Monday, June 11, 2007

For 3 Games, A Slice of Home Comes To SoCal...

It's that time of year again, when Mets' fans all over Southern California get a chance to see our favorite team in action. For the better part of the past 15 years, I've been a New Yorker waking up in Los Angeles every morning. While I've come to appreciate, and at times, even love where I live, I will always remain a New Yorker at heart. While I appreciate (and sometimes root) for the Dodgers and Angels, they are but the girl I dance with while waiting for the love of my life to re-enter the room...and here they are, the New York Mets, in the shape of O-Hern, Maine & Sosa, coming to town, hopefully to take 3 and a bit of redemption after a tough series with the Tigers.

We all know that the most knowledgable (and excitable) fans come from New York - although Boston and St. Louis would argue otherwise- but after all, NY is still the city where 3 baseball teams could play at one time, in a league that hadn't yet reached the West Coast, and, nearly 50 years later, the fanaticism for the Dodgers (dem Bums) and the Giants still burns brightly.

I had the chance to speak with a Mets' fan out here in L.A. last year, and found it amusing that he didn't even know that the Dodgers and Giants once played in New York. I explained to him that the Mets' uniforms are a homage to both teams, as the core colors (blue and white) are from the Dodgers, and the "NY" symbol, the "New York" on the away jerseys and the orange color come from the Giants. This "kid" was astonished, and I had taken it for granted that such details were as well known to Mets' fans as the fact that we won the 1969 World Series for the first time was! The fact that he had no idea about the Mets' uniform origins made me delve further, to see just how much he knew about why (and how) the NY National League teams left in the first place- and, again to my surprise, this 20+ fan knew nothing, even though he had lived his whole life in Los Angeles and called himself a big baseball fan. Therefore, for those fans who aren't familiar with how and why these teams moved from "the city that never sleeps" to "the land of make-believe", here's a brief history:

Walter O'Malley, a New York businessman and real estate developer/speculator, bought out the interests of baseball legend, Branch Rickey, who had built the 1955 World Champions (The Boys of Summer) and who broke the color barrier by signing Jack Roosevelt Robinson in 1947. Rickey's health had been declining, and O'Malley was a more well-healed businessman who had the funds to buy out Rickey and, much to his chagrin, Rickey agreed...and the path to even greater change had begun.

Even with a truly beloved organization, Brooklyn was becoming a less viable market for baseball, as many of the teams' fans had been moving to the suburbs (Long Island, Queens, etc.) as Brooklyn's demographics quickly began to change. It was harder to fill up the stands, and as attendance began to dwindle, expense for running the team grew steadily. O'Malley, ever a practical (and some would say, cheap) man, began looking for an alternative to Ebbet's Field and, perhaps, Brooklyn. Ebbets Field was laden in history, mostly bad, but was a monument to the love and support that generations of immigrants had bestowed upon their beloved Bums. There were few restrooms, the stand were rickety, and fans began staying away with the advent of radio and, to a lesser extent, television. Even in pennant-winning seasons, a ticket to the ballpark was not a hard thing to come by at a moment's notice.

This was recognized by NY politicos, as New York City Construction Coordinator Robert Moses (himself a huge owner of land in NY State and someone who has had many things named after him, such as the "Robert Moses Causway") tried to entice O'Malley into moving to a plot of land in Flushing, Queens, which would wind up becoming our own, beloved Shea Stadium, but which almost became the new resting place for the Dodgers. Would they have remained the Brooklyn Dodgers- that's up for debate, but best guess- No - they would have become the New York Dodgers, which, all in all, probably would sounded better to the scores of fans who still pine for the loss of their beloved Bums than the name "Los Angeles" Dodgers ever would. Moses' envisioned the creation of a city-owned and built stadium, which went against O'Malley's best instincts as a real estate developer.

