SABR

The Brooklyn Dodgers in Jersey City

By John Burbridge

This article was published in the Summer 2010 Baseball Research Journal.

INTRODUCTION 

The Dodgers are playing the Yankees at Yankee Stadium in Game 7 of the 1955 World Series. The Yankees are at bat in the bottom of the sixth with men on first and second and none out. Johnny Podres has pitched masterfully during the first five innings. Yogi Berra is up and lashes a line drive down the left-field line. Sandy Amoros, the Dodgers’ left fielder, runs in the direction of the 301-feet sign, stretches his body, and with his right gloved hand snares the line drive off Berra’s bat. Amoros, showing great presence, turns and throws the ball to Pee Wee Reese, who fires it to Gil Hodges, doubling off the runner on first. The next batter grounds to short for the third out. 

This was the last real chance for the Yankees in this game. Podres finishes them off in the seventh, eighth, and ninth, and there is great joy in Brooklyn. This is next year! They have won the elusive World Series for the first time. The borough celebrates, and the future appears rosy. It turns out, however, that this is actually the beginning of the end. In two years the Dodgers will leave Brooklyn for the riches of California. In addition, this is the last great moment of glory for a Dodgers team that has been competing very successfully for pennants since the end of the Second World War. Jackie Robinson, Pee Wee Reese, Gil Hodges, Carl Furillo, Don Newcombe, Carl Erskine, and others have reached an age where their effectiveness is beginning to wane. The nucleus of this team is beginning to crumble, and it is a different cast of players who bring the World Series to Los Angeles in 1959. 

For the Dodgers, 1956 and 1957 are interesting years, as Walter O’Malley, the owner, is jockeying with Robert Moses and other New York politicians about the future of baseball in Brooklyn. Even while the World Series of 1955 is being played, O’Malley is thinking of possibly moving the Dodgers. My purpose in this article is to look at those last two years in Brooklyn and at the role Jersey City played in O’Malley’s efforts. During 1956 and 1957, the Dodgers played 15 regular-season games in Jersey City. One question that never has been adequately addressed is what role Jersey City played in O’Malley’s decision to stay or relocate. I will conclude with some conjecture about that role. 

 

THE THREAT OF A DODGERS MOVE 

During the early 1950s, Major League Baseball underwent major change. The structure of leagues, with eight teams in each league, had not changed since the early part of the twentieth century. In fact, between 1903 and 1953, there were no franchise relocations. 

During these fifty years, New York, Philadelphia, Boston, Chicago, and St. Louis had teams in both the American and National Leagues. After the Second World War, it became clear that some of them could no longer support more than one team. In 1953, after seeing their season attendance drop to less than 300,000 fans in 1952, the Boston Braves became the Milwaukee Braves. This franchise move was quickly followed by the St. Louis Browns moving to Baltimore in 1954 and by the Philadelphia Athletics moving to Kansas City in 1955. 

O’Malley followed these moves closely. He was concerned that the Milwaukee move might tip the balance in the National League and argued that Milwaukee might use the greater revenue they would generate to develop into a more formidable competitor for the National League title.1 His concern was justified—Milwaukee did win the pennant in 1957 and 1958. 

The Dodgers’ home attendance was more than one million in 1955, but O’Malley had issues with their ballpark, Ebbets Field. Built in 1913, it was not aging gracefully. Its seating capacity was 32,000, less than that of County Stadium, the Braves’ new home in Milwaukee. Moreover, Ebbets Field was in the middle of a congested and deteriorating neighborhood. During the decade following the Second World War, the suburbs around New York City grew significantly as city residents began flocking to them. Driving was now the preferred means of transportation to the ballpark. In the vicinity of Ebbets Field, public parking was sparse. 

Walter O'Malley: shown  with Jersey City officials, announced that, in 1956 through 1958, the Dodgers would play seven games each season in Jersey City and would have the option to continue the agreement for three years beyond that.Walter O'Malley: shown with Jersey City officials, announced that, in 1956 through 1958, the Dodgers would play seven games each season in Jersey City and would have the option to continue the agreement for three years beyond that.O’Malley was convinced that the only solution to the problem was to build a new ballpark. He envisioned it at the intersection of Atlantic and Flatbush Avenues in Brooklyn. In 1953 he sent a letter to Robert Moses, chairman of the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority, requesting a meeting to discuss the possibility.2 He also sent a more detailed letter to a friend, George V. McLaughlin, a member of the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority Board, explaining that the new ballpark would be privately funded and all he needed was an appropriate site.3 O’Malley proposed to finance the building of the facility provided he was given access to the land. 

