On This Day

walter o'malley, dodgers dome stadium, o'malley stoneham, o'malley stadium
Harry Harris/AP
Dodgers owner Walter O’Malley shows
Giants owner Horace Stoneham (second from right) and two San Francisco officials a model of a domed stadium he proposed for Brooklyn, May 10, 1957.

On This Day: Dodgers and Giants Receive Permission to Move to California

May 28, 2011 06:00 AM
by findingDulcinea Staff
On May 28, 1957, the National League approved the move of the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants baseball teams to Los Angeles and San Francisco, respectively.

Dodgers and Giants Head West

The Dodgers and Giants were successful clubs with large, loyal fan bases, but by the mid-1950s both teams found themselves playing in outdated ballparks. The Dodgers’ Ebbets Field had just 32,000 seats, while the Giants struggled to attract fans to the cavernous, run-down Polo Grounds. Neither location had much parking to accommodate their increasingly suburban fan bases.

“People have moved out of the city,” Giants owner Horace Stoneham said in May 1957. “You used to be able—at least over in Brooklyn they could—to go out and get a crowd from within walking distance of the park and fill the stands. You can't do that any more.”

Dodgers owner Walter O’Malley, a Brooklyn native, insisted that he wanted to keep the team in the borough. He identified a piece of land at the Long Island Rail Road terminal on Atlantic Avenue where he wanted to build a modern, domed stadium.

But New York City Park Commissioner Robert Moses opposed this idea and advised O’Malley to build a stadium in Flushing Meadows, Queens. The two spent years negotiating, but were unable to reach a deal.

O’Malley, who had been contacted by Los Angeles officials as early as 1953, began to look more seriously into a move to Los Angeles. In February 1957 he acquired baseball’s territorial rights to Los Angeles.

The National League told O’Malley that he needed a second California team to function as a traveling partner; owners did not want just a single team in California, playing more than a thousand miles away from the nearest teams in St. Louis and Kansas City.

Before the start of the 1957 season, O’Malley met with Stoneham to discuss relocation. Stoneham had his sights set on Minnesota, but O’Malley convinced him to move to San Francisco.

O’Malley and Stoneham arranged deals with the mayors of Los Angeles and San Francisco for state-of-the-art ballparks. On May 28, 1957, at a meeting in Chicago, National League owners voted unanimously to permit the Dodgers and Giants to move, stipulating that both teams must move or neither would be allowed to.

For much of the 1957 season, the owners continued negotiations to keep the teams in New York, but they fell through. The two teams moved in the offseason, leaving the Yankees as New York’s only team for the next five years.

Opinion & Analysis: Legacy of the Dodgers’ Move

Walter O’Malley has been heralded by some as a visionary who “opened up sports on a national basis” and proved that sports could thrive west of the Mississippi, says David Carter, a professor of sports business at the University of Southern California. In 1957, the western-most team was in Kansas City. Today, a third of the league is located west of there.

For some Brooklynites, however, Walter O’Malley is the epitome of evil, a man who stole away Brooklyn’s beloved team so he could make more money. An old joke advised that if you were in a room with Hitler, Stalin and O’Malley and holding a gun with two bullets, you should shoot O’Malley twice. New York magazine examines the effect of the Dodgers’ move on Brooklyn and found that the romanticized vision of the Brooklyn Dodgers is more reality than myth.

Some have defended O’Malley’s decision, laying blame for the Dodgers’ move on Moses. Michael D'Antonio, author of “Forever Blue,” wrote in Sports Illustrated that the O’Malley would have kept the team in Brooklyn if not for the resistance of Moses and the New York political establishment

“He had wanted to build the iconic ballpark in Brooklyn,” says D’Antonio. “Instead, he was maneuvered into the role of baseball's Benedict Arnold. How this occurred is a case study in the power of the most imperious bureaucrat in the history of urban America: Robert Moses.”

The New York Times’ Dave Anderson places the blame for the Dodgers move squarely on O’Malley. He asserts that O’Malley made demands that he knew Moses couldn’t accept so that he could shift blame. “Please remember that Robert Moses didn’t move the Dodgers,” he writes. “Walter O’Malley did.”

Historical Context: Relocation in Baseball

The Dodgers and Giants were the fourth and fifth teams to relocated during the 1950s. The first was the Boston Braves successful 1953 move to Milwaukee, which served as an inspiration for Stoneham and fueled his desire to move to the upper Midwest. In 1961, after missing out on the Giants, Minnesota would get its team, when the Washington Senators relocated.

Return of National League Baseball to New York

A few years after the Giants and Dodgers left, New York attorney William Shea announced that a third baseball league, the Continental League, was being created, and one of its teams would be in New York City. The National and American leagues went on to absorb four of the Continental League teams, including the New York Metropolitan Baseball Club, before it even played a game.

The team, known as the Mets, adopted the blue of the Dodgers and the orange of the Giants. They debuted in 1962 and played two seasons in the Polo Grounds before moving to Shea Stadium, their newly constructed ballpark in Flushing Meadows, where Moses wanted O’Malley to build a new stadium for the Dodgers.

Return of Pro Sports to Brooklyn

In 2001, the Brooklyn Cyclones, a Class A baseball team, became the first professional team in Brooklyn since the Dodgers left. The team has an enormous following and sells out most of its games at MCU Park in Coney Island. “It feels great to go back and see baseball in Brooklyn,” a fan told USA Today. “The Cyclones allow for the people of Brooklyn to fill that old dream. For them, it's a new existence.”

Major professional sports is set to return to Brooklyn in 2012, when the New Jersey Nets are scheduled to move to an arena being built at Atlantic Yards, where O’Malley had wanted to build a new ballpark.

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