Wednesday, July 11, 2007

The ghosts of Flatbush

The minute the stock footage flashed up of Ebbets Field during HBO's charming new documentary, "The Brooklyn Dodgers: The Ghosts of Flatbush," I immediately thought of an old Frank Sinatra song:

And there used to be a ballpark where the field was warm and green
And the people played their crazy game with a joy I'd never seen
And the air was such a wonder from the hot dogs and the beer
Yes, there used a ballpark right here...

And darned if they didn't start playing it.

For those who don't know, the mighty National League Dodgers used to play in Brooklyn. No, that's not quite right. For all practical purposes, the Dodgers were Brooklyn.

The heart and soul of the borough beat in old Ebbets Field. And the funny part is they took the team away right after Dem Bums became winners.

Here's the story in a nutshell. The Dodgers' home, Ebbets Field, opened in 1913. It was the smallest park in the game --- 35,000 strong. Jammed packed.

Somewhere along the way they added more seats. You could hear the players chatter back and forth. You were slammed right up against your neighbor.

Colorful characters populated the place. Hilda was one. She sat in the outfield, hung a sign on the fence proclaiming "Hilda Is Here!" and rang a cowbell whenever she was happy. In the old days, she'd send suggestions down to manager Leo Durocher via the outfielders.

Then there was the Dodgers' Sym-phony, emphasis on the phony. They played badly and out of tune all over the park.

All of Brooklyn lived and died with the Bums. They hated the cross town Giants (let's not even talk about Bobby Thomson's "Shot Heard Round the World" in '51). Special hatred was reserved for those Damn Yankees, who won it all every time, or so it seemed. "Wait Till Next Year" was the famous reaction throughout Brooklyn.

That changed in '55. The Dodgers beat the Yanks in a thrilling World Series. Brooklyn went nuts.

"This Is Next Year!" one of the tabloids proclaimed.

But the rumors had already started. Dodgers owner Walter O'Malley wanted a new ballpark. Infamous New York City planner Robert Moses said, "No way." He wanted a new ballpark in the Flushing area of Queens. (Moses eventually got his way when the expansion team New York Mets began playing at the newly built Shea Stadium in the mid-60s.)

Los Angeles came calling. Following the '57 season, O'Malley took his club and moved west. By '62, the now-christened Los Angeles Dodgers were playing in a big new ballpark at Chavez Ravine.

Brooklyn has never recovered.

America was changing anyway. Dodgers fans had fled in droves for Long Island. The old Brooklyn Eagle went belly up. Not too many years later, football became the national pastime.

But the memories live on. Those ghosts of Flatbush -- Jackie Robinson, Pee Wee Reese, Duke Snider, Campy -- live on. For two fleeting hours, they all come alive again in HBO's story of the beloved Bums.

The closing scenes show that ugly oversized wrecking ball -- made out to be a baseball -- tearing down Ebbets Field. Can you imagine how those people felt, watching their childhood -- their very soul -- be literally torn apart?

Leave it to Frankie to say it best:

And the sky has got so cloudy
When it used to be so clear
And the summer went so quickly this year

Yes, there used to be a ballpark right here...

"Brooklyn Dodgers: The Ghosts of Flatbush" is now airing on HBO.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't get chills reading about baseball.........usually...


10:48 AM  

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