Robert Moses was also chairman of the mayor’s Committee on Slum Clearance. For the new ballpark to be built on that site, businesses would have to be purchased and relocated using Title 1 of the 1949 Federal Housing Act as the basis for such action. Moses was charged with implementing Title 1. While not an elected official, he was arguably the most powerful figure in the City of New York. He had designed and overseen the construction of the network of roads that intersected New York City and provided access to the suburbs. He was also responsible for designing most of the public and recreational spaces throughout much of the city and parts of Long Island. 

Moses was unsympathetic to O’Malley’s request to use Title 1 for a new Dodgers ballpark and rejected his proposal.4 It was not the intent of Title 1, he argued, to build a major-league park. Later, he proposed that the State of New York move forward with the project by creating a sports authority that would finance and build the facility.5

The year 1953 also saw the beginning of rumors about the Dodgers possibly moving to Los Angeles. On October 20, 1953, Vincent X. Flaherty wrote to O’Malley, endorsing Los Angeles as the next home for the Dodgers and asking O’Malley to meet with the Los Angeles citizens’ committee for major-league baseball.6 Possibly fueled by actual incidents like the Flaherty letter, the rumors about the Dodgers moving to California escalated over the next few years. 

Apparently still committed to finding a way for the Dodgers to remain in Brooklyn, O’Malley turned for help to Frank D. Schroth, publisher of the Brooklyn Eagle. In late 1953 through the spring of 1954, Schroth, Moses, and O’Malley along with John Cashmore, the Brooklyn borough president, met monthly for lunch in an effort to resolve the issues surrounding construction of a new Brooklyn ballpark.7 Throughout this period and into 1955, various sites were discussed and researched, but agreement was never reached. On May 26, 1955, O’Malley wrote noted architect R. Buckminster Fuller at Princeton University and asked him about the possibility of using some of Fuller’s geodesicdome concepts for an indoor facility in Brooklyn. Fuller’s graduate students tackled the project and a prototype was developed.8

After a meeting on August 9, 1955, O’Malley and Moses traded letters. In Moses’s response to O’Malley’s note, he wrote that the alternatives proposed by Moses had been deemed unsatisfactory by O’Malley mainly because O’Malley did not consider the public improvements that would accompany construction of the new ballpark to be important enough. Moses also seemed to indicate that O’Malley should be using his own funds not only to finance construction of the ballpark but also to acquire the land it would be built on.9 

Soon after this exchange of letters, O’Malley announced that in 1956 and 1957 the Dodgers would play seven games at Roosevelt Stadium in Jersey City.10 Brooklyn fans voiced their displeasure that their beloved Bums, their affectionate nickname for the Dodgers, were going to be playing some of their home games across the river.11

 

JERSEY CITY 

In 1955, the population of Jersey City, just across the Hudson River from lower Manhattan, was approximately 300,000. Brooklyn’s population was 2.75 million. The difference, though, was less stark when the borough was compared to all of Hudson County, which includes not only Jersey City but the cities of Bayonne, Hoboken, North Bergen, Union City, and other, smaller towns. The population of the whole county was about 650,000.

Dodgers players: pose with students and nuns at the Academy of St. Aloysius, a Catholic girls’ school in Jersey City, June 5, 1957.Dodgers players: pose with students and nuns at the Academy of St. Aloysius, a Catholic girls’ school in Jersey City, June 5, 1957.Jersey City has a rich political history. From 1917 through 1947, it was led by its colorful mayor, Frank Hague, known affectionately as Boss Hague. A Democrat, Hague was a shrewd politician, with a tight grip on the reins of power in Jersey City and also influential throughout the whole state. He was an ardent supporter of Franklin D. Roosevelt and contributed significantly to Roosevelt’s winning New Jersey in the 1932 presidential election. Jersey City benefited tremendously from the many building projects, including the Jersey City Medical Center, that were financed through Roosevelt’s New Deal programs. 

