13 July 2007

HBO: The Ghosts of Flatbush

If you haven't yet destroyed your TV or cancelled your subscription in reaction to the Sopranos finale, check out the new HBO documentary, Brooklyn Dodgers: The Ghosts of Flatbush. Like many other entries in the HBO Sports documentary library, The Ghosts of Flatbush provides a nice balance of facts and anecdotes intercut with great footage and stills, tied together with narration by the consummate pro Liev Schreiber (who I saw play Henry V in Shakespeare in the Park a few years ago).

The first hour covers the pre-Jackie Robinson era and Robinson's monumental rookie season. Comparisons are made between the Dem Bums and the hated Giants and patrician Yankees.

The second hour reflects upon the Brooklyn Dodgers' first and only World Series championship in 1955. Only two years later would owner Walter O'Malley, frustrated with his failed efforts to build a replacement for Ebbets Field, pull up stakes and run away with the Giants to California.

O'Malley saw the phenomenal gate success of the Milwaukee (née Boston) Braves and sensed opportunity. Yet he repeatedly lobbied to build a stadium in Brooklyn at his preferred site. His efforts did little to convince legendary NY über-planner Robert Moses, who is considered one of the first chief architects of the white flight phenomenon. Moses felt that instead of Brooklyn, a stadium would be better situated in Queens, where it would be geographically centered in relation to the rest of the five boroughs and the suburbs.

O'Malley felt that Brooklyn was the only home (at least locally) for the team, so it didn't matter if the stadium were 30 miles or 3000 miles away - the team would cease to be the Brooklyn Dodgers. He wanted a site at the corner of Flatbush and Atlantic, which was near several subway lines and the terminal for the Long Island Railroad. And unlike Ebbets Field, which only had 700 parking spaces nearby, there would be potential for thousands of spaces for fans in the suburbs who would rather take a pleasant drive in from Long Island on one of Moses' new parkways.

News of the move gradually changed from rumor to certainty, and sensing the inevitable, fans withdrew their support in disgust. While O'Malley is held up as the eternal villain, Moses is portrayed as almost equally culpable because of his disinterest in an eminent domain move (O'Malley and Dodger shareholders would have paid for the new ballpark's construction). Moses eventually got his stadium in Queens after the Giants and Dodgers left. Modern Shea Stadium would be home to the expansion New York Mets, whose colors would include Dodger blue and the Giants' orange.

Ironically, the site previously sought by O'Malley is near the home of the Atlantic Yards project, the multi-billion dollar mixed development that will contain a new arena for the Nets basketball franchise. Developer Forest City Ratner is trying to acquire the land via an expensive, highly controversial eminent domain effort. The Nets would be the first major sports team to call Brooklyn home since the Dodgers left 50 years ago. The Dodgers took up residence on a hillside near downtown LA called Chavez Ravine, which was cleared through - that's right - eminent domain.

It's not difficult to draw parallels between the current A's and the mid-century Dodgers. Both were run by maverick general managers, both had a blue collar ethos. Both typically fell short in the postseason. But perhaps it is one quote that best - and most eerily - depicts the team's fans, via author Michael Shapiro:
That fanbase was not all living together. There were spread out. They were not in one place where they could gather and share their despair.
Fans these days have the internet. Problem is, message boards and blogs don't usually end up on the evening news.
Brooklyn Dodgers: The Ghosts of Flatbush will air several times over the next week or so and is also available via HBO On Demand.

A couple of housekeeping notes: Blogger recently added a poll feature, so I'm testing it out on the sidebar. For now the poll will replace the Scorecard, which will return when there's a real proposal and media reaction.