Friday, June 25, 2010

Game 73: My Old School

As the Dodgers and Yankees saw their paths cross in both the 1955 and '56 World Series, there was a movement beginning to take shape beneath the surface which would ultimately change the face of Major League Baseball and foreshadowed what would become a major trend in American society in the second half of the twentieth century, the second time in less than a decade they were ahead of the societal curve.

Just as the Dodgers were the first team to break the race barrier in baseball, they and the Giants were the first franchises to put down roots significantly west of the Mississippi when they shipped out to California after the 1957 season (the A's had moved to Kansas City three seasons prior). As the years went by, more and more baseball teams would add African-American players to their rosters until the league was completely integrated. Similarly, more and more citizens would flee the urban metropolises of the East Coast, causing the population to disperse into suburbs both along the eastern seaboard and into the western expanses of the country.

Of course, today, California is the most populous state in the union and there are five baseball teams in it, in addition to five more clubs - the Rangers, Astros, Mariners, Diamondbacks and Rockies - spread out over the western portion of the nation.

Why did the Dodgers flee the city that was home to their team since 1884 on the heels of their first World Series victory over the Yankees? As we've seen with countless sports franchises (including the Yankees), while Ebbets Field was becoming outdated if not untenable in the 1950's, the ownership group, headed by Walter O'Malley, threatened relocation so as to exert leverage upon the city in the negotiations for a new stadium. The team played seven regular season games at Roosevelt Field in Jersey City in 1956, which management thought would get the attention of and possibly frighten policy makers in Brooklyn into caving to their stadium-related demands, but their posturing was largely ignored.

O'Malley already had a 1/4th ownership stake in the franchise that he acquired when he became the team's lawyer in 1944, but it wasn't until the beginning of the next decade that he took full control of the club. The Bronx-born Giants fan bought out the ownership shares of Branch Rickey and John L. Smith after Smith's death in 1950, and through a series of complicated and somewhat shady transactions, took a majority stake in the team.

While Rickey was the driving force behind bringing Jackie Robinson to Brooklyn (along with creating the farm system), the move to Los Angeles probably never would have happened with him at the helm. He was considered far more conservative than O'Malley and the two frequently butted heads in board of directors meetings, disagreeing on everything from the construction of Dodgertown (O'Malley thought it was ostentatious although he came to embrace and modernize it when he became full owner) to whether or not the team should accept money by taking on an official beer sponsor (Rickey was against it). It seemed unlikely that the two would agree on a move this major, but with Rickey out of the picture in 1956, word got out that Los Angeles was looking for a baseball team and O'Malley was quick to let them know that he might be interested in making that leap.

At the time, professional baseball was limited to the eastern half of the country and unquestionably centered in New York. From 1936 to 1956, the three New York teams combined for 26 World Series appearances, seven of those 21, as Matt has been meticulously detailing, featuring the Yankees and the Dodgers and a smaller portion (3/21) pitted the Yanks and the Giants against one another.

When the City of Angels offered O'Malley something that New York could not - the opportunity to buy land to build a park on and the ability to own the facility - it was only a matter of time before New York went from having three baseball teams to just one.

At the time, the Giants were playing in the badly outdated and structurally-suspect Polo Grounds and were in the market for a new stadium as well. Knowing that he needed another team to make the jump to California with him, O'Malley convinced the owner of the Giants, Horace Stoneham, to relocate to San Francisco. In just one year, National League baseball had evaporated from New York City and the MLB had been stretched from sea to shining sea.


Like O'Malley, Joe Torre grew up a New York Baseball Giants fan. He was raised in Brooklyn and according to legend, was in the stands when Don Larsen threw his perfect game in the 1956 World Series. Like O'Malley, baseball also caused him to leave New York for Los Angeles, albeit under very different circumstances.

By all accounts, Torre didn't want to leave the Yankees and has said as recently as yesterday that the performance-based incentives were what most made him turn down the offer from the Yankees that day in Tampa, get back on the private plane he flew in on, and leave his twelve year career with the team behind him.

Perhaps it was best for both parties. The Yankees now have a top-notch skipper in Joe Girardi who has already led them to another World Series title and Torre, with his wheatgrass and his longboard, seems to be getting along just fine out in Hollywood. Managerial tenures aren't meant to last forever and even though Joe said he would have preferred to stay, he acknowledged yesterday that his time in the Bronx seemed to have run its course:
I stayed there a long time. Maybe too long. But you don't know that until you stay there too long.
With exceptions of Alex Rodriguez and to a lesser extent, Brian Cashman (relationships which were strained mostly because of what was written in The Yankee Years), the Joe Torre Era - and by extension, Torre - still inspires fond memories for supporters of the Yankees. There is a much deeper bond with many of the players who were a part of those twelve seasons, particularly Jeter, Pettitte, Rivera, Posada and Joe Girardi, who all spoke glowingly of their old skipper when they met with the media Wednesday.

Tonight is going to be a little odd for everyone involved. There will surely be plenty of talk on the broadcast about Torre and Don Mattingly and "how strange it is to see them in another uniform", but at this point it would be significantly more odd to see them back in their old Yankee duds.

It will of course be bittersweet to see two significant parts of the franchise - guys that we felt connections to that transcended baseball - in the opposing dugout. There are Yankee fans of a wide swath of ages who grew up idolizing Donny Baseball and for whom Joe Torre almost seems like a distant relative.

It's probably best to look at those two like we would some childhood friends or old roommates from college. The bond is there, without question, but with the feelings of nostalgia comes a realization that the era during which you were extremely close is now gone. The circumstances that brought you together were extraordinary while they existed and should be reflected upon fondly even if they are never going to come back.

Well I did not think the girl, could be so cruel.
And I'm never going back, to my old school.

California tumbles into the sea,
That'll be the day I go back to Annandale,
Tried to warn you, about Chino and Daddy G,
But I can't seem to get to you through the U.S. Mail,
Well, I hear the whistle but I can't go,
I'm gonna take her down to Mexico,
She said "Oh no, Guadalajara won't do".
[Song Notes: Walter Becker and Donald Fagen (the two members of Steely Dan) first met when they, along with Chevy Chase, were both students at Bard College, located in Annandale-on-Hudson, just north of Kingston, NY. The full story behind this song can be found in this article in Entertainment Weekly from 2006, but here's a partial explanation of why they were "never going back" to Bard, starting with a quote from Fagen:
Bard hired a lawyer and bailed out the 50 or so students who'd been hauled in during the raid. Problem was, Becker and White weren't technically students at the time. ''I asked them to bail my girlfriend out,'' says Fagen. ''She had nothing to do with this and was just visiting me. And they refused to do it. So when graduation time came I protested by not going. My case had already been dismissed—they had withdrawn the charges, actually. So I was sitting on a bench in front of Stone Row with my father and lawyer, just watching the graduation. A lot of the students were also angry because apparently the school had let an undercover policeman be planted in the building and grounds department. Their cooperation with the investigation was despicable.
After the incident, Becker and Fagen moved to Brooklyn and divided much of the rest of their careers between New York City and Los Angeles.]


Derek Jeter SS
Curtis Granderson CF
Mark Teixeira 1B
Alex Rodriguez 3B
Robinson Cano 2B
Jorge Posada C
Nick Swisher RF
Brett Gardner LF
CC Sabathia LHP
Rafael Furcal SS
Russell Martin C
Andre Ethier RF
Manny Ramirez LF
Matt Kemp CF
James Loney 1B
Casey Blake 3B
Jamey Carroll 2B
Vicente Padilla RHP

No comments:

Post a Comment