Hague defined not only Jersey City’s politics but even its mores, his own being shaped by his Roman Catholic upbringing. It was not until the 1950s, for example, that women were allowed to sit in a tavern. In 1935, when socialist leader Norman Thomas came to Jersey City to speak, Hague, a staunch anticommunist, had him escorted via ferry out of town.12

While perceived to be a friend of the people, Hague as mayor was in fact corrupt, taking kickbacks from citizens and anyone who did business with the city. He was able to amass a fortune and had a Park Avenue apartment and homes on the Jersey Shore and in Florida. His political machine started to crumble after the Second World War. In 1947, after more than thirty years, he finally left office. 

 

JERSEY CITY AND PROFESSIONAL BASEBALL 

Hague clearly saw the potential appeal that professional sports would have to Jersey City residents and as early as 1929 had planned to build a stadium that would host a variety of sports, including baseball. Roosevelt Stadium, financed as a New Deal program, was opened in 1937 and became the home of the Jersey City Giants in the International League, the top farm team of the New York Giants. The capacity of Roosevelt Stadium was approximately 25,000. Most years, opening-day attendance exceeded that, as Hague would arrange for many people to buy tickets even if seats were unavailable. 

From 1937 until the late 1940s, Jersey City developed a rich tradition of supporting minor-league baseball. Probably the high point of baseball in Jersey City was Jackie Robinson’s professional debut, with the Montreal Royals, against the Jersey City Giants in 1946. Robinson went 4-for-5 with a home run in a 14–1 Royals victory. The attendance for Robinson’s game was announced as 52,000. 

In 1947 the Jersey City Giants drew more than 300,000 but, with the advent of televised baseball and the rise of car ownership, making the three major league teams in New York easily accessible to more people in the suburbs, attendance dwindled to fewer than 100,000 in 1950. The Jersey City Giants moved to Ottawa in 1951. From 1951 to 1956, no professional baseball games were played in Roosevelt Stadium, where the main fare was high-school football games and weekly stock-car races. 

It should also be noted that the only public transportation to Roosevelt Stadium on the southwest side of Jersey City was by bus. Fans from New York City would have to use buses or the Hudson Tubes, a subway through tunnels under the Hudson River. New Jersey residents from outside of Jersey City would probably have to drive. 

 

THE JERSEY CITY RESPONSE 

An announcement on August 16, 1955, appeared to indicate that the Dodgers and Jersey City had a deal, but no contract was signed yet, as the financial and operating arrangements between the club and the city still needed to be negotiated. There was some resistance on the part of certain Jersey City officials as they pointed out that, given the loss of stock-car revenues, the deal could cost the city.13 However, it does appear that, by the end of August, the intent of both the city and the club was for the Dodgers to play some home games in Jersey City during 1956 and 1957. 

On December 1, 1955, it was finally announced at a press conference in Brooklyn that an agreement had been reached between the Brooklyn Dodgers and Jersey City. The Dodgers would play seven regular-season games and one exhibition game in Jersey City in 1956.14 Seven regular-season games would be played in 1957 and 1958 as well, with an option to continue the agreement for three additional years beyond that. The agreement stipulated that the Dodgers would rent Roosevelt Stadium for an annual fee of $10,000. The Dodgers also agreed to absorb the cost of making the stadium ready for major-league baseball. The Dodgers were to receive all parking revenue. In making the announcement, O’Malley added that the Dodgers would not play in Ebbets Field in 1958 and could play the entire season in Jersey City if the new stadium in Brooklyn were still under construction. Initially the Dodgers had wanted to sell each season’s seven or eight games as a package but in the end agreed that fans could buy tickets to individual games.15

Actually, the lease allowing the Dodgers to play in Jersey City was not officially signed until January.16 Apparently, a supplementary agreement had to be worked out concerning a split in income, between Jersey City and the Dodgers, from non-Dodger events that took place in Roosevelt Stadium but that the Dodgers promoted. 

Despite the interval between the initial announcement in August and the press conference in December, and then between that and the signing of the lease in January, no major issues appeared to be deterring the Dodgers from playing in Jersey City in 1956. Part of the delay can be explained by O’Malley’s involvement in the 1955 pennant race that led to the Dodgers’ first World Series title, while Bernard Berry, the mayor of Jersey City, went to Europe on a six-week vacation. Excitement and civic pride at news that the Dodgers would play began to mount. When Berry returned to Jersey City after his vacation, he described the finalizing of the Dodger deal as a priority.17

 

