In 1933, at the age of 15, I started attending Brooklyn Dodger games at Ebbets Field, which was located at Bedford Ave. and Sullivan Place, a little over 2 miles. I would arrive at the Stadium on a Sunday morning 3 hours before game time with my lunch consisting of one or two sandwiches, 2 pieces of fruit and cake. The first hour was spent outside the players’ entrance so that I could greet my heroes. In addition to the Dodgers, I admired especially the N.Y. Giants i.e. Bill Terry, Mel Ott, Carl Hubbell and Freddy Fitzimmons. It would have been an excellent opportunity to obtain autographs; however, I never had the desire to do so.
As soon as the gates were opened, I would rush to the bleachers to acquire a good seat; the entrance fee was 55 cents. After a short while, my team would commence batting practice, being the home team. The pitchers were stationed in the outfield catching and chasing balls batted by one of the coaches with a fungo bat. Since the bleachers were situated farthest from home plate in center field, those sitting in the bleachers would carry on conversations with the pitchers. After the visiting team took batting practice, both teams began fielding practice and then the game started.
The 1933 Dodgers ended in sixth place with a record of 65-88. They finished the next five seasons fifth, sixth or seventh despite finishing in fourth place 1930-1932. My ardor for them was not based on their performance. I became a rabid fan of “dem bums” until they left for L.A. in 1958. One of the bleacher fans was an elderly woman named Hilda who attended every home game with her cowbells. Behind first base a three-man band named the “Dodger Simfony” played raucous music throughout the game.
The team was called the Dodgers because of the many trolley cars in Brooklyn and the inhabitants of this borough were constantly dodging these cars. For a period of two years, 1930-1931, the team was named the Robins because Wilbert Robinson had been the manager from 1914 thru 1931 leading them to two World Series in 1916 and 1920. The Boston Red Sox beat them in 1916 four games to one
Famous Dodger players were Rube Marquard, Zach Wheat, Jake Daubert, Casey Stengel, Chief Meyers and Fred Merkle. Among the Boston players were Carl Mays, and Babe Ruth who won one of the games with a .64 e.r.a. In 1920 the Cleveland Indians beat them 5 games to 2. The Dodgers included some of the above while the Indians had Tris Speaker, Steve O’Neill and Stan Covaleski who won 3 games with a .67 e.r.a. “Uncle Robbie”, as he was affectionately called, caught for the Philadelphia Athletics and Baltimore Orioles from 1886-1902. In 1945, eleven years after his death, he was inducted into the Hall of Fame.
I can still remember the 1933 roster: Sambo Leslie-1b, Tony Cucinello-2b, Glenn Wright-ss, Joe Stripp-3b, Hack Wilson, Johnny Frederick, Danny Taylor in the outfield, Al Lopez-c. The pitchers were Van Lingle Mungo, Boom-Boom Beck and Hollis Thurston. Beck had an appropriate name as almost every pitch he threw landed in the stands, his record being 12-20. Mungo had the best record at 16-15 with an e.r.a. of 2.72. The players were mostly over the hill and consequently their poor showing until 1938 when Branch Rickey, who had built a dynasty at the St. Louis was engaged as general manager of the Dodgers.
He was the father of the farm system and immediately created a winner in Brooklyn. In his first year at the helm he traded for Dolph Camilli, a feared slugger; Freddy Fitzimmons, a southpaw who always faced center field at the start of his windup and Leo Durocher, a fiery shortstop. In the following year, he again traded for 3 excellent pitchers, Whitlow Wyatt, Luke Hamlin, Hugh Casey and for Dixie Walker, a .300 hitter, resulting in the Dodgers finishing third in their division.
In 1940, the farm system began to pay off by the development of two stars, Pee Wee Reese and Pete Reiser; both having a great impact on the team. Reese played 15 years with Brooklyn and one year at Los Angeles, the new home of the Dodgers, and participated in 7 World Series. Pete Reiser, who was even more talented than Reese, leading the League in doubles, triples, and batting average of .343 in 1941 and stolen bases in 1942 and 1946. In 1948, he had the misfortune of crashing into the concrete wall in center field at while chasing a fly ball; today all the walls are covered with rubber. This injury ruined a very promising career; he going downhill rapidly as he never regained his strength. Finally, after being traded to 3 different teams, he hung up his spikes in 1952. Reese made the Hall of Fame in 1984. The team finished in second place.
