Dodgertown Historic Timeline
Walter O’Malley is named Dodger President on October 26. O’Malley joined the Dodgers as Vice President and General Counsel in 1943 and became an owner of the team in 1944.
A headline in The Sporting News in Spring Training 1951 pronounced, “Bums Go From Rags to Riches at Camp, Cafeteria Line Gives Way to DeLuxe Dining Service” as Dodgertown was upgraded under the leadership of O’Malley. The story explains that he hired Harry M. Stevens to run dining operations and provided linen tablecloths for Dodger major leaguers, executives and the press. “The largest clientele at the new country club dining room of the Dodgers has been 100 persons, yet the menu provided, with all the trimmings, would honor a first-class restaurant serving ten times as many.”Joe King, The Sporting News, March 7, 1951
Paying tribute to his deep-seated Irish roots which go back to County Mayo on his paternal great-grandfather’s side, Walter O’Malley holds the first Dodger St. Patrick’s Day party in Miami. The annual event shifts to Vero Beach the next year in the Hall of Tara, McKee Jungle Gardens. The St. Patrick’s Day celebrations became legendary.
On March 18, Vero Beach residents rejoice over the dedication of the new $800,000 Merrill Barber Bridge, spanning the Indian River.
In January, O’Malley and the Dodgers sign a new 21-year lease agreement with the City of Vero Beach for the Dodgertown property at $1 a year, with the ability to renew for an additional 21-year period. O’Malley pays the $21 in cash! The Dodgers are obligated to maintain and staff the facility and spend at least 15 days a year in Vero each spring. A certain number of exhibition games must be played there, with the revenue from one game designated for the Vero Beach Airport Fund. The lease receives unanimous approval by the City Council. Julie Autumn Luster, 2002 Dodgers Spring Training Yearbook, “Holman Celebrates Half a Century”
On March 7, O’Malley announces at a Miami press conference that there is “a strong possibility that the Brooklyn Dodgers will build the proposed new 5,000-seat stadium in Vero Beach.” Bob Curzon, Vero Beach Press-Journal, Sports, March 13, 1952 It was announced that renowned engineer Naval Capt. Emil Praeger had spent several days in Vero and submitted construction cost estimates.
From 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.” Vero Beach Press-Journal, March 13, 1952
Walter O’Malley hosts the first Dodger St. Patrick’s Day party in Vero Beach at the famed tourist destination McKee Jungle Gardens in the “Hall of Tara.” Roscoe McGowen wrote about the party in The Sporting News, “Everything was green — there wasn’t a chance of getting an orange juice — including the draft beer and the ice cubes. The O’Malley had special labels on the bottles of Irish cheer, which was called ‘Old O’Malley,’ a whiskey which will be 12 years old in 1964.
“Among those present was Edmund Boots, executive vice president of U.S. Steel, who was listed as Eddie Boots in a quartet called ‘The Mayo Minstrels.’ The other three were Gerald Cleary, who operates the Sea Breeze and Orange Terrace here; Ralph Galvin, proprietor of a swanky hostelry called Shadow Lawn and Harry Kurzon, real estate and insurance man here. These fellows can sing.
“Mrs. John Smith, stockholder in the Dodgers, was present, and two National League umpires, Larry Goetz and Jocko Conlan, joined in the fun. Conlan, one of the highest Irish tenors around set one of the high spots of the evening when he sang a love song to Kay O’Malley, while Greg Mulleavy, a normally quiet and soft-spoken fellow who is a scout, wielded a shillelagh and directed proceedings with a constant stream of brogue-tinged orders.” Roscoe McGowen, The Sporting News, March 26, 1952
The Dodger Board of Directors authorizes the construction of a stadium in Vero Beach on June 10, 1952, noting “FURTHER RESOLVED that this Board of Directors thank the City Council of Vero Beach for their cooperation in making the building of the new stadium in Vero Beach possible.” Minutes, Brooklyn Dodger Board of Directors, June 10, 1952
On July 16, Walter O’Malley awards a contract for the construction of a stadium to H.J. Osborne. Capt. Praeger and O’Malley designed the symmetrical ballpark. Osborne had 90 days to complete the “grading, concrete, fill work, ramps and fence.” Vero Beach Press-Journal, July 17, 1952 Construction carried on throughout the course of the fall. Contracts were awarded for various parts of the stadium construction, including seats, press box, lights and refreshment stands, lowering costs and expediting the process. Local contractor C.R. Cruze handled the contract to build dressing rooms, public toilets and press box. Jesse Swords was low bidder on the land preparation work, while Osborne handled the concrete work. Originally, O’Malley decided on a 4,200-seat stadium, but later announced the total capacity had been expanded to 5,000.