THE DODGERS IN JERSEY CITY, 1956 

The first game played in Jersey City was on April 19, 1956, when the Dodgers beat the Phillies before 12,214 very cold fans.18 The attendance was disappointing, as initially it was thought the game would be a sellout.19 On April 17, there was an attempt to promote the game in the local newspaper, which stressed to the fans of Jersey City that poor crowds would hurt Jersey City’s chances for future opportunities.20 After the first game, several of the Dodgers indicated they felt that the fences at Roosevelt Stadium were not too friendly.21 Jackie Robinson, who was jeered there, was particularly unhappy.22

Table 1. Dodger Games in Jersey City, 1956
Date Opponent Attendance Winning Team Score
Apr 19 Phillies 12,214 Dodgers 5–4
May 16 Cardinals 22,071 Dodgers 5–3
June 25 Cubs 20,602 Dodgers 3–2
July 25 Redlegs 23,454 Dodgers 2–1
July 31 Braves 26,141 Dodgers 3–2
Aug 7 Pirates 17,504 Dodgers 3–0
Aug 15 Giants 26,385 Giants 1–0

 

As can be seen in table 1, after that first game, attendance at each successive game increased, except for the August 7 contest against the Pirates. The Dodgers won all but the last game, which was against the Giants. All of the games were close, and five of them were decided by one run. 

The game that proved somewhat historic was that seventh game, where the Giants beat the Dodgers 1–0. Johnny Antonelli pitched the shutout, striking out 11. Antonelli, a left-hander, was probably helped by the field dimensions at Roosevelt Stadium. The Dodgers were known to hit left-hand pitchers quite well in Ebbets Field, with its short left-field fence. The winning (and only) run in this game was a Willie Mays home run, the first fair ball ever hit out of Roosevelt Stadium.23

The average attendance for the Jersey City games was 21,196, about 5,400 more than for for the games played at Ebbets Field that year. And so, from all perspectives, the season in Jersey City proved successful, although it was somewhat surprising that only the games against the Braves and the Giants were sellouts. 

O’Malley commented on the Jersey City experiment in August 1956. After some rumors that the Dodgers might increase the number of games they would play at Jersey City in 1957, O’Malley said, “All things considered, I think we’ve given Jersey City the right number of games.” O’Malley added that “the way I look at it we’ve had about two games that attracted peak crowds while all the others were about average.” Given the unresolved stadium situation in Brooklyn, O’Malley did concede that “Jersey City must be considered in the Dodgers future plans—that is, in a limited sort of way.”24 O’Malley’s enthusiasm for the experiment in Jersey City appeared to be waning. 

 

NO LONGER A THREAT 

April 19, 1956: he first game the Dodgers played in Jersey City, when they beat the Phillies before 12,214 very cold fans.April 19, 1956: he first game the Dodgers played in Jersey City, when they beat the Phillies before 12,214 very cold fans.The Dodgers’ move to Jersey City prompted New York City and Brooklyn to respond. Mayor Robert Wagner immediately scheduled a meeting for August 19, 1955, three days after the initial announcement about the Jersey City deal. The meeting was to include O’Malley, Cashmore, and Moses.25 In the meeting’s aftermath, $100,000 was appropriated by New York City’s Board of Estimate to study the Atlantic–Flatbush site as a possible location for a new stadium. While the study was being conducted over the next few months, the Dodgers and Jersey City were finalizing their agreement for the next three seasons. 

On February 6, 1956, a proposal was finally presented as a bill to the New York State legislature to establish the Brooklyn Sports Center Authority (BCSA), a public authority that was empowered to raise $30 million in bond sales to clear the area and build a new ballpark. The bill gained legislative approval on March 21 and 22, 1956, and Governor Harriman signed it into law in April.26 But the BCSA was beset with problems and did little to move the project forward. By December 1956 the BCSA was requesting additional funds to continue their efforts. 

During the 1956–57 offseason, the Dodgers sold Ebbets Field to the city.27 While they no longer owned it, they could still lease it, although that did little to curb speculation that the Dodgers might not be playing there after the 1957 season. 

