Relocation, Descent, and Rejuvenation
This article was published in the 2011 The National Pastime.
Patterns are observed during each baseball season—
In weather, on the field, and in individuals’ play;
But few transitions compare in scope, import or reason
With the Dodgers’ unique move to LA.
When O’Malley took his team west in ’58,
A bond with Brooklyn was lost;
But in his mind the fruits of the Golden State
Justified the sentimental cost.
The owner’s decision affected so many people
And changed the image of the franchise so much;
Chavez Ravine, once built, would seem almost regal
As young players instilled a fresh touch.
At first, games were played in the huge Coliseum
Which to purists was simply obscene;
Its dimensions affected many a game’s outcome
For in short left stood a 40-foot screen.
Wally Moon would take advantage of the Coliseum’s design
’Til Dodger Stadium’s construction was through;
Not known as a slugger, Moon did refine
The skill of popping “cheap” homers on cue.
Clearing the other fences took a great poke,
Power hitters returned to the dugout mad;
Duke Snider was one who, despite a powerful stroke,
Missed dearly his old launching pad.
The first Dodgers team in the “City of Angels” was weak,
Falling four spots from the previous year;
After a third-place finish in ’57, seventh place seemed quite bleak,
Enthused fans found little to cheer.
What factors played into the club’s decline?
Surely more than just the vast venue…
Perhaps in moving from snug Ebbets to a football shrine,
“Dem Bums” stumbled upon an altered lifestyle, too.
For Hollywood is not Brooklyn, the first lives for “The Show,”
The two are direct opposites in fact;
With the culture out west so unlike the Borough,
Some players were slow to adapt.
Or was age the true culprit? Old Father Time!
Had the heroes of Brooklyn grown old?
Clearly several of them were passing their prime
And were soon to be traded or sold.
Even before a dramatic changing of the guard
Came Roy Campanella’s tragic wreck;
The catcher, who for a glorious decade had starred,
Was paralyzed beneath his very strong neck.
Following that crippling emotional blow,
The magic of earlier days seemed to cease;
Declines plagued Erskine, Hodges, the battling Furillo,
“The Duke” and long-time captain, Pee Wee Reese.
Former ace Newcombe, no exception to the rule,
Was sent to the Reds with a sore arm;
Without “Newk” and “Oisk”, Walt Alston had a new mound pool
Of Koufax, Drysdale, and Stan Williams (from the farm).
Three years before, Johnny Podres had seemed like a babe
In producing World Series elation;
Now, as a relative graybeard yet to fade,
He was the veteran in a youthful rotation.
Jim Gilliam, another fixture in Ebbets Field,
Was displaced from second base;
Bumped from the keystone spot by rookie Charlie Neal,
He landed in a different place.
He moved to left field and then the hot corner,
Becoming a reminder of “franchise past”;
That was far better than being a benchwarmer
Or no longer part of the cast.
The personnel wheel continued to spin
As budding players mixed with the old;
But the team would bounce back and once again win—
In ’59, O’Malley andAlston struck gold!
Zimmer soon followed his pals on their way out,
John Roseboro assumed Campanella’s former role;
Frank Howard created a new definition of “clout,”
Tommy and Willie Davis joined the fly-chasing patrol.
With the quickness of one of Maury Wills’ many steals,
The fresh generation ascended;
“Double D” and Sandy produced hitting ordeals,
Ensuring that past glories were extended.
While Campy’s plight illustrated the uncertain nature of life,
“His team” confirmed an inspiring fact:
When advancing age or fate strike like a knife,
Reactions dohave an impact.
Deep feelings displayed, on a May night in ’59,
Expressed much more than the crowd realized;
Candles in the Coliseum were lit, Vin Scully urged prayers most divine,
Affirming that bodies—not hope—are paralyzed.
The light from those candles, so resplendent and bright,
Reflected the fate of the catcher’s ball club as well,
For the dawn of a new era, inspired by O’Malley’s long flight,
Would provide Scully wondrous tales to tell!
FRANCIS KINLAW has contributed to 11 SABR convention publications and written extensively about baseball, football, and college basketball. For better or worse, he is old enough to have listened to Nat Allbright’s re-creations of Brooklyn Dodgers games on radio and grown familiar with Ebbets Field through the magic of black-and-white television. A member of SABR since 1983, he resides in Greensboro, North Carolina.