Ever wonder why whole athletic teams re-locate from one city to another? Either it is known or not, or, if lost in time, out of curiosity, a documentary, either on U-Tube or Amazon Video, restores the missing link. In 1957, the Brooklyn Dodgers wrapped it up at Ebbets Field and commenced the 1958 season in Los Angeles. Believe it or not, airplanes had something to do with the decision. Every once in a while, a tourist in New York City might take a notion to visiting the stadium where the Brooklyn Dodgers played. But it is not there. It had already fallen into a state of disrepair prior to the big move. Outside of Virginia, or other hyper-prideful states, the spirit of preservation, which often goes against plain economic sense, is rarely present.
Well, the “bums” had a great roster in the final years that rivaled their crosstown foes, the New York Yankees. They had Pee Wee Reese, Jackie Robinson, Duke Snider, and Roy Campanella. But they also had, at first base, a golden glove fielder as well as a dependable slugger who makes a ghostly appearance in Field of Dreams (1989). The subtitle of the documentary is “The Quiet Man”, mixing Gil Hodges up with the character in the John Wayne movie (1952). He was, in fact, low key, as well as a steady performer. His personal stats are as good as any hall-of-famer: 18 seasons, 370 home runs, a .273 average, and 1,274 RBI’s, including the winning runs in the World Series against the Yankees in 1955. He attended 8 all-star games and was, from 1940 to 1960, considered among the top-ten home run hitters. In a single game, once, he homered four times.
Sadly, a heart attack took him at the age of 47 in 1972. Out of sight, out of mind applies. But his colleagues and peers never forgot him and they weigh in, from time to time, in the documentary. We hear from Carl Erskine, Duke Snider, Ralph Kiner, Branch Rickey (owner), and Yogi Berra. I remember the L.A. Dodgers from Wrigley Field. The Cubs had nothing but pain and woe against the likes of Don Drysdale and Sandy Koufax. By then few thought much of the antecedents of the brand new Los Angeles franchise. I also saw Mantle and Maris at the old Comiskey Park. They made the Sox (1959 champs) sweat. But the Brooklyn Dodgers, like the New York Yankees, were hard to find on a transistor radio, though weak and staticky signals now and then managed to come across.
These were the days before baseball took a turn, not only in my opinion, for the worse, by emphasizing salaries, starter jackets, memorabilia, signatures, and hot tubs where there used to be grandstands. The 1981 strike that took till August to settle disgusted many diehard fans. After that, it would never be known if players were really playing or just posing for photo-ops. They seemed, rightly or wrongly, to be full of themselves. They were the nouveau riche, millionaires, though it was a thrill to see, just prior to the infamous strike, Reggie Jackson stand as still as a statue while a ball he clobbered sailed over the fences. There are always exceptions. Which brings me to the word that best describes Hodges — exceptional. Throughout the documentary, players express their wonderment at the man’s exclusion from Cooperstown. I wonder, too.
He also managed the New York Mets to a World Championship over the Baltimore Orioles in 1969. Not bad. But to get back to the beginning, it has never seemed right that the New Orleans Jazz became the Utah Jazz, though that was a basketball thing, not the national pastime. Lucky L.A., however, to inherit a team with so much history.