While the BCSA was having its issues and as plans were being made to sell Ebbets Field, the Dodgers went to Japan on a goodwill tour following the 1956 season. Flying to Japan, the Dodgers stopped in Los Angeles first. There O’Malley met with Kenneth Hahn, the Los Angeles County supervisor. It was the Dodgers’ first serious meeting with Los Angeles officials about moving the Dodgers there. According to Hahn, he had a handshake agreement with O’Malley that the Dodgers would move to Los Angeles, although exactly when that informal agreement was struck is unknown.28

A major deterrent to any major-league franchise moving to Los Angeles was that Philip Wrigley and his family owned the minor-league franchise and stadium in Los Angeles. O’Malley negotiated with Wrigley and they swapped minor-league franchises, O’Malley taking over in Los Angeles, and Wrigley in Fort Worth, which had been the Dodgers’ double-A minor-league team. Wrigley assumed ownership of the Fort Worth Stadium as well.29

Clearly, O’Malley by this point had his sights set on the West Coast. Was he only posturing to pressure New York City to act, or had he made up his mind to relocate? While he continued to state that he wanted to stay in Brooklyn, his chief antagonist, Robert Moses, reiterated that there are no viable sites there. Moses did finally meet with O’Malley early in 1957, and they discussed the possibility of a ballpark in Flushing Meadows in Queens. During the next few months, both Moses and O’Malley indicated some interest in the Flushing Meadows plan, but O’Malley raised concerns about the site.30 A few years later it would become the site of Shea Stadium, home of the New York Mets from 1964 through 2008. 

It had now become a distinct possibility that the Dodgers would be leaving Brooklyn. On May 28, 1957, the National League owners met and gave their blessing to the relocation of the Dodgers and the Giants to the West Coast.31 It appears that the National League insisted on the relocation of both teams, not just one, travel costs being the main consideration, although Warren Giles, National League president, later denied the two-team stipulation. The National League also created an end-of-season deadline for decisions to be made about any franchise relocations. Mayor Wagner convened the various parties on May 4, 1957, in New York. As in the past, no progress was made with respect to an agreement about a new stadium. 

In June 1957, the Antitrust Subcomittee (of the House Judiciary Committee), chaired by Emanuel Celler, a Democrat from Brooklyn, was convened to investigate why baseball was not covered by antitrust legislation while other sports were. In 1922, the U.S. Supreme Court, in a unanimous decision, argued that baseball was not interstate commerce, Oliver Wendell Holmes making the casethat “personal effort, not related to production, is not a subject of commerce.”32

O’Malley testified before the subcommittee and painted himself a victim. He claimed that New York officials had stymied his efforts to stay in Brooklyn while Los Angeles officials were united in their resolve to provide the Dodgers with a ballpark. The Dodgers, Celler pointed out, were profitable. O’Malley agreed but stressed the issues with Ebbets Field. He said that he didn’t know where the Dodgers would be playing the next year but that he had made no preparations to move to Los Angeles. Those words come back to haunt him, as he had already purchased the Los Angeles Angels and their stadium and had taken other steps to determine the viability of Los Angeles as a home for the Dodgers.33 

All eyes turned to the New York Giants. Horace Stoneham, the Giants’ owner, had made it clear that the Polo Grounds were no longer suitable. Attendance had fallen significantly since the Giants won the World Series in 1954. Stoneham originally had his sights on the Twin Cities, Minneapolis–St. Paul. Minneapolis was the Giants’ top farm team. Neither the Giants nor the City of New York entered into any serious discussion about a new facility for the Giants. The possibility that the Giants would play games in Yankee Stadium was raised but dismissed, as it was assumed that the Yankees would not want to share their stadium. 

Seizing the opportunity, San Francisco entered negotiations with Horace Stoneham. On August 7, 1957, the Giants announced that they would become the San Francisco Giants.34 However, the Dodgers’ situation had yet to be resolved, and so the Giants had to wait.

Los Angeles had proposed Chavez Ravine as the location for the new ballpark, but there was some opposition to the terms of the agreement, and negotiations continued late into the summer of 1957. Los Angeles needed to come to final terms with both the Dodgers and the local parties who were raising opposition. 

 

MEANWHILE—JERSEY CITY IN 1957 

While the future of the Dodgers was uncertain, they did play their handful of games in Roosevelt Stadium in 1957. 

Table 2. Dodger Games in Jersey City, 1957
Date Opponent Attendance Winning Team Score
Apr 22 Phillies 11,629 Dodgers 5–1
May 3 Cardinals 14,470 Dodgers 6–0
June 5 Cubs 9,712 Dodgers 4–0
June 10 Braves 22,412 Braves 3–1
July 12 Redlegs 23,472 Dodgers 3–1
Augt 7 Giants 25,913 Giants 8–5
Augt 16 Pirates 9,592 Dodgers 4–1
Sept 3 Phillies 10,910 Phillies 3–2

 

As can be seen in table 2, the Dodgers won five of eight games in Jersey City in 1957. They played the Phillies twice, although the initial agreement called for each National League team to visit Jersey City only once. Again, the Giants were the biggest draw and, to the delight of Giants fans, once again beat the Dodgers. The average attendance, 16,014, was less than in 1956 but still higher than the average attendance at Ebbets Field.

