On May 28. 1957, National League Baseball owners voted unanimously to let both the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants relocate to California. The teams had to move together or not at all, and by October 1957 both had announced their moves. It overjoyed West Coast baseball fans – and left broken hearts that still haven’t mended in New York City.
As with most modern days team moves, what happened with the Dodgers and Giants came down to money, new stadiums and fan support. Here’s a closer look at what happened with both clubs.
The Dodgers were one of the most beloved and well-supported teams in baseball history. They routinely outdrew their cross-city rivals, the Giants. Their other cross-city rivals, the New York Yankees, had beaten them in the World Series in 1941, 1947, 1949, 1952 and 1953. The Dodgers finally broke through in 1955, beating the Yankees in the World Series – although they lost to them again in 1956.
By 1957, the team had given fans a World Series title and seven pennants in the past 16 years. They had also broken the color barrier by signing Jackie Robinson in 1947.
Because of so many years of coming close but not winning the title, locals referred to them affectionately as “Dem Bums.” The slogan “wait ‘til next year!” was born in Brooklyn. In short, the team, founded in 1884, was an institution.
But that was all about to end.
The seeds for the move were planted in 1950, when real estate magnate Walter O’Malley bought Branch Rickey’s 25% share of the team and bought the shares of the widow of owner John L. Smith, a German-born chemist.
Starting around 1947, O’Malley and the city began talking about a new field. Everyone agreed that Ebbets Field, the home of the Brooklyn Dodgers, was getting old. The team designed a new, 55,000-seat stadium to be located in Brooklyn, according to the New York Daily News.
Everyone seemed satisfied with the plan except one man: Robert Moses.
Few people likely remember Moses, but he may be as much to blame as anyone for the Dodgers now playing in Chavez Ravine. An urban planner with an incredible amount of power, Moses never held elected office but controlled millions of dollars in public funds. He is considered the father of the suburbs, having favored the building of roads over public transportation.
He didn’t like the new stadium idea in Brooklyn, because he was worried about traffic jams, according to the Daily News. Moses wanted the new stadium in Flushing Meadows in Queens, where new parkways were being constructed.
O’Malley wasn’t interested. He began looking for new sites for his team. He bought the Los Angeles Stars. He sold the rights to Ebbets Field. Much like the Boston Braves had made the move to Milwaukee, O’Malley was getting ready to bolt to L.A.
The Final Dodgers Game
O’Malley did not officially announce his intentions until after the final game was played in Ebbets Field on Sept. 24, 1957. But fans knew it was over. Only about 6,700 showed up for the game. The Dodgers won 2-0 over the Pittsburgh Pirates. It remains the last Major League Baseball game ever in Brooklyn.
In one of the greatest jobs by a baseball organist in the history of baseball organists, Gladys Goodding – who knew what was up – played a series of songs that night to acknowledge the heartbreak. They included:
- “After You’re Gone,”
- “When I Grow Too Old To Dream”
- “How Can You Say We’re Through”
- “Que Sera, Sera“
Finally, as fans filed out, Goodding played “Auld Lang Syne.” Sixty-plus years later, in Brooklyn, old acquaintances have not been forgotten. And O’Malley is still hated.
The Dodgers officially announced the move Oct. 8, 1957.
New York Giants
As part of the move of the move to California, O’Malley thought it best not to go it alone. So, he talked Giants owner Horace Stoneham into making the move with him, placing the Giants in San Francisco.
Why were the Giants open to a move? Attendance was one issue. The Giants could not draw fans as well as the Brooklyn Dodgers did despite winning championships in 1951 and 1954, according to History.com
Unlike the Dodgers, the Giants announced the move and held a “farewell party” at the team’s final game at the Polo Grounds on Sept. 29. Fans stormed the field after the game.
Somewhat bitterly, the team’s public relations spokesman at the time said, “If all the people who will claim in the future that they were here today had actually turned out, we wouldn’t have to be moving in the first place,” according to History.
The Giants also had considered moving for several years to boost attendance and get a new stadium. For a time, they considered a move to Minneapolis, according to the New York Times.
However, historian Stew Thornley told the Times that Stoneham may have simply feigned interest in Minneapolis to get a better deal from either New York or San Francisco – a classic move still used today (how many teams threatened to move to Tampa Bay before they got an expansion team?).
New York Mets
In a story littered with heartbreak and double-crossings, one person emerged as a hero to New Yorkers: Joan Whitney Payson. A shareholder in the Giants, she protested the move to California but could not stop the deal.
Later, she co-founded the New York Mets to bring back National League baseball to New York City – helped mightily by the threat of formation of a third league, called the Continental League, but William Shea and Branch Rickey.
The Mets use the logo of the New York (baseball) Giants, as well as the orange of the Giants and the blue of the Dodgers. Orange and blue are also the colors of the New York City flag.
Payson served as president of the team from 1968 to 1975.
That’s an overview of two of the most heartbreaking team moves in sports history. It still resonates today.