Rickey continued on his quest to bring a Pennant to Brooklyn by bringing 4 good players to the team in 1941: Kirby Higbe-pitcher, Billy Herman-2B, Arky Vaughn-3B and Mickey Owen-catcher. Herman made the Hall of Fame in 1975. These valuable acquisitions were responsible for finally winning the Pennant after 21 years of draught. Their opponent in the World Series was the Yankees who beat them 4 games to 1; they were the only team they ever met in October in the ensuing years. The following year saw them finish the season in second place.
The “Mahatma”, as Rickey was called, was not finished, going to his farm and bringing up to the majors Gil Hodges, a slugging first baseman and Gold Glove winner, Hal Gregg, a pitcher and Rex Barney, a pitcher blessed with a smoking fast ball who had difficulty finding the plate. In 1948, he struck out 138 batters, walked 122, achieving 4 shutouts and 12 complete games and an e.r.a. of 3.10. In the other 5 years on the team his record was mediocre at best, having an e.r.a. ranging from 4.41-6.42 and never winning more than 9 games in a season.
Hodges, in his 12 years on the team, was very often among the league leaders in home runs, runs and runs batted in. He was the manager of the N.Y. Mets 1963-1971 and in 1972, while playing golf in the off- season in Florida succumbed to a heart attack at the age of 48. He lived on Bedford Ave. between Avenues K and L, a few blocks from my home, and I would drive by his home every evening on my way home from the office. When the funeral services were held at St. Brendon’s Church, on Avenue N and East 27th Street, I remained outside to pay my last respects to a “mensch” (a good person) who also happened to be a good ballplayer. The war began to take a toll on major league baseball resulting in many of the younger players going off to pick up arms against the enemy; as a consequence, the Dodgers lost ground and settled for third place in 1943. The teams with older players did well during these years.
Again the farm came through in 1944 with 2 good pitchers, Ralph Branca and Clyde King. I will write about Branca later on these memoirs. The team was now devoid of every young and talented player and the result was ending seventh, by far the worst result achieved in all the years they remained in Brooklyn. After the war, the farm contributed Carl Furillo, an outfielder with an exceptionally strong, accurate arm giving him the name, “The Reading Rifle”, since he resided in Reading, Pa. Besides being an excellent fielder, he was a dependable hitter owning a batting average between .295 and .344 which led the league in 1953.
1947 introduced 2 mega stars, Duke Snider and Jackie Robinson, the former developed in the farm system and the latter coming from UCLA where he starred in baseball and football. Robinson played one year with the Montreal Royals before coming to Brooklyn. I will not write about his being the first black player to be admitted to the major leagues since every person is very knowledgeable on this subject; he entered the Hall of Fame in 1962. Several years later, New York teams had the best center fielders in baseball, Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle and Duke Snider. All three are in the Hall of Fame, Snider making it 1980. Suffice it to say, Rickey was most responsible for the Dodgers playing in the World Series 7 times in the period 1941-1956.
Not being financially able to go to camps or resorts in the summer, I spent my afternoons visiting poolrooms where I would “watch” the baseball scores on the blackboard. However, this practice was not without risk. These establishments were owned and managed by the underworld, especially gambling bookies. Not infrequently, raids were conducted by a special squad of detectives from the District Attorney’s Office. They would arrest all occupants of the poolroom and take them to the nearest police station in patrol wagons. Those below 16 or so would get a kick in the pants and told to leave and never to return; I never heeded their advice. Incidentally, I’m quite sure that these “law enforcers” were on the “take” and advised management in advance of their visit.
Once when I was “shooting pool” when I was around 17, a hush came over the crowd when a well-dressed man in his thirties made his entrance. I had no idea who was this extremely important individual. Somebody, who was more familiar with gangsters than I was, informed me that I was gazing at Buggsy Goldstein, a reputed member of Murder, Inc. Years later when Tom Dewey, then NYS Special Prosecutor, brought to justice this crime syndicate, Buggsy was electrocuted the same night as Dasher Abbandando and Happy Maioni at Sing Sing.
Dewey went on to become Governor of New York State and ran for President in 1948 when he lost to Harry Truman in an upset election.