Mayor Bernard J. Berry: throws out the first pitch at the Dodgers–Phillies game, April 19, 1956, the first of fifteen games—fourteen regular-season, one exhibition—that the Dodgers would play at Roosevelt Stadium during the 1956 and 1957 seasons.Mayor Bernard J. Berry: throws out the first pitch at the Dodgers–Phillies game, April 19, 1956, the first of fifteen games—fourteen regular-season, one exhibition—that the Dodgers would play at Roosevelt Stadium during the 1956 and 1957 seasons.The Jersey City games in 1957 began with both the Dodgers and the fans in a more positive frame of mind. After the April 22 game, players said nice things about the field, and the fans appeared friendly.35 Jackie Robinson, the target of much of the hostility in 1956, was no longer with the Dodgers, having retired after being traded to the Giants following the 1956 season. 

The only sellout in 1957 was for the game against the Giants. Passions ran high, as fans booed Don Newcombe for his performance and he allegedly spit at them. Newcomb later said he didn’t “give a damn” if he ever pitched in Jersey City again.36

Attendance for the last two games in Jersey City was poor. The Dodgers continued to fall further behind in the pennant race, and moreover it grew increasingly clear that they weren’t going to play in Jersey City in 1958. Attendance at the final two games was only 9,592 and 10,910. Before the final game, against the Phillies on September 3, the local newspaper offered that Jersey fans would get their final glimpse of the Dodgers that night, adding that whether they would be back in Brooklyn next year was doubtful.37 After this final game, some of the players, sounding frustrated, said they hoped they wouldn’t have to play in Jersey City the next year.38

 

THE DODGERS MAKE IT FINAL 

In August and September of 1957, as Los Angeles and the Dodgers were putting the final touches on their negotiations, steps were being taken back in Brooklyn to try to stop the club from moving. A financier offered to buy the Dodgers and keep them in Brooklyn. The Dodgers declined. Nelson Rockefeller, the future governor of New York, advanced a proposal involving him both in the ownership of the club and in the building of a ballpark. In addition, a legal opinion by the Corporation Counsel of the City appeared to circumvent the stranglehold that Robert Moses had over the Atlantic–Flatbush site. All these efforts had collapsed by late September.39

Los Angeles officials and the Dodgers finally reached an agreement. The Dodgers would receive approximately 300 acres of land at Chavez Ravine, including site-preparation and access roads, while the city would receive Wrigley Field from the Dodgers. Los Angeles would be the new home for the Dodgers if two-thirds of the Los Angeles city council agreed to the deal. On October 7, 1957, the council voted 10–4 in favor, and Walter O’Malley announced that the Dodgers were leaving Brooklyn.40

 

CONCLUSION 

In this long saga of the Dodgers, Brooklyn, and Los Angeles, what role did Jersey City play? Why did the Dodgers play some of their home games there in 1956 and 1957? What did Jersey City expect to gain from the relationship? 

These are difficult questions. O’Malley’s objectives for playing games in Jersey City were never clearly stated. Before Celler’s subcommittee, he remarked that he had already sold Ebbets Field and that Jersey City had provided a site for home games in 1958. But it was in 1955, about a year before he sold Ebbets, that he announced his decision to schedule some games in Jersey City. For some time already, he may have had his mind set on selling Ebbets Field and so thought it helpful to test the waters in Jersey City.

Obviously, with his announcement about Jersey City, O’Malley wanted to put pressure on New York officials. Being a shrewd businessman, he also saw an opportunity to increase profit. The Dodgers received both the gate receipts in Jersey City and the parking fees. The difference between these revenue streams and what they would have been for the same games at Ebbets Field was greater than $10,000, the cost of the lease to Roosevelt Stadium. 

Jersey City politicians and officials were enthusiastic about the Dodgers playing some of their home games there. Always under the shadow of New York City, Jersey City could now claim to be major-league. The presence of the Dodgers there boosted civic pride, was good for local businesses, and could, one could have speculated, also open other doors for more baseball in Jersey City. 

