O'Malley's Double Play
So baseball is not as important as housing or atomic fallout. Nevertheless, when it was announced that the Brooklyn Dodgers may go to Los Angeles and the New York Giants to San Francisco, several million Americans felt much as if they’d just been evicted or irradiated. To them and millions of others, the chief present passion in living is connected with the winning or losing of today’s ball game. Giants and Dodgers fans almost literally felt like a baby whose father deliberately drops it on its little soft head. The baby tried to understand that Father had his reasons and ended by wondering whether it really liked Daddy very much. The poor thing was in trauma.
The episode gives a wonderful example of anti-social skulduggery piously masked in “necessity,” and a skillful confusion of issues which the press for some time seemed unable to disentangle.
Ball clubs have moved before, most recently the Boston Braves to Milwaukee, the Philadelphia Athletics to Kansas City and the St. Louis Browns to Baltimore. But these cities were one-club towns that were overloaded with two clubs. New York City is certainly not a one-club town. The Dodgers are at the moment the world champions of major-league baseball. The Giants have the longest history of greatness in the sport. If these two clubs are moved, baseball calls for an investigation, which Chairman Celler of the House Judiciary Committee seemed disposed to give it.
Celler was needed. A corps of sportswriters who can be deeply shocked by Ted Williams’ spitting were unmoved by the much more anti-social moves of President O’Malley of the Dodgers. The double standard as between magnates and players had split too wide; the sportswriters’ courtesy toward the magnates was obsolete. The picture of O’Malley as a heavy-hearted business man was too repulsive. It was time and overtime for the reluctant sanitation department. Let’s clean this up quickIy.
First, is an established ball club primarily a business man’s gang of twenty-five workmen hired to keep a ball moving around smartly to amuse an audience? Certainly not. In essence, it is a Myth, supported in the air of the land by invisible jets of hope, anxiety, identification—call it all love—steaming from a million fans who may never go to the park. If there is no Myth, there is really no club. When a New Yorker says that he loves America, the Giants—or the Yankees—are a good part of what he means. There are people in the wastes of Brooklyn who hate everything about America except the neighborhood bar and grill and the Brooklyn Dodgers.
Second, is baseball a business? Walter O’Malley of the Dodgers is confused. One moment he says that, because it is not a business, New York City should buy him a $50,000,000 park. At the next moment, he says that it is a business he controls and that he can move it to Los Angeles. The fact is that the US Government, by exempting baseball from a good many laws other business must submit to—labor laws, anti-trust laws, wartime priorities, etc.—has acknowledged that baseball is not a business. It can of course revoke these special considerations, if Mr. O’Malley insists. Soon after, baseball would probably be dead, in the Myth sense, and Mr. O’Malley ought to provide the burial plot.
Third is the issue of expanding the major leagues across the country. In all these discussions there is a peculiar drift toward setting up inter-city feuds, such as the celebrated one between the Giants and Dodgers. The major cities mentioned come in feud-pairs: Los Angeles and San Francisco, Dallas and Houston, Minneapolis and St. Paul, and that about finishes it, except for Toronto and Montreal.
A real feud is a mysterious thing. The Giant-Dodger feud exists between the citizens of two boroughs of New York City as well as between the two squads. The games attract big crowds, and are usually very closely played. Both teams are at better than their best. And the fans can browbeat members of their own family, office, club or saloon with the victory, for Dodger versus Giant patriotism splits every group right up the middle. All the elements in a feud act on one another. A feud cannot be created or manipulated. In 1910 Chicago thought itself the challenger to New York, and so there was a very hot feud between the New York Giants and Chicago Cubs. The magnates thought up a Washington-Baltimore feud. It has simply not panned out: the weak “Washington Club” is primarily a baseball lobby in the national capital and the new Baltimore Orioles have not reclaimed the glory of old.
Feuds are the province of anthropology. For these purposes, Giants and Dodger fans are members of Tribes.
However, the fan cannot begin to work up any hatred for an alien team until he loves his local team. And here the Myth is seen again as the essence of the matter. To a Giant fan, the Myth is of a gifted but muscle-bound titan, blocked by a stubborn left-footed pride. Against low-grade opposition, he is lower-grade. But let him come up against the swollen champion and he will, usually, beat the great man’s brains out. The Giants have to do things the hard way, no matter who the current personnel may be. You have to love them. Their glorious past, as the greatest and most hated team in baseball, may be gone forever, but it trails the memories of its great fans George M. Cahan, William Brady, Al Smith, Bill Fallon, Jimmy Walker—the type of the New York sport; and the greatest sport of all, McGraw.
Horace Stoneharn of the Giants thinks he has done everything wrong lately. His departed pitcher, Maglie, won the pennant for the Dodgers; a few years before, his departed hitter, Mize, won the series for the Yankees. And so he has seemed to go along with O’Malley. He is not quick enough to see that the Dodgers are losing their skills; and the present Giants are about to rise. He believes in the Brooklyn Bluff, so much more imposing than Coogan’s Bluff.
For the villain is of course O’Malley, a familiar enough type of banker’s front man, a bluffer and conniver par excellence, a good man ringside at the Copacabana with a politician, a sportswriter and a judge. The world was looking the other way, in August, 1945, toward crashing Japan, when out of the Brooklyn woodwork crept Walter F. O’Malley as the figurehead of he Brooklyn Trust Company in the sale of 50 per cent ownership of the Brooklyn Dodgers by the Charles Ebbets estate, at the fire-sale price of $750,000. The buyers were ostensibly Branch Rickey, O’Malley and another man. The bank of course put up the money; as estate co-executor, it could not buy. The year before, the same group had got the 25 percent interest of the Edward McKeever estate at the even more scandalous price of $250,000. The final 25 per cent interest of another McKeever daughter, Mrs. Dearie Mulvey, remained, still remains, is not for sale and not happy.
O’Malley’s job was to look harmless for five years. Then he got Rickey’s 25 per cent away at the more sensible price of $l,000,000, still being paid off today at the rate of $72,500 a year. At the parting ceremonies, Rickey cried; O’Malley did not even try hard.
O’Malley’s present shenanigans are aimed at running his fabulous shoestring into an asset of a $50,000,000 plus ballpark paid for by New York or Los Angeles taxpayers. Obviously this is the time to do it, while the Dodgers are still only beginning to collapse. If they must go to Los Angeles, why, Hollywood is collapsing too. Let the two pricked balloons nestle down together.
What matter if the invisible emotional tissue binding several million New Yorkers to their world is violently ripped out? The two small cunning eyes in Brooklyn see a beautiful poker hand. New York’s Mayor Robert Wagner can be played shrewdly against Los Angeles’ Mayor Poulson and the FCC and various pay-TV setups and Pacific Telephone and Telegraph and AT&T and Long Island’s Franklin National Bank. What a blow if O’Malley should look down and see no cards at all except the emotions of those million people, including Congressman Emanuel Celler of New York City, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.
A living society, it has often been noted, survives only on a great web of unwritten, tacit contracts. As these are broken, the society dies. O’Malley of course does not know this. He has never heard of any Myth, of any unwritten contract between himself and anybody. One is tempted to let him go to Los Angeles. There might even be a good feud between New York and Los Angeles. But the Giants must stay.
Still, one must wonder how much of a public villain a man is willing to be. What profit is worth it? What self-assurance or cleverness? Perhaps when the deed is done, O’Malley could change his name or find somewhere to hide, say Mexico City or Greenpoint.