It’s tough to be a New York Mets fan.
Just when you think they’re about to go on a winning streak, they find a new — often ridiculous — way to lose a big game.
I’ve only had three decades of misery. I can only imagine what Mets fans since the beginning have suffered through with this team. Yet, the great thing about being a Mets fan is that they’re still going to be there tomorrow.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about the Brooklyn Dodgers. With a crowd of 6,702 looking on at 9:08 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 24, 1957, Dodgers lefty pitcher Danny McDevitt threw the final pitch in Ebbets Field history — a groundout to shortstop Don Zimmer to preserve a 2-0 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates.
The Dodgers then closed out their season with a three-game series in Philadelphia, and at that point, Brooklyn Dodger baseball was officially done. Team owner Walter O’Malley wanted to build a new stadium in Brooklyn but was unable to come to an agreement with City Planner Robert Moses, which led to the Dodgers moving to Los Angeles.
Scores of Brooklynites were heartbroken to see “Dem Bums” leave the borough and head out west for the start of the 1958 season. Those who remember each have their own vivid stories about watching their favorite team pack up and leave.
“It was a pretty sad day,” said Bro. Robert Kent, alumni director and varsity baseball coach at St. Francis Prep, Fresh Meadows. “People were very down and got disgruntled with the Dodgers. They broke our hearts.”
“Brooklyn was never the same after the Dodgers left,” said Father Jim Devlin, pastor emeritus at Good Shepherd, Marine Park, who was a freshman at Xaverian H.S., Bay Ridge, when the Dodgers moved. “It was a terrible, terrible time when they left. As a boy, it was probably my first experience of genuine grief.”
“I can remember clearly that a great sense of sadness came over me,” said Auxiliary Bishop Raymond Chappetto, who became a devout Dodgers fan during the 1955 World Series while watching the games on television as he recovered at home from a tonsillectomy.
“I quite didn’t understand the financial dealings that were behind it, but it was like the loss of a family member. I felt very sad and abandoned as a boy. These guys were my heroes, and these guys are now leaving me. My heroes are going west.”
Even those directly involved — the Dodgers players themselves and their families — knew they’d be leaving behind a fanbase that adored them. I spoke recently to Joan Hodges, the soon-to-be 94-year-old widow of fan-favorite Gil Hodges, who treasured the support of Brooklyn fans — especially those from the family’s parish of Our Lady Help of
“I was a very big baseball fan,” Hodges said. “I was very upset, but I was very devoted to the team. Everybody felt very bad about it. Gil was very depressed too. He hated to leave the fans who loved him very much.”
Carl Erskine, now 93 years old, told me it was a strange feeling to be heading west instead of north after spring training in 1958, since the Dodgers still held their preseason in the same place they had trained since 1948: Dodgertown in Vero Beach, Fla.
“It wasn’t until we boarded the Dodger jet plane and headed west that it really hit us that the Brooklyn
days were over,” Erskine said. Erskine was the starting pitcher for the first-ever Los Angeles Dodgers game on April 18, 1958 in front of a crowd of nearly 80,000 fans at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum — a football stadium.
“Compared to the Brooklyn crowd, that crowd didn’t really make any noise at all,” Erskine recalled.
“They were just sitting there with a curiosity to be seeing a Major League team play in a football stadium.” Some Brooklyn fans — like Bro. Robert, Father Devlin and Bishop Chappetto — tried to still follow the team in Los Angeles, but the time difference was a huge obstacle, since West Coast games wouldn’t end until well after midnight New York time. Luckily, instead of converting to the Evil Empire and rooting for the New York Yankees, many Dodger fans held out until the Mets arrived in Queens in 1962.
In an ironic twist, today there’s a sign at 55 Sullivan Place in Brooklyn — the former home of Ebbets Field — that reads “No ball playing.” How would the greats Jackie Robinson, Gil Hodges, Roy Campanella, Duke Snider, Carl Furillo, Don Newcombe, Pee Wee Reese, Clem Labine, Ralph Branca, Johnny Podres, Preacher Roe and countless others feel about that sign?
They’d probably feel pretty heartbroken, just like the Dodgers fans who had to say their final goodbyes to “Dem Bums” in 1957.
Contact Jim Mancari via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.