There is a website called the Brooklyn Board, where people who have moved away from New York City’s “borough of churches” reflect upon their childhood memories.
About a dozen years ago, if a poster to the board wanted to incite an argument, all he or she had to do was write something like, “Say, that Walter O’Malley wasn’t a bad guy after all, and he had no choice but to move the Dodgers from Brooklyn to Los Angeles.”
And then, that person would have to duck.
The passions ran that deep. Those posts are now archived, but they reflected the anger and pain felt by many Brooklyn residents.
But in 1957, there was still hope among Brooklynites, despite the rumors. One letter expressing that hope, and one letter perhaps dashing it, are part of the Lelands Invitational Auction that ends Friday night. The unique pieces are among a few select items in the sale that Josh Evans of Lelands has highlighted as having the historic appeal to offer potential for price appreciation.
O’Malley was viewed as the villain in Brooklyn for many years, despite butting heads with Robert Moses, the powerful New York City Parks Commissioner who wanted to build a baseball park in the Flushing Meadows area of Queens. O’Malley wanted the replacement for Ebbets Field to be in Brooklyn across from a Long Island Rail Road depot, used by nine subway lines.
Neither man could agree, and the Dodgers packed up and moved west for the 1958 season.
The site O’Malley wanted, by the way, is now where the Barclays Center stands, the home of the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets and the NHL’s New York Islanders.
Nevertheless, the Dodgers prospered in California, going to 10 World Series and winning five of them.
But before the Dodgers left, team officials scrambled to assure Brooklyn residents that they were trying hard to remain in the borough. That is reflected in the two letters for sale in the auction.
The first letter is a typewritten note, signed by O’Malley, dated March 19, 1957, and addressed to Albert Hirsch of 699 Stone Ave. in Brooklyn.
“I have your letter but I wonder how carefully you read the newspapers,” O’Malley writes. “We will have to leave Brooklyn if there is not to be a new stadium when our present lease runs out.”
The correspondence comes with a letter of authenticity from PSA/DNA.
The second piece of correspondence up for bid is an undated, typewritten letter by Dodgers assistant general manager Arthur E. “Red” Patterson. Addressed “Dear Dodger Fan,” it tells of the team’s attempt to finance a new stadium with a $5 million down payment and annual rentals of $500,000.
“There is not anything we can do to keep the Dodgers here unless there is some meeting of the minds by the political powers that be,” Patterson wrote.
Patterson’s letter suggests that the Dodgers had made an official announcement about moving west, although it certainly seemed that O’Malley was planning to do just that. This letter, while not dated, probably was written sometime in 1957, and the threat of the Dodgers moving west was ominous and real.
Evans believes the Patterson letter is more important as a piece of memorabilia and a slice of history, calling it “a declaration of independence.”
“It is the Sermon from the Mount telling the ‘world’ what we already knew in our heart of hearts,” Evans states. “That the Dodgers were leaving, and they weren’t ever coming back.
“Look, the O’Malley letter is fabulous, as it so passionately resonates his own pain and frustration,” Evans wrote in an email. “He knew he would be judged no matter how many people he wrote one letter at a time.”
Both letters bore the address of the Dodgers’ front office at 215 Montague St. in Brooklyn.
O’Malley, author Andy McCue wrote in 2014, was a man “who knew everyone who counted in New York and couldn’t get what he wanted.” But he would become a man “who complained that he couldn’t figure out who was the boss in Los Angeles and got everything he dreamed of.”
As a footnote, 699 Stone Ave., where Hirsch lived in 1957, was renamed Mother Gaston Boulevard in 1981. The street was renamed in honor of A. Rosetta Gaston, a black historian and community advocate in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn. She was affectionately known as “Mother Gaston.”
The commercial building where the Dodgers’ business offices once stood now has a new address: 205 Montague St., according to The Brooklyn Daily Eagle website. It’s now the site of a TD Bank.
Walter O’Malley would have been pleased.