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Monday, January 31, 2005

Answering The Curse Of Gaven

At U.S.S. Mariner, DMZ pens a poison hate letter to Walter O'Malley over what he calls the "Curse of Gaven":
It’s almost too bad that the Dodgers have done well since they moved from Brooklyn in one of the more craven line items in the ledger of treachery by baseball teams. A New York sportswriter covering the Dodgers named Mike Gaven fell ill at the ball park and later died. Gaven said “Well, at least I covered the Dodgers when they were a great team. They’ll never be that great again.” Dick Young wrote an eloquent piece for the New York Daily News that ran the day Gaven died, in which he talked about how the team, having turned on their home, turned also on the sportswriters long close to the team favoring the sycophantic Los Angeles press “who are writing the kind of stories that will sell tickets where tickets are being sold", and Young’s opinion that it was those small wounds that brought down and killed Gaven.
My initial, bombastic reaction at reading this:
  1. O'Malley isn't the evil ogre he was portrayed to be. I don't deny the effect of what he did to Brooklyn, but at the same time, you can look up the attendance figures as well as I can; they drew a million six in 1949 in a ballpark with a capacity of 32,000 a game (theoretical capacity over a 154-game season, 2.5M*) and never again came close. Moving the club was a necessity; the neighborhood was becoming dirty and decrepit. People simply stopped coming to the games.
  2. With regards to the team favoring the local Los Angeles press, what, exactly, did he expect? Of course the Dodgers were interested in using the press to help them sell "tickets where tickets were being sold". Is it any different in Seattle now?
  3. Certainly, somebody would have come out west, and given the way things were, it was likely to be at least one of the New York NL teams. Both had aging stadiums in declining neighborhoods. Unlike the clubs with newer stadiums designed for automobile traffic, neither could pocket parking revenues in addition to the gate.
  4. O'Malley, who pretty much felt he could do anything he wanted to after the 1955 title and 1956 pennant, was aghast that Brooklyn wouldn't pony up (and badly misunderstood his ability to get things done within the borough). Moving certainly wasn't a first resort; he had in mind expansion elsewhere in Brooklyn, but building his franchise came first, before even the fans.
  5. Finally: this is merely an opinion, but given how conservative baseball has been, I think it has at least the ring of truth to it: Seattle does not have a major league team unless the Dodgers and Giants -- or name two other teams -- first get started in California. They were the logical precedent to all else that followed.
There. I've got that out of my system.
*Oops. Yes, that's perfectly right, 77 games, not 154.

they drew a million six in 1949 in a ballpark with a capacity of 32,000 a game (theoretical capacity over a 154-game season, 4.9M)Theoretical capacity for 77 home games, 2.464 million.
Mostly a good post...but over a 154 game season, the Dodgers would only have 77 home games, and so their max attendance would be 2.464 million. It still is bad (I don't know what average attendances were back then, but you would think they would want at least 60% of their stadium full). I don't think any team even today has 4.9 million capacity.
I apologize for nitpicking, but a team only gets to play half of a 154-game schedule at home. A capacity of 32,000 leads to a theoretical 77-game total of 2.46 million.

Not that that changes the point of this post, which is dead-on.
Heh. When I hit the "post comment" link there were zero comments. By the time I finished, there were three.

Sorry Rob.
Quoting absolute stats makes your case sound stronger than it is, since we're used to modern teams drawing a million easily. The Dodgers *relative to their competition* still drew well up until 1957, the last year before the move. They were 1st as late as 1952, and they were 2nd in 53, 55, and 56.

w/r/t favoring the press and what I expected -- are we to accept all slights and bad behavior because we expect the worst of human nature? They should have at least treated those reporters and their fans with some respect in the last year and not been petty. You should go read up on this stuff: they did things like refuse to let NY press travel with the team on road trips, so they NY guys had to find local stringers. It didn't gain them anything, it was just to be jerks.

Why do that? Why not leave with some class.

And that Seattle wouldn't have a team -- I don't understand exactly why you think making this point because I'm in Seattle somehow undermines my point that the Dodgers acted badly in leaving, but it's simply crazy. Do you really believe that today there would be no baseball in any of the 2nd, 5th, 8th, 12th, 13th, 15th, 15th, 17th, or 22nd-largest markets in baseball just because the Dodgers and Giants didn't move? If nothing else, the PCL was strong and doing very well, and would have continued to grow until it made a merger inevitible.
DMZ -- are you suggesting the team forbade NY journalists from traveling with the team because they were being petty? I mean, I plead ignorance in some way, but was this or was this not putting the team out extra resources or hassle to do something like this?

I just got done reading the section of Glenn Stout's book on the end of that era; I didn't get the impression that O'Malley was interested in screwing even the press over such things, but maybe I overlooked something. As to your point about attendance -- well, fair enough, they hadn't finished in the bottom half in attendance since 1928, but the reality also included greener, more automotively enhanced pastures outside Ebbets. Further, 1957 attendance was down 37% from 1949. 1956 attendance was down 26% from that same year. Maybe the Dodgers were having the same issues as the rest of the league, but O'Malley saw a way to leapfrog his competition and took it.
One more point: as to the issue with the PCL logically continuing, I would say it would most likely have been crushed all the same, only the details would have come out differently. My comments have nothing to do with you (DMZ) personally being in Seattle, only that some team had to first show baseball could be commercially successful on the West Coast. Maybe it wouldn't have been the Dodgers, but O'Malley's personality and influence made it somewhat inevitable once Brooklyn could no longer house his plans.
"as to the issue with the PCL logically continuing, I would say it would most likely have been crushed all the same"

I don't know about that. At that time the PCL was as close to a third major league as there's ever been. And it was darn near official at one point, with the league becoming "AAAA" in 1952.
I agree with Rob to a point. O’Malley was a visionary, at least as seeing the potential on the west coast (and I can tell you, being old enough to remember, there were MANY “experts” who said major league baseball would NEVER make it out here).

