[MUSIC UP AND UNDER] BOB GARFIELD: This week marked the 50th anniversary of the very last game played by the Brooklyn Dodgers, "dem bums" as they were affectionately known, at Ebbets Field. The Dodgers shut out the Pittsburgh Pirates two-nothing to finish third in the National League, capping off a 45-year stretch at the ballpark that included some of the most thrilling moments in baseball history.
Among them, a tenth inning RBI by Jackie Robinson, to win Game 6 of the 1956 World Series against their Bronx rivals, the New York Yankees. [CLIP]: VIN SCULLY: Robinson waits. Here comes the pitch. And there goes a line drive to left field. Slaughter's after it. He leaps — it's over his head against the wall. Here comes Gilliam scoring. Brooklyn wins. [ROARING CROWD NOISE] Jackie Robinson is being pummeled by his teammates. [END CLIP] BOB GARFIELD: By the spring of 1958, the Boys of Brooklyn had packed up and headed west for Los Angeles, in search of open spaces and a better stadium, leaving Brooklyn fans without a team. And to this day, the pain lingers.
Michael Shapiro is author of The Last Good Season: Brooklyn, the Dodgers and their Final Pennant Race Together. Shapiro says that Brooklynites of the time lost far more than a ball club. MICHAEL SHAPIRO: In a word, Brooklyn lost its conversation. Baseball has the advantage, unlike any other sport, of literally having a game every day.
And so, what you have as a result of that is a daily conversation between strangers the person you run into in the elevator, the person waiting on line at the deli or the dry cleaner, the person waiting for the bus — a conversation that begins and ends with something along the lines of, did you see what they did last night?, do you believe that Snider?, do you believe that Reese?, did you see how they came back? whatever it was, with no need to take it any further.
And when the Dodgers left, all of a sudden Brooklyn was left without something to talk about, and that longing, in many ways, never went away. BOB GARFIELD: I want to play you this clip. It is of Ralph Branca, the pitcher who famously or infamously served up the home run to Bobby Thompson, with which the New York Giants won the 1951 pennant from the Dodgers. [CLIP]: RALPH BRANCA: Let me alone, let me alone, let me be, will ya? You saw what happened. Things are tough enough. Yeah, I knew it was gone all the way. All I kept saying was sink, sink, sink. All I remember is seeing Pafko go up against the wall, and then I was walking to the clubhouse. All I kept saying was, why me, why me, why did it have to be me? [END CLIP] MICHAEL SHAPIRO: There is no wall that exists between those fans and Ralph Branca. He is accessible. He is heartbroken, he wants to be left alone, but he's there. And the fact is that, that wall that so much exists as part of sports journalism today, certainly didn't exist back then.
Sports writers traveled with the players. They played cards with the players. They drank with the players. As a result of that, those players were brought into the lives of their fans.
Now, one could argue, and I think very fairly, that the relationship that existed was pretty chummy. They didn't write about the womanizing, they didn't write about the drinking. There was a certain agreement and understanding of what was permissible and what wasn't, that permitted precisely what you're hearing on that tape, which is a man giving a range of emotion, from "Leave me alone" to "This is what happened." And we don't hear that kind of thing quite the same way today. BOB GARFIELD: It seems to me there's something about the Dodgers leaving Brooklyn that looms large in the wider culture. I mean, the New York Giants fled the Polo Grounds for San Francisco actually before the Dodgers left Brooklyn, and the Senators left Washington and the Athletics left Philadelphia. Why is the Dodgers' flight to L.A. deemed so quintessential? MICHAEL SHAPIRO: The Dodgers really represented, in many ways — forgive me — the grand harmonic convergence of fandom. Between 1947 and 1957, two things happened. One, the Dodgers are the second best team in baseball, the best team in the National League, second only to the Yankees, the team on the other side of the river. And also the Dodgers, remember, and one can never minimize this, they were the first integrated team.
And the Dodgers began to gather a following that existed far beyond the borders of Brooklyn, and the Brooklyn Dodgers, especially if you were a black person, were synonymous with Jackie Robinson and later Roy Campanella and Don Newcombe. So the Dodgers took on a meaning far beyond baseball themselves.
And they finally win once. They win the World Series, they beat the Yankees in 1955. They weren't haughty like the Yankees. They didn't live in New Jersey like the Yankees. They lived in Brooklyn. They were our guys. And then they were gone, like ghosts. BOB GARFIELD: All right, Michael, thank you so much. MICHAEL SHAPIRO: And thank you. BOB GARFIELD: Michael Shapiro is a professor at the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism and author of a number of books, including The Last Good Season: Brooklyn, the Dodgers and their Final Pennant Race Together.