On January 15, Walter O’Malley makes public his intent in the Press Journal that the new stadium will be named for Bud L. Holman, a prominent Vero Beach resident and the man responsible for attracting the Dodgers to the city to utilize the former U.S. Naval Air Station. “The entire Dodger organization was deeply appreciative of the fine co-operation received from the citizens and officials of Vero Beach and felt that it was highly appropriate that the stadium be named for one of its citizens — a man who had devoted much of his time and effort towards making Dodgertown possible. Holman Stadium at Dodgertown stands as a tribute to the man who brought to Vero Beach one of the biggest attractions and businesses in the United States.” Bill Boeding, Vero Beach Press Journal, February 27, 1993
When Holman Stadium opened, the ballpark had more seats (5,000) than Vero Beach had people.
The dedication of the new ballpark, O’Malley’s pride and joy, was on Wednesday, March 11, 1953. In preparation for the big day, the Vero Beach Press Journal reported that “we spied an extra workman among the ground crew working on the infield the other day. The fellow was busy raking the soil part of the new infield. He looked familiar to us and he rightly should...He was Walter F. O’Malley, president of the Dodgers.” Bob Curzon, The Dodger Bullpen, Vero Beach Press-Journal, March 12, 1953
Holman Stadium is dedicated on March 11 before an overflow crowd of 5,532. Fifty Royal Palm trees, given as a gift from Dodger part-owner Mary Louise Smith, were placed around the perimeter of Holman Stadium, adding a unique touch and hallmark for the stadium. Frank McGrath, Fall River, Mass., Herald News Sports, March 19, 1954 The Royal Palm trees remained until the Christmas freeze of 1989. In the process of building Holman Stadium, O’Malley designed a heart-shaped lake (stocked with fish) to honor the love of his life, his wife Kay. The lake was formed by excavation, which in turn formed the seating bowl and banks of Holman Stadium.
The Dodgers defeat the Philadelphia Athletics, 4-2, in the dedication game of Holman Stadium. The 1:30 p.m. dedication ceremonies began a little late but included a concert by the Vero Beach School Band; Merrill P. Barber, the President of the Indian River County Citrus Bank as the emcee for the official festivities; and an invocation by Rev. Fr. Patrick D. O’Brien of St. Helen’s Catholic Church in Vero. Distinguished guests included Florida Secretary of State Robert A. Gray, representing long-time Governor Daniel McCarty, who had suffered a disabling heart attack only two weeks prior, politicians from Vero, Ft. Pierce and Stuart, the Commissioner of Baseball Ford C. Frick, the President of the National League Warren C. Giles and the President of the American League William Harridge. The festivities were carried live on radio.
Walter O’Malley made several key introductions and gave the dedication message and followed that with the unveiling of a plaque for the stadium which read, “The Brooklyn Dodgers Dedicate Holman Stadium to Honor Bud L. Holman of the Friendly City of Vero Beach, Walter F. O’Malley, President, Emil H. Praeger, C.E., Designer, 1953.”
M.M. “Jack” Frost, Vice President of Eastern Air Lines, stood in for Captain Eddie Rickenbacker, President of Eastern Air Lines, and unveiled the plaque with O’Malley. Holman briefly responded to the honor and that was followed by a prayer from Rev. Ed Gabler of the Trinity Episcopal Church, flag raising ceremonies by the color guard from Felix Poppell Post, American Legion and the national anthem by the band.
The Athletics, with their President Connie Mack in attendance, scored the first run in the top of the first inning, but Brooklyn bounced back with three runs in the bottom of the first. Right-handed pitcher Carl Erskine allowed just one run and four hits as the starter for the Dodgers, while center fielder Duke Snider drove in two runs in a three-run first inning for Brooklyn.
The business of baseball interfered with Walter O’Malley’s grand opening of Holman Stadium. According to the Vero Beach Press Journal on March 26, 1953, “It was at the dedication game that Lou Perini, owner of the Boston Braves found Ford Frick, Warren Giles, Will Harridge and Walter F. O’Malley, all members of baseball’s executive committee (and they met). It now can be told. The five men missed the Athletics-Dodgers game. They left the stadium after the dedication ceremonies and held a meeting. Their discussion on Wednesday afternoon, March 11, laid the groundwork for the moving of the Braves from Boston to Milwaukee.” Bob Curzon, Vero Beach Press-Journal, March 26, 1953
The Dodgers purchase 2,260 portable metal seats used at New York’s Polo Grounds, home of the National League’s New York Giants and send them to Dodgertown’s Holman Stadium. O’Malley paid Giants’ owner Horace Stoneham one dollar per seat.