O’Malley envisioned other things as well. He advocated playing the game in symmetrical stadiums, with standardized playing field dimensions. He also believed in domed stadiums. Had Dodger Stadium been built at Flatbush and Atlantic Avenues in Brooklyn, it would have had a dome.

He lacked the vision, on the other hand, to see what had happened to his market and where it was headed in the future. When Brooklyn was forced to join Manhattan (the old city of New York) and three other counties or boroughs to form the megalopolis of New York City at the turn of the 20th century, Brooklyn was the largest city in the state of New York. For the next 50 years life went on as it always had. Brooklyn residents never considered themselves to be New Yorkers, but rather Brooklynites. That began to change after World War II. Tens of thousands of Brooklynites left for the Long Island suburbs each year, effectively replaced by southern blacks and Puerto Ricans, newcomers who had no such affinity for the erstwhile city.

O’Malley’s “Brooklyn” market was drying up, and he couldn’t see it. He believed a new stadium would halt the attendance decline. Glen Stout, in his book about the Dodgers, doesn’t agree. Had the Dodgers remained in a new stadium, attendance likely would have increased temporarily, then fallen off again. With the changing economics of the game, the revenue gap from broadcasting and advertising between the New York Yankees and the “Brooklyn” Dodgers would have steadily increased.

Rob says that Brooklyn wouldn’t pony up. Brooklyn had nothing to do with it. O’Malley had to deal with the big boys in Manhattan, the biggest boy being Robert Moses. The O’Malley was out of his league. Not that Bob Moses was a visionary either (despite his surname). All he knew was that he had 100 or so acres in the Flushing Meadow district of Queens that he wanted to get rid of, and he wasn’t about to condemn acreage in Brooklyn with the Flushing property still in inventory. O’Malley’s response? “How can they be the Brooklyn Dodgers if they don’t play in Brooklyn?”

Eventually the Flushing property was developed as Shea Stadium, home of the New York Mets expansion team. Though their fan base is virtually identical to the old Brooklyn Dodger fan base, calling the team the Queens Mets or the Brooklyn Mets was never an issue. The new team would market itself to the entire New York-New Jersey-Connecticut metropolitan area.

Why did I take the time to write this? Neither Walter O’Malley nor Bob Moses nor any of the other players in the Dodger move ever understood what was going on with the market. One man, had he been around then, would have,

His name is Arturo Moreno.
Very good point, Al. And I don't mean to imply that there was an entity around at that point called "Brooklyn" -- in fact, it was a mere neighborhood among the boroughs of New York, which held the keys to the whole operation. But I do believe that major league ball doesn't make it to the west coast unless the Dodgers or some other team moves. Maybe the AAAA PCL would have continued on, but the Dodgers' move came at a propitious time.

What's less often commented upon by Dodger fans is just how sorry the Giants had become; they were regularly lagging the NL in attendance by the time they moved. It's often said that the Giants did O'Malley a favor by moving with him to the west coast, but I wonder just how true that was; my suspicion is that they couldn't get out of Gotham fast enough.
NY Giants' owner Horace Stoneham did O'Malley a favor only in the sense that it helped O'Malley (and the other NL owners) cost-wise having two teams out of eight, rather than one, on the Left Coast, when one considers traveling expenses.

But the Giants were gone, one way or another. Stoneham had few, if any, discussions with the New York powers-that-be about a new stadium for the Harlem-based Giants. He owned the Minneapolis Millers of the AAA American Association (thereby owning territorial rights there), and was planning a move to the Twin Cities. (I read at one point that the team was to be called the Twin Cities Giants, and that the "TC" logo which has appeared on the caps of the Minnesota Twins was originally designed for the Giants, but have been unable to verify this.)

A Giants move to the Twin Cities made sense, for a number of reasons:

1. As noted above, Stoneham owned territorial rights to Minneapolis.

2. The "Twin Cities" of Minneapolis and St. Paul were insanely jealous of Milwaukee---a Northern Mid-West geographical "rival"---which had acquired the Boston Braves a few year before.

3. The Boston Braves had been the New York Giants' principal rivals in the early years of the National League---before the Dodgers began fielding teams that were equal to or better than the Giants. By moving to the Twin Cities, the Giants would re-establish their ancient rivalry with the Braves.

Yes, the Giants "couldn't get out of Gotham fast enough." Having been presuaded by O'malley to move to San Francisco instead of Bloomington, MN, Stoneham announced the move to Frisco during the MIDDLE of the 1957 season, whereas O'Malley waited until the season was over to announce the inevitable.

Oh, and by the way, the PCL's viability as a third major league should be judged at least in part by the population of its metropolitan areas (1950 census):

Los Angeles 4,367,911 (Angels & Stars)
San Francisco-Oakland 2,531,314 (Seals & Oaks)
Seattle 1,120,388 (Rainiers)
Portland 704,829 (Beavers)
San Diego 556,808 (Padres)
Sacramento 277,140 (Solons)

Bear in mind, the population figures are for the ENTIRE metropolitan area, not the inner city by itself.

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