Jersey City fans, though, never did fully warm to the Dodgers. Obviously, there was still significant support for the New York Giants in 1956 and 1957, as Jersey City was the Giants’ triple-A farm team for many years. This may have been why the Dodgers sold out there only when they played the Giants. 

If O’Malley’s rationale for being in Jersey City was to determine if it would support the Dodgers while a new stadium was being built in Brooklyn, the attendance figures probably gave him pause. It is not inconceivable that both O’Malley and Jersey City politicians thought that sellouts for these seven games would be the norm. In his interview in August 1956, O’Malley points out that Jersey City would not see more Dodger games in 1957, as the attendance at all but two of the games in 1956 had been only average. It is fair to say that extending the seven games to a full season in Jersey City would probably have resulted in the Dodgers’ season attendance taking a steep dive. 

It should be reiterated that one of the reasons for attendance problems in Jersey City was that Roosevelt Stadium was hard to get to from New York City. On mass transit, you could get to Journal Square in Jersey City, the hub, fairly easily but then had to endure a long bus ride to the stadium. The drive to Roosevelt Stadium was also difficult, since you had to traverse Manhattan; the Verrazano Bridge had not yet been built. The experience of 1956 and 1957 probably convinced Dodgers’ management that Jersey City was not a good option if in 1958 they needed a ballpark while a new one was being built back in Brooklyn. 

The Dodgers in Jersey City was an interesting sidebar to the whole issue of the Dodgers and Giants moving to the West Coast. While cynics dispute O’Malley’s intentions, I think that as late as 1956 he was resolved to keep the Dodgers in Brooklyn. But he probably never realized how difficult it would be to deal with the political issues surrounding the building of a new facility in Brooklyn. The Jersey City experiment probably illustrates this naiveté. The Dodgers playing games in Jersey City did not really create a sustainable sense of urgency among New York politicians and officials. 

Jersey City received $15,000 when the Dodgers broke their lease to play games at Roosevelt Stadium in 1958. When International League president Frank Shaughnessy identified Jersey City as a likely site for an IL franchise, local citizens had hopes of seeing professional baseball return to their city in 1958.41 But first the city had to come to terms with an existing International League club that would agree to the relocation. The Yankees were confusing the issue, as Jersey City initially had hopes that they might play some home games there. They wouldn’t, and Jersey City was without baseball in 1958. But the Havana Sugar Kings, in the middle of the 1960 season, after unrest at some games in Havana, did move to Jersey City. 

While Major League Baseball has survived the Dodgers’ relocation to Los Angeles, Brooklyn did suffer. The 1960s and 1970s were not kind to the borough. Civil unrest and deteriorating neighborhoods were the norm. The loss of the Dodgers contributed to the malaise. In recent years, Brooklyn has revived, as many neighborhoods have been gentrified. The Brooklyn Cyclones, a single-A team of the New York Mets, play in Coney Island. To many of the younger residents, the Dodgers are a distant memory. Jersey City had a similar experience with significant deterioration in the city’s housing and infrastructure in the 1960s and 1970s. Since then, the waterfront area, Liberty State Park, and a championship golf course have been developed. Several Wall Street firms have located back offices in Jersey City. Given Jersey City’s proximity to New York City, the downtown area has seen gentrification. But Ebbets Field and Roosevelt Stadium are no more, and city life is not quite the same. 

JOHN BURBRIDGE is a professor at the Martha and Spencer Love School of Business, Elon University.

Notes

This article is adapted from a presentation given at the Seymour Medal Conference, April 2009.

