Long before the Dodgers left Brooklyn.
The first time I saw the manicured green of the Brooklyn Dodger’s home playing field I was 12 years old. The field had been named after one of the early Dodgers owners, Charles Ebbets.
After marveling at the green grass infield, my eye was quickly drawn to the big scoreboard in right field, with it’s huge Schaeffer Beer on top and on the curved wall below, the Abe Stark “hit me and win a free suit” sign. Above all stood a 19 ft. screen over which home runs flew out into Atlantic Avenue.
The box seats my dad had bought us were on the lower level between the third baseman, Cookie Lavagetti and the Dodger catcher, Babe Phelps, (his 1936 .367 lifetime batting average still stands highest among all catchers before or since). Our seats cost 4.00 a piece, a lot of money for a low income salesman in 1940. As I nibbled peanuts from a 10-cent bag, I stared around the park which I knew by ear, having listened to Red Barber description during the play-by-play on Dodger radio broadcasts.
Warming up for the home team was Luke Hamlin. Pitching for the Philadelphia Phillies would be right hander, Walter Kirby Higbe (later trded to the Dodgers).
For the home team, in the infield were at 1st base left-handed Dolph Camilli, at 2nd Pete Coscarart, the playing manager Leo Durocher was at short and on 3rd, the aforementioned Lavagetto. In the outfield, in right, “The People’s Choice”, Dixie Walker, in left the former St L. Cardinal great, home run hitting Joe Medwick and in CF Joe Vosmik. The Phillies outlasted the home team, 5 – 2 and after the game, Mgr. Leo Lippy Durocher was quoted as saying, “They shot the wrong Hamlin”.
From that day on I was staunch Dodger Fan, even listening at low level after I was in bed so my parents couldn’t hear it, Red Barber told me who was in “the catbird seat”. I remember crying like a baby when Mickey Owen missed that 3rd strike pitch that would have given the Dodger’s the win in a Dodger-Yankee World Series game, that resulted in the Brooklyn Eagle showing it’s Willard Mullin Hobo/Clown (styled after Emmett Kelly) saying, “I really thought this was gonna be "next year".
I attended games with my uncle Dave, sitting in the 65-cent bleacher seats. None stands out, except one. I think it was around l943, against the Cubs. The game was tied in the ninth when the Dodgers got a runner to 3rd with 2 out against Claude Passeau. That brought Johnny Hudson to bat. But playing-manager Leo Durocher with a bat in hand, called Hudson back and inserted himself into the lineup as a pinch hitter.
There was not a single person in the ballpark who didn’t know that Leo intended to lay down a squeeze bunt. Leo, who prided himself on his bunting, strode up to the batter’s box.
Leo fouled off Passeau’s first pitch. Then he took 2 off pitches, making the count 2-1. Passeau sneaked a curve ball past him, 2-2. A foul and another ball had it 3-2 with the game pending. With 2 strikes, would Leo try to bunt again? You betcha’. He laid the ball down, but it came right back to Passeau, who scooped it up … and dropped it, while the winning run scored. What happened next I’ve never seen before or since. He picked up the ball, looked at it for a second than hurled it totally over the stands behind home plate, right out of the ballpark. Sitting close to us, Hilda Chester rang her cowbell and we all went home smiling.
The next game I remember wasn’t at Ebbets Field, but in Yankee Stadium. My boyhood friend Marty and his married brother asked if I’d like to go with them to Yankee Stadium to see Game 6 of the l947 World Series. The train took us up to the Bronx, holding three center field front row seats bought months ago. It was a gorgeous Sunny Sunday and out in the sun we were sweating, but enjoying a back and forth game. In the 6th inning with the Dodgers leading 8 – 5, which meant I was winning a buck from the brothers, one of baseball’s most famous plays happened right in front of us. Ralph Branca was on the mound for the Dodgers. With 1 out, he walked Snuffy Stirnweiss, then gave up a hit to the great Yogi Berra, bringing to the plate, Joltin’ Joe DiMaggio, who had a hit earlier in the game. I can’t remember the count, but Joe swung and my stomach sunk. He had really tagged one which was coming right at us; a giant fly ball. As I watched it descend seemingly to land in our laps, a glove suddenly interfered with the balls entry into the stands. Al Gionfriddo’s left hand almost hit me as he stretched into the stands to catch what otherwise have been a DiMaggio home run and a 9-8 Yankee lead. In the Daily News the next day, it told of the catch that preserved the Dodgers 8-6 win. When I read it, I relived the catch, which was all we talked about on the train ride back to Brooklyn. I collected my two dollars, no great shakes when next day the Yankees won Game 7 to capture the Series.
Particular innings of games whirl past, but the next major involvement was in 1950 from the 3rd base box as a part-time producer of Branch Rickey’s network, which fed games to upstate New York, West to Ohio, South to New Jersey and into Pennsylvania. The announcer was the later voice of the Boston Celtics, Johnny Most and his color person was later KTTV Nightly News Anchor, Kevin Kennedy. It was Jackie Robinson’s first year and behind the plate was the celebrated Roy Campanella. The infield was Gil Hodges, Robinson, the Colonel Captain Pee Wee Reese and at 3rd. Billy Cox. In the outfield, was a committee of Cal Abrahms (who would make a stand out catch against the Yankees in 1951) and Gene Hermansky, sharing left field, in left, the Duke of Flatbush, Snider in Center Field and the Rifle, Carl Furillo in right.
Two games stand out. One on an off and on rainy night game against the Boston Bees on August 31. # 14, First Baseman Gil Hodges, had 5 hits in 6 at bats, 4 being home runs. The last one he hit was to the roar and laughter of all 14,000+ fans in the park. As I recall it, in the 8th the Bees were trying to give Gil a free pass, walking him deliberately. But Gil, wouldn’t have it, with one hand he reached his bat out of the strike zone deliberately leveling the count at 3-2. Instead of issuing the expected free pass, Antonelli then opted to try to strike him out. He threw a strike and Gil struck it, up into the left field second deck. I’ve never seen a wider grin on anyone’s face rounding third.
The other game that same 1950 was not as happy an event. Especially not the final game. The Philadelphia Whiz Kids and the Dodgers had their aces on the mound, Robin Roberts for the Phils against Don Newcome for the Dodgers. On what we thereafter always called, “The Wrong Way Home Run”, an opposite field shot into the left field seats by left-handed hitter Dick Sisler in the the tenth inning, ending the Dodger season with them in 2nd place.
It’s funny, after being a producer of Detroit Lion and Detroit Tiger Radio and Television Games for 8 years and the Baltimore Orioles and Colts for 6, these first games come back with more clarity than most of the games I worked in the 14 Detroit-Baltimore years. I can almost feel the tears remembering that Broolyn kid who had just has heard my beloved Dodgers lose a world series game to the hated Yankees. Owen had just returned from playing in Mexico during a player strike. I was ready to send him back.