Walter O’Malley builds a small nine-hole, pitch-and-putt golf course around the heart-shaped lake for players to use for recreational purposes. African-American players were not permitted to play golf at the private courses outside of Dodgertown, so O’Malley made it a point to build his own course.
Walter Alston makes his debut at Dodgertown as the skipper of the Dodgers. It would be the first of 23 Spring Trainings with the mild-mannered Alston at the helm – a successful path that led him from his hometown in Darrtown, Ohio and eventually to Cooperstown and the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
The construction process of Holman Stadium was unique and fast, as dirt dug out formed a lake and was used to create an embankment for the outfield. There would be no outfield fence, just grass slope. In a June 18, 1954 letter to St. Louis Cardinals’ Vice President William Walsingham, Walter O’Malley explained how Holman Stadium was constructed, “The Vero Beach stadium was let on competitive bidding. The excavation, fill, mounds, concrete and reserve seats cost $50,000 even for 5000 seats. The house is scaled very high in favor of box seats of which there are 40% or 2000. This percentage can be varied depending on local conditions.
The lights came from our abandoned Cambridge, Maryland park so there is no true cost figure on that. The ticket office, 4 public toilet rooms and clubhouse with plumbing cost $12,000, the press box $1000.
This stadium is by far the cheapest I have ever known to have been built and we did it more or less as an experiment to show minor league people that it would be possible for a modest outlay to have a new and attractive stadium replace the horrible minor league monstrosities in which most teams now play.”
July 1-August 25, the first “Dodgertown Camp for Boys” is held for ages 12-16. The all-sports camp was directed by Les MacMitchell, former New York University track star, and coincided with Walter O’Malley’s vision to utilize Dodgertown for year-round activities, rather than just for Spring Training. O’Malley stated in the Press-Journal on February 18, “It will give Vero Beach some additional national exposure.” Bob Curzon, Vero Beach Press-Journal, February 18, 1954 Some 200 boys from around the country participated. Campers found the following message in the recreation halls: “George Washington didn’t sleep here, but Pee Wee Reese, Duke Snider, Carl Erskine and other Dodgers did.” Joe Hendrickson, Dodgertown Peter O’Malley, who became Dodger President in 1970, was a 17-year-old camp counselor and his sister Terry served as camp secretary.
In the March 16 edition of The Sporting News, according to Roscoe McGowen’s report “‘The O’Malley’ is proud of the plant life on the (Dodgertown) base and readily listed it as follows: 300 hybrid hibiscus plants, 200 kumquat trees, 150 cocktail orange trees, a 10-acre grove of tangerines, oranges, tangelos and grapefruit, both white and pick; alamanda, periwinkle, poinsettia, Mexican flame vines, Bougainvillea, cocoanut palms, Australian pines, Tifton grass (from Tifton, GA, U.S. Agriculture Dept.), petunias, banana trees and perhaps some more. O’Malley has been climbing palm trees for the purpose of planting Cattleya orchids. O’Malley is trying to make the Cattleya orchids grow on the palm trees. How they grow your agent wouldn’t know, but The O’Malley knows. Currently the prize exhibit is a Cymbidium bearing 150 blooms, which will be put to good use at the annual St. Patrick’s Day party staged by The O’Malley.” Roscoe McGowen, The Sporting News, March 16, 1955
Invited by O’Malley, representatives of the Yomiuri Giants from Tokyo, Japan visit during Spring Training. The entire Brooklyn Dodger team went on a Goodwill Tour to Japan following the 1956 season, recording a 14-4-1 overall record. Giants’ catcher Shigero Fujio and pitcher Sho Horiuchi, along with Giants’ Manager Shigero Mizuhara and Japanese sportswriter Sotaro Suzuki, who organized the Dodger Goodwill Tour to Japan, were guests of the Dodgers from February 28-March 22. Upon their arrival, all Dodger players and officials welcomed the visitors. For their many successes and contributions to the sport, Mizuhara and Suzuki were inducted into the Japan Baseball Hall of Fame in 1977 and 1968, respectively.
On March 6, O’Malley meets with Los Angeles officials including Mayor Norris Poulson; County Supervisor Kenneth Hahn; John Gibson, President of the City Council; Samuel Leask, City Administration Officer; John Leach, County Chief Administrative Officer; and Milton Arthur, Chairman of the County Recreation Commission at Dodgertown. The L.A. group informed O’Malley that the city was ready for Major League Baseball and asked him to consider relocating from Brooklyn. During that spring, Emmett Kelly, the world-famous clown, entertained everyone and his antics were well-received by the fans.
In March, due to days of torrential rains and Dodger inactivity, Walter O’Malley decided to fly the team to Havana, Cuba to continue training and playing two exhibition games against the Cincinnati Reds and one intrasquad game. The Dodgers won five consecutive games before returning to Vero Beach.