Ebbets Field

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Ebbets Field

From 1913 to 1957 Ebbets Field was the home to major league baseball's Brooklyn Dodgers. The venue was considered by many to be the heart and soul of Brooklyn, New York, but it is arguable that at no other point in sports history has there been an environment in which the players, the fans, and the ballpark were so intertwined. Ebbets Field, in all its baseball glory, gave Americans much to celebrate about the game that so closely mirrored the aspirations of their society. Ebbets Field stood as a symbol for the unique character of Brooklyn—a city not only with a baseball team, but one with an independent identity, different to the other boroughs of New York. The ballpark provided a setting in which everyone in the ethnically and racially diverse community of Brooklyn could come together on an equal footing. The electric environment of the Dodgers and their home ground helped maintain that interracial unity for the better part of the first half of the twentieth century. At Ebbets Field, the Dodgers and their fans pulled together in a common cause: the establishment of a baseball tradition in Brooklyn that would best reflect the identity of the people and the culture of the borough.

Charlie Ebbets, the owner of the Dodgers from 1898 to 1925, moved the team to the new venue, which he named after himself, after their old ballpark, Washington Park, became too crowded. Ebbets Field opened on April 9, 1913, with a seating capacity of 25,000. In later years the stadium came to hold over 30,000 people. Renovations transformed the park over the years from a pitcher's to a hitter's stadium. The park was small, but it was acceptable to Brooklyn because it was very comfortable. When Dodger fans went to the stadium to see a game, the experience was made additionally interesting by the many different types of characters who were rooting for the team. The "Dodger Sym-phony," for example, was made up of five fanatical fans who danced and played in the stands and on top of the dugout. Before each game, fans lined up along the railing to shake the hands and acquire autographs of the players. The players and fans had a personal relationship that was unique to major league baseball. The Dodger fans loved their team because the Dodger players symbolized the working class ethos prevalent in Brooklyn society at the time; the fans could identify with the players and respect their efforts.

There were several milestones reached at Ebbets Field that affected major league baseball and American popular culture. The first ever televised major league baseball game was played at Ebbets Field on August 26, 1939 when Brooklyn met the Cincinnati Reds in the first game of a Saturday afternoon doubleheader. Televised by NBC, the contest paved the way for the regular TV transmission of sport programs in later decades. The second milestone witnessed at this ballpark was more significant. On April 15, 1947, Jackie Robinson became the first African-American to play in a major league game, thus breaking the color barrier that baseball had been forced to adopt back in the 1880s. The Dodgers became the first integrated team in major league baseball, thanks to their innovative president and general manager, Branch Rickey. Soon, the sport would truly become interracial, with many African American players admitted to the major leagues. It was appropriate that Ebbets Field, a park that was already known for its ethnic and racial diversity among the fans, should have pioneered integration on the field.

Winning was as important to Dodger fans as it was to fans of other teams, but Dodger fans also supported their team through many losing seasons. Still, the Dodgers did win nine National League pennants and secured the World Series title, for the only time in their history, in 1955. The people of Brooklyn did much celebrating after that championship, acknowledging their team's star quality as they had always done, but this time giving them a victory parade. But their joy was short-lived. After the 1957 season, the Dodgers left Brooklyn and Ebbets Field for Los Angeles, where greater profits could be made. It was not an issue of attendance, for the Dodgers had always drawn well, but one that revolved around new financial opportunities on the West Coast. When the Dodgers left, the heart of Brooklyn departed with them and things were never the same again for the borough. Sadly, Ebbets Field, which had signified the ideal of what an American ballpark should be—a place of true community on the field and off—was demolished in 1960.

—David Treviño

Further Reading:

Golenbock, Peter. Bums, An Oral History of the Brooklyn Dodgers. New York, Putnam, 1984.

Kahn, Roger. The Boys of Summer. New York, Harper and Row, 1972.

McNeil, William. The Dodgers Encyclopedia. Champaign, IL, Sports Publishing, 1997.

Prince, Carl. Brooklyn's Dodgers: The Bums, the Borough, and the Best of Baseball. Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1996.