First the sign-stealing scandal, and now this.
It is, apparently not exactly a new revelation that having his juvenile heart broken by a baseball team set Bernie Sanders on the dark road that had stops in Moscow and the Workers’ Paradise, but it is a timely moment to expound on the tale, readying as the Vermont Senator is to tear the Democratic Party asunder.
Many distinguished Americans of a certain age, from historian Doris Kearns Goodwin to Old Blues Eyes himself have waxed nostalgic about Walter O’Malley’s great betrayal, when he yanked the beloved Brooklyn Dodgers away from their iconic Ebbets Field home to the corrupt embrace of La La Land.
As baseball fans know *or should), the year was 1957. The Brooklyn Dodgers, affectionately called “Dem Bums” by the locals, had finally rewarded their community with a World Series championship over the hated Bronx-dwelling Yankees in 1955. Then, on a day that lives in infamy, Dodgers owner O’Malley announced that the team was leaving. (So were their National League rivals, the New York Giants, heading to San Francisco.) The Dodgers were a massive part of the Brooklyn community’s self-image, and the degree of trauma it suffered cannot be underestimated. Bernie suffered too, and the scars still ache. Sanders told the Times in a recent interview:
“It was like they would move the Brooklyn Bridge to California. How can you move the Brooklyn Bridge to California?… I don’t want to tell you that was the sole reason that I’ve developed the politics that I’ve developed. But as a kid, I did see in that case about the greed of one particular company. And that impacted me.”
And here we are. In one of the more dramatic examples of Chaos Theory in action and the Law Of Unexpected Consequences, an upheaval in the national pastime started the dominoes tumbling that threaten the Democratic