April 18, 1925: Mourning Charles Ebbets
Mourning hovered over Brooklyn like a crib mobile. Charles Ebbets, a Brooklynite loyal to his core, had passed away.
It was Ebbets who scampered up the corporate ladder of Brooklyn’s professional baseball team from office clerk to owner.
It was Ebbets who sold half his interest in the ballclub to finance the building of Ebbets Field.
It was Ebbets who prioritized the fans’ well-being; for example, creating the rain check.
His dedication to the game, the borough, and the team was exemplary. The bottom line mattered, as it did to any business. But it mattered not to Ebbets if it wasn’t in the best interest of the fans.
Ebbets’s death on April 18, 1925, led to a moment of silence later that day before a game between the New York and Brooklyn squads at Ebbets Field. About 25,000 showed up for the game. “The national colors in centre field were at half-mast and both teams wore black bands on their arms, out of respect for the dead magnate,” reported James R. Harrison in the New York Times.1 Attendance was estimated to be 33,000 in the New York Daily News.2
The Giants-Superbas game was more important for Brooklyn than another tally in the standings; the Superbas went 68-85 in 1925. Ebbets’s death reminded Brooklyn’s fans of the loyalty that he felt for the borough and vice versa. Starting as an office clerk on the squad’s first day of operation, in 1883, Ebbets became familiar with every aspect of the club’s business. When he became president, his devotion to the borough manifested, more so when he accumulated all the Dodgers’ stock to be sole owner. When he didn’t have enough in the coffers to finance the building of Ebbets Field, he sold half his interest to contractors Steve and Ed McKeever.
When Ebbets died, it was as if Brooklyn’s population lost a member of the family, prompting National League President John A. Heydler to declare the Brooklyn owner “the best loved man in baseball” and “ever a constructive force.”3 Honoring Ebbets before the game caused a temporary truce between the rivals, which gave way to a raucous atmosphere filled with animus. The Wicked Witch of the West was kinder to Dorothy than the two groups of fans were to each other. Harrison’s account describes the teams as “blood enemies” and the jeers of Brooklyn fans as “hymns of hate.”4 This description is not surprising, given the pro-Giants slant of the New York Times.
Brooklyn’s 7-1 loss was an exercise in futility for the Borough of Churches; Thomas S. Rice of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle declared that “we know positively that we have already seen the worst game we shall see this season.”5 This prediction, hyperbolic for a scribe and depressing for a fan base, came in a paradigm of an eight-team National League playing a 154-game season and each team facing its seven rivals 22 times.
The Giants pounded Jesse Petty’s pitches at will. Brooklyn’s hurler, most recently of the American Association’s Indianapolis Indians, was pulled from the mauling in the seventh inning after eight walks, eight hits, and six runs. Jack Bentley took the hill for the Giants, shutting out the Superbas in the first five innings and scattering four hits before Virgil Barnes relieved him. Bentley showed vulnerability in the sixth inning, giving up the only Brooklyn run through singles to Wheat and Johnston, plus a sacrifice fly to Brown that scored the former.6
Petty came to Brooklyn in exchange for $30,000, according to the New York Times;7 the Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported the price tag as $35,000.8 A southpaw with a journeyman résumé, Petty bounced around the minors like a pinball during his 19-year career from 1916 to 1935: San Antonio, New Orleans, Waco, Milwaukee, Indianapolis, Newark, Los Angeles, Chattanooga. He did not play in 1918. In the majors, he compiled a 67-78 record with Cleveland, Brooklyn, Pittsburgh, and Chicago. Petty’s last season in the major leagues was 1930, with the White Sox.
Future Hall of Famers in the Giants lineup had a Hall of Fame Day: Frankie Frisch went 2-for-3 and scored three runs. Bonus runs came from Ross Youngs, who went 2-for-5, hit the game’s only triple, and crossed the plate once; High Pockets Kelly went 2-for-4 and also scored a run, as did Freddie Lindstrom. Frank Walker, in the last of four major league seasons, scored one of his only 12 runs that year. The Giants left 14 men on base in the contest.
It was not unusual for newspapers in New York City and Brooklyn to interchange nicknames of the Brooklyn ballclub. A headline might use “Robins” while the story used “Dodgers” or “Flock” or “Superbas.” In 1932, it was decided that “Dodgers” would be the permanent label. Thomas Holmes, “Brooklyn Baseball Club Will Officially Nickname Them ‘Dodgers’ — Ebbets Field Leaves It to Writers, Who Choose Old ‘Handle,’” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, January 23, 1932.
1 James R. Harrison, “Giants Beat Robins Before 25,000 By 7-1,” New York Times, April 19, 1925.
2 Garry Schumacher, “Giants and Yankees Triumph,” New York Daily News, April 19, 1925.
3 “Heydler, League’s Head, Mourns Loss of Ebbets,” New York Herald Tribune, April 19, 1925.
5 Thomas S. Rice, “Superbas Drop First Game to Giants — Yanks Beat Red Sox, Leopardess Wins Feature Race at Havre De Grace,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, April 19, 1925.
6 W.B. Hanna, “25,000 See McGrawmen Triumph at Ebbets Field by 7 to 1 Score; Fohlmen Are Helpless Before Pennock, Who Allows Only Four Hits; Philadelphia Handicap Goes to Leopardess With Spot Cash Second: Petty’s Passes Big Factor in Robins’ Defeat,” New York Herald Tribune, April 19, 1925.