Imagine you're a 10 year old kid growing up in New York and your beloved Brooklyn Dodgers skip town. Washington Post sportswriter Len Shapiro doesn't have to imagine it. He lived it. LEN SHAPIRO: It was heartbreaking. I patterned my batting stance after Roy Campanella. I idolized Duke Snider, Pee Wee Reese, all those guys. And they took it away, and I couldn't figure out why. I mean, they got great coverage, the fans were boisterous, they won a lot of games. They never won the big one, up until 1955, when I was eight years old, which was, by the way, one of the greatest moments of my life.
But to have that taken away from you, and all you have left really are the hated New York Yankees for a long time, it was gut wrenching, really gut wrenching, and it was not a good time for kids who followed baseball in New York. BOB GARFIELD: Did you root for the Los Angeles Dodgers? LEN SHAPIRO: I, I absolutely did not root for the Los Angeles Dodgers. I only rooted for the players, the players I knew who went there. And quite frankly, Bob, I've been a sportswriter for The Washington Post since 1969, I have never seen the Dodgers play again.
The last game I saw was at Ebbets Field when I was probably nine years old. I just didn't think I could make it through it without thinkin' about what those guys did to us. BOB GARFIELD: Len Shapiro is a sports reporter and columnist at The Washington Post. He had his Dodgers wrested away from him. Neil Sullivan had them dropped into his lap.
Sullivan, a professor at the Baruch College School of Public Affairs and author of The Dodgers Move West, was 10 years old and living in L.A. when the Dodgers miraculously appeared. NEIL SULLIVAN: One of the great days of childhood, it was April 18, 1958. My dad came by to get me at school. This was Saint Augustine's in Culver City. It must have been about 10 o'clock. We were driving across the playground when my dad noticed there was a priest coming back from a morning mass. My dad said this was a Friday — said go over there and get us a dispensation so we can have hot dogs at the game. BOB GARFIELD: Instead of fish on Friday. NEIL SULLIVAN: Exactly. Well, the priest made some review of canon law in his head and looked down and said, well, I think if you're getting out of school, that's quite enough for one day. So I went back to the car, jumped in and told my dad. The car starts moving forward slowly. My father, who was very much a gentleman of the old school, rolls down his window, comes to a stop near the priest and says, anybody wouldn't let a little kid have a hot dog at the ball park is a jerk — [BOB LAUGHS] — and rolled the window up.
I was horrified. This was at least sacrilege. It was at least a venial sin. I was terrified for the man's soul. So jumped in, Dad, he's a priest. Window rolls back down again. My father looks at him and says, Father Jerk! [BOB LAUGHS] The window goes [LAUGHS] back up. BOB GARFIELD: [LAUGHS] How was the game? NEIL SULLIVAN: It was a great game. The Dodgers beat the Giants. You could not improve on things. It was wonderful. BOB GARFIELD: By the time this show airs, the National League east race will most likely have been decided between the Mets and the Phillies. I am a die hard Phillies' fan. Will you not join me in praying for a favorable outcome? NEIL SULLIVAN: No, you would only do that for the Dodgers. You don't pray for some other team. [BOB LAUGHS] That's just — BOB GARFIELD: [LAUGHS] All right, I've clearly asked too much. Neil, thank you very much. NEIL SULLIVAN: You're entirely welcome. It was my pleasure. BOB GARFIELD: Neil Sullivan is a professor at Baruch College School of Public Affairs. He is the author of The Dodgers Move West. [MUSIC UP AND UNDER] COUNT BASIE SINGS: Satchel Paige is mellow, So is Campanella, Newcombe and Doby, too. But it's a natural fact When Jackie comes to bat The other team is through. CHORUS: Did you see Jackie Robinson hit that ball? Did he hit it? Yeah, and that ain't all. He's stole home. COUNT BASIE SINGS: Yes, yes, Jackie's real gone. BOB GARFIELD: That's it for this week's show. On the Media was produced by Megan Ryan, Jamie York, Mike Vuolo, Mark Phillips and Nazanin Rafsanjani, and edited by Brooke. Dylan Keefe is our technical director and Jennifer Munson our engineer. Our webmaster is Amy Pearl. BROOKE GLADSTONE: We had help from Andy Lanset, Cara McCormick, Jessica Magaldi, Ian Whitehead and Wayne Shulmeister. Katya Rogers is our senior producer and John Keefe our executive producer. Bassist/composer Ben Allison wrote our theme. This is On the Media from WNYC. I'm Brooke Gladstone. BOB GARFIELD: And I'm Bob Garfield.