  42. Mark McCormack
  43. Al Neuharth
  44. Tex Schramm
  45. Bill Veeck
  46. Arthur Ashe
  47. Howard Cosell
  48. Fathers Theodore Hesburgh and William Beauchamp
  49. Don King
  50. Connie Mack
  1. David Falk
  2. John Wooden
  3. Andre Laguerre
  4. August Busch Jr.
  5. Peter Seitz
  6. Roger Penske
  7. Wilt Chamberlain
  8. Jack Nicklaus
  9. Bill France Jr.
  10. Bowie Kuhn
  11. George Preston Marshall
  12. Ed Barrow
  13. Abe Saperstein
  14. John McGraw
  15. Larry MacPhail
  16. Dick Schultz
  17. Gary Bettman
  18. Adolph Rupp
  19. Walter Brown
  20. Jesse Owens
  21. Deane Beman
  22. Phog Allen
  23. Wellington Mara
  24. Charles Comiskey
  25. Eddie Robinson
  26. Knute Rockne
  27. Arch Ward
  28. Jerry Jones
  29. Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.
  30. Bobby Orr
  31. Art Rooney
  32. Alan Eagleson
  33. Pele
  34. Bud Selig
  35. Tommie Smith and John Carlos
  36. Pat Summit
  37. Laurence Tisch
  38. Bobby Jones
  39. Tiger Woods
  40. Leigh Steinberg
  41. Henry Iba
  42. Bill Bowerman
  43. Anatoli Tarasov
  44. Albert “Happy” Chandler
  45. “The Voices of Baseball” — Mel Allen, Red Barber, Vin Scully, Harry Caray, Jack Buck, Ernie Harwell,Bob Prince, Etc.
  46. Sonny Werblin
  47. Ed and Steve Sabol
  48. J.G. Taylor Spink and C.C. Johnson Spink
  49. Wayne Gretzky
  50. 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

  1. Branch Rickey
  2. Pete Rozelle
  3. Roone Arledge
  4. Marvin Miller
  5. Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis
  6. David Stern
  7. Avery Brundage
  8. Walter O’Malley
  9. George Halas
  10. Mark McCormack

Attendance 1953-1957 Brooklyn Dodgers vs. Milwaukee Braves

Attendance 1953-1957 Brooklyn Dodgers vs. Milwaukee Braves

O’Malley, who played the perfect host, held a “happy hour” every night before dinner with his wife Kay and then, after dinner, would enjoy playing poker. He also improved conditions in the barracks by adding siding for insulation. Many nights were down to freezing in 1951.Joe Hendrickson, Dodgertown

A headline in The Sporting News in 1951 pronounced, “Bums Go From Rags to Riches at Camp,” as Dodgertown was upgraded under the leadership of O’Malley.Ibid. On March 18, 1951, Vero Beach residents rejoiced over the dedication of the new $800,000 Merrill Barber Bridge, spanning the Indian River.

O’Malley had a whirlwind first season in 1951, one that established his role within the game as a full-time owner and not as a hobbyist like so many of his peers, as he was named to the important Major League Baseball Executive Council. The 1951 season, however, ended as one of the most painful to Dodger fans, as the New York Giants beat Brooklyn in a three-game playoff series to determine the National League Pennant-winner, two games to one. The famous “Shot Heard ‘Round the World” by Bobby Thomson did the Dodgers in and it was once again “Wait ‘Til Next Year.”

O’Malley, though, did not like waiting until next year at any time. Not when he could get something done in the current year. While the search continued for a new home in Brooklyn to remedy Ebbets Field, which opened in 1913, the idea of building a new spring training home stadium very much appealed to O’Malley. Previously, the Dodgers had to split time in Vero Beach and in Miami, about three hours south. O’Malley was going to use Vero Beach not only as a training ground for ballplayers, but for one of his fine architects.

O’Malley’s idea was to use the ballpark as a sort of tryout for Capt. Praeger to design a stadium with unobstructed field views at reasonable costs. Of course, O’Malley had a much grander plan for Brooklyn in mind — a 50,000-seat domed stadium — but the Vero Beach job was just as important to him on a smaller scale. He would learn more about the process of building his own stadium, the pitfalls, the expenses (both known and unforeseen) and the timeline for construction. The type of construction first implemented at Dodgertown would be a precursor to that used by O’Malley years later in Los Angeles. As a fan of the nice, quiet Vero Beach community, O’Malley believed that a long-term relationship with the city would be just right. In fact, it was an area where distractions were kept to an absolute minimum and that suited O’Malley and staff perfectly. If they were fortunate, the players were entertained by walking from the base to the city’s only movie theatre downtown and back. But, he did not want the transient Dodgers to cause any trouble for the community in the two months of training camp.

According to the March 13, 1952 Vero Beach Press Journal, “President O’Malley has consistently stated that he has faith in the future growth of Vero Beach and the surrounding area. He feels that, in the future, Vero Beach and the surrounding area, will be in a position to support a larger exhibition schedule. If a large number of fans turn out and indicate that they want to see big league ball played in Vero Beach, Mr. O’Malley has assured them that they will get it.”

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  • Walter O’Malley stands in front of the Dodgertown complex. His on-going desire to make improvements to the spring training site raised baseball’s standard to a new level.Walter O’Malley stands in front of the Dodgertown complex. His on-going desire to make improvements to the spring training site raised baseball’s standard to a new level.
  • A 1951 headline in <em>The Sporting News</em> shows Dodger President O’Malley’s immediate impact on Dodgertown.A 1951 headline in The Sporting News shows Dodger President O’Malley’s immediate impact on Dodgertown.
  • A fan of the game, Walter O’Malley sits behind home plate and observes the activities.A fan of the game, Walter O’Malley sits behind home plate and observes the activities.