Apparently, when the scenario that Moses laid out failed to move O'Malley, he began to look elsewhere in his quest to create a major revenue stream where the rest of Brooklyn saw a baseball team. He still believed he could find a piece of land in Brooklyn to use for a new stadium, but he could not acquire the type of deal that he wanted, which would allow O'Malley to either build the stadium himself and keep all of the revenue, or have the city build the stadium but also allow O'Malley to keep all of the revenue. It amounted to a game of chicken, as the local government in Brooklyn never believed there was a possibility that the Dodgers would move, and O'Malley seemingly dared them to not give him what he wanted and face the consequences...

After entertaining various potential sites, O'Malley set his sites west, in case the inevitable happened- which it did- as neither Moses nor the rest of the local, city and state politicians allowed O'Malley his dream of purchasing his own land with which to build a suitable stadium upon. Officials from Los Angeles were more than happy to make a sweetheart deal with O'Malley, offering him the Elysian area of Los Angeles, right off the 5 Freeway, on a hill that overlooks the entirety of Los Angeles (which is a site that is entirely different today then when O'Malley first laid eyes upon it). He received a sweetheart deal, and became one of the cities' largest real estate owners.

However, there was a catch - if O'Malley wanted this land, he'd have to talk fellow team owner, Horace Stoneham, into taking a deal to move to San Francisco. Stoneham faced his own series of problems, not the least of which was acquiring the means to replace his own, antiquated stadium, the Polo Grounds, the beloved yet inadequate home of the Giants, where my dad spent many a game in his childhood and young adulthood, pining for the likes of Mel Ott, Carl Hubbell, Willie Mays and Bobby Thompson.

O'Malley, with the backing of these same California officials, convinced Stoneham to join him in moving west, and, seemingly overnight, the NY-area was without a team in the Senior Circuit for the first time in history. The winter of 1957 would be a long one for NY baseball fans, as both teams departed for warmer climate, opening the 1958 season in their new homes.

O'Malley certainly got the better of the two deals, as Candlestick Park was a nightmare from the beginning, facing the wrong direction, which allowed terrible, ocean-based winds to penetrate even the thickest-skinned, bay area resident. The Giants still, to this day, have yet to win a World Series on the West Coast, some saying (including my dad) that this was their punishment for turning their backs on their beloved fans. However, since O'Malley was the instigator for the teams leaving, why have the Dodgers been far more successful? Could part of the reason be the sweetheart deal O'Malley received, owning one of the (still) nicest ballparks in the game, with a huge seating capacity, situated on a piece of land so far removed from (yet so close to) society that you'd be hard-pressed to think that anything beyond the ballpark existed once your car was parked?

Of course, Dodgers Stadium took a few years to be built, with the Dodgers playing their initial games at the L.A. Coliseum, current home to the USC Trojans football team (former home to both the Raiders and the Olympics), and the Giants eventually changed ownership hands, and the Peter Magowan-led group built Pac Bell Park, which is now AT&T Park, which is as amazing a ballpark as Candlestick was horrible, but they still have not won a World Series out here, and with Barry Bonds' career fading, look like a lock not to win one any time soon.

I'm not at all unhappy that these teams moved West, because then I'd be without my beloved Mets to root for, and entire generations of suffering might never have happened (LOL)...and even my dad, a crazy Giants fan who lived in Brooklyn and was interviewed by ESPN for their special on the 50th Anniversary of the "Shot Heard 'Round The World" would agree that, while he loved the Giants, the Mets just have a way of seeping into your system the likes of which no team has ever our own, humble opinions...

Which brings us back around to today...and the current Mets, 36-25, in first place in the NL East, versus the Dodgers, 35-28 and in third place in the NL West. For more on this match-up, check out the Mets website by clicking here. I will be attending all 3 games, and hope that it's money well-spent! John will have all of his wonderful posts regarding the outcome of the games, and I'll try to suppliment that with some additional features on what it's like to attend a ballgame out here, as well as the reaction I receive while wearing my Mets' gear to the ballpark (and don't worry- many thousands will be joining me!)

So, once again, I leave you with this...

L-E-T'-S G-O M-E-T-S!!!

L-E-T'-S G-O M-E-T-S!!!

L-E-T'-S G-O M-E-T-S!!!

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