  • 1. Lee Lowenfish, “A Tale of Many Cities: The Westward Expansion of Major League Baseball in the 1950s” Journal of the West 17, no. 3 (July 1978): 77.
  • 2. Michael D’Dantonio, Forever Blue: The True Story of Walter O’Malley, Baseball’s Most Controversial Owner, and the Dodgers of Brooklyn, and Los Angeles (New York: Riverhead Books, 2009), 175.
  • 3. Ibid.
  • 4. Ibid., 176
  • 5. Ibid., 212.
  • 6. Vincent X. Flaherty to Walter O’Malley, letter, 20 October 1953, Walteromalley.com, Historic Documents, Business Correspondence.
  • 7. 7. Robert L. Murphy, After Many a Season-The Passing of the Giants and Dodgers and a Golden Age in Baseball (New York: Sterling, 2009), 123.
  • 8. Ibid
  • 9. Ibid., 123–24.
  • 10. T. Holmes, New York Herald Tribune, 17 August 1955, 1.
  • 11. 11. R. Graf, “Dodgers Fans Cool To Jersey City Games,” New York WorldTelegram and Sun, 17 August 1955, 1.
  • 12. New Jersey City University, www.njcu.edu/programs/jchistory/Pages/H-Pages/Hague_Frank,htm.
  • 13. “Jersey City Wary of Dodger Offer,” New York Times, 21 August 1955, 39; J. O. Haff, “Dodger ‘Package’ Irks Jersey City,” New York Times, 31 August 1955, 23.
  • 14. J. Powers, “Dodgers Agree on Jersey City; To Play 24 Games in 3 Years,” Jersey Journal and Jersey Observer, 1 December 1955, 1.
  • 15. J. Powers, “Dodgers Move Big Break for Fans,” Jersey Journal and Jersey Observer, 2 December 1955, 9.
  • 16. “Big League Here! Dodgers Sign Up,” Jersey Journal and Jersey Observer, 24 January 1956, 1.
  • 17. “Back at Desk, Berry Eyes Dodger Pact,” Jersey Journal and Jersey Observer, 24 October 1955, 1.
  • 18. Arthur Daley, “Sports of The Times: At Home on the Road,” New York Times, 20 April 1956, 29.
  • 19. “Sellout Looms for Dodger First Game,” Jersey Journal and Jersey Observer, 7 February 1956, 12.
  • 20. J. Powers, “Jersey City Can Show Up Brooklyn,” Jersey Journal and Jersey Observer, 17 April 1956, 15.
  • 21. J. Lang, “Dodgers Say Fence Too Far, Fans Too Rough,” Jersey Journal and Jersey Observer, 20 April 1956, 22.
  • 22. E. Brennan, “Jackie Robinson Blows Cork at Jersey City Fans,” Jersey Journal and Jersey Observer, 20 April 1956, 22.
  • 23. J. Lang, “Stumbling Giants Come to Life at Sight of Dodgers,” Jersey Journal and Jersey Observer, 16 April 1956, 25.
  • 24. E. Brennan, “Increase in Games Not Likely Says O’Malley,” Jersey Journal and Jersey Observer, 8 August 1956, 18.
  • 25. Murphy, 130.
  • 26. Ibid., 140–43.
  • 27. Neil J. Sullivan, The Dodgers Move West (New York: Oxford University Press. 1987), 77.
  • 28. Ibid., 87.
  • 29. Lowenfish, 78.
  • 30. Murphy, 201.
  • 31. J. M. Sheehan, “Dodgers, Giants Win Right to Shift if They So Desire,” New York Times, 29 May 1957, 1.
  • 32. David Greenberg, “Baseball’s Con Game: How Did America’s Pastime Get an Antitrust Exemption?” Slate, 19 July 2002 (www.slate.com/id/2068290).
  • 33. Sullivan, 123–25.
  • 34. B. Becker, “Giants Will Shift to San Francisco for 1958 Season,” New York Times, 19 August 1957, 1.
  • 35. A. Maurer, “Dodgers Happy With Field, Friendly Fans,” Jersey Journal and Jersey Observer, 23 April 1957, 15.
  • 36. J. Lang, “Newk As Unpopular in JC as He Is Everywhere Else,” Jersey Journal and Jersey Observer, 8 August 1957, 24.
  • 37. “Dodgers Play Final Tilt of Season Here Tonight,” Jersey Journal and Jersey Observer, 3 September 1956, 16.
  • 38. J. Lang, “Players Hope Flock Moves . . . Out of Jersey City!” Jersey Journal and Jersey Observer, 4 September 1957, 23.
  • 39. P. Crowell, “Rockefeller Bid to Help Dodgers Ends in Failure,” New York Times, 21 September 1957, 1.
  • 40. G. Hill, “Dodgers Pact Wins Los Angeles Vote,” New York Times, 8 October 1957, 1.
  • 41. M. Kerzner, “Jersey City Making Pitch for Return of Baseball Next Season,” Jersey Journal and Jersey Observer, 9 October 1957, 62.
Individual Memberships start at just $45/year

Become A Member Today

When you join SABR you are making a statement of support for baseball history. You are joining a worldwide community of people who love to read about, talk about and write about baseball.