Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Baseball Hall of Fame opens doors for former Dodger owner Walter O'Malley

By Pete Hamill
New York Daily News
Tuesday, December 4th 2007, 4:00 AM

Daily News
Dodger manager Walter Alston (l.) and owner Walter O'Malley in 1953

Forget the dithering about Barry Bonds. Send apologies to Pete Rose. Warm up a place for Shoeless Joe Jackson. All moral arguments about who belongs in Cooperstown are over forever. Walter O'Malley has been voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

I know, I know: The thing about the Dodgers and Brooklyn was a long time ago. Several generations of fans have grown up in the 50 years since O'Malley moved the Dodgers to Los Angeles and they don't really care.

Scholars have made cases that O'Malley had no recourse, that the true villain was Robert Moses, that New York and the rest of the country were being transformed by television, blah and blah and blah.

But there are millions of us who still subscribe to an almost biblical injunction: Never forgive, never forget.

They included my father. He was an immigrant from Northern Ireland who did not become an American by reading the Federalist Papers. He became an American by reading the sports pages of the Daily News.

His James Madison was Dick Young. His team was the Brooklyn Dodgers, and most of all, the team that played together 10 years after Jack Roosevelt Robinson, No. 42, first walked onto the sweet grass of Ebbets Field.

There were hundreds of thousands of others like him: Jews from the shtetls of Eastern Europe, Italians from Sicily and Naples and Calabria, Poles who came as displaced persons after the war. They became Americans by embracing the secular religion of baseball.

After the spring of 1947, the descendants of those Africans who came to thecountry in manacles were also partofthe alloy in the bleacher. This is America, baby.

They roared together when Robinson stole home or Reese turned the double play. They wept together when the goddamned Yankees won again in the World Series.

If they could not get to Ebbets Field, they followed the games in this paper, reading it each morning on the subways from back to front.

They argued in thousands of bars, in shipyards, factories and construction sites, at American Legion posts and at parades.

Baseball was one of the great factors that unified Brooklyn, as it did for almost everybody else in the larger city.

Ethnicity and religion didn't matter as much as coming out of the subway, hurrying home and asking someone with a radio: "How are they doing?" In Brooklyn, you never had to ask who "they" were.

Together we had the great Series of 1955, when they finally beat the goddamned Yankees. But the Boys of Summer (as Roger Kahn called them later) were growing older, evoking the line from Yeats: "What made us dream that he could comb grey hair?"

There were rumors of departure, but most of us laughed them off. How could there ever be a Brooklyn without the Dodgers? It was like trying to imagine New York without the Statue of Liberty.

I was in the Navy in Pensacola, Fla., in 1953, where a few black sailor friends took me to a club near New Orleans where I first saw Little Richard. I was the only white guy in the joint.

Some customers were uneasy. When word got around that I was from Brooklyn, all tension evaporated. There were hugs and handshakes. The Dodgers had millions of fans in the American South, too, because of Robinson and Campanella and Newcombe and the righteous white men who played with them.

Then O'Malley took them on the lam. I was in Mexico, studying on the GI Bill, when the tale of departure got serious. I came home in the late summer of 1957 and my father was a ruin. He wouldn't watch any of the remaining games and cursed O'Malley whenever the name came up.

He wasn't alone. For some of those people who roared and cheered, the hurt would last a lifetime. Many felt like naive fools. Baseball wasn't a secular religion after all.

It was a business, as cold as any business. That disillusion was permanent. Some became Knicks fans, because they could never root for the Yankees and the Giants were gone, too. Others felt the connection to Brooklyn was an illusion and began to move away.

Today, not many remain alive, or they are living in Florida or Arizona. I can hear them cursing at this dreadful news. And muttering, as I am: Never forgive, never forget.

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