In May 1957, Major League Baseball owners voted in a unanimous decision to allow the New York Giants and Brooklyn Dodgers to move their franchises westward to California. While fans of the Giants could simply cross the Harlem River to go see a Yankees game, Dodgers fans had no such opportunity. The transition left a baseball-shaped void in the outer boroughs, to be filled just a few years later by our very own New York Metropolitans.
A Classic Rivalry
Much of the identity of the Brooklyn Dodgers was characterized by their long-standing rivalry with the Giants. Since the late 1800s, both teams played in the same city and were in direct competition fighting for the National League pennant. While white-collar bankers and lawyers would flock uptown to the Polo Grounds to catch a Giants game, blue-collar workers in Brooklyn and Queens would find their way to Ebbets Field in Flatbush.
As the city continued to modernize though, the Dodgers’ home began to feel cramped, surrounded by housing and industry without so much as a parking lot for fans who had recently moved to suburban Long Island. The stadium issue would cause conflict between owner Walter O’Malley and city officials, including Robert Moses, eventually leading to the move to Los Angeles.
What the Dodgers left behind was a massive population of fervent baseball fans without a local team. Fans of the Giants had a nearby team in the Yankees, and one that was not a direct rival as the club played in the American League. The Dodgers, on the other hand, had just lost five of six World Series matchups with the Bronx Bombers in the 1940s and 50s, and fans could hardly stomach traveling to the Bronx when they had become accustomed to the Brooklyn team playing in their own backyard.
Former Giants fans had a natural alternative in the Yankees. After all, they were both “New York” teams. The Dodgers fans did not. No other team had Brooklyn as its namesake. I myself am the product of two grandfathers who grew up Dodgers fans in Brooklyn and western Queens, adopting the Mets later in life and passing it down through the generations.
The Lovable Loser
The identity of Brooklyn’s team did not just derive from their blue-collar fanbase but also through their underdog appeal. In the early 1900s, they were in a constant battle with the Giants, and one that they usually came out on the losing side of. In those years, the Giants were a perennial World Series contender, winning three from 1900 to 1930. The Dodgers, on the other hand, took on the moniker the “Daffiness Boys” in the 1920s due to their capacity for on-field blunders (sound familiar, Mets fans?). Sports cartoonist Willard Mullin took this a step further, commonly depicting the Dodgers as a clown in the New York World-Telegram.
In those days, Dodger fans were often subject to the mockery of the Giants fanbase, not unlike the long-standing big brother/little brother relationship between the Yankees and Mets. Thus, when the new team arrived in Flushing in 1962 and immediately lost 120 of 162 games, ex-Dodger fans knew they found their new team.
Growing the Game
Of course, no conversation of the Dodgers’ days in Brooklyn is complete without Jackie Robinson. In a time when the United States was still heavily segregated, the color barrier in baseball was shattered when Robinson walked out onto Ebbets Field in 1947. This would come to be a watershed moment in MLB history, paving the way for all future non-white players. This signaled to New York that all were welcome in the Dodgers fanbase. Today, the Mets strive to continue that legacy, playing their home games in the heart of the world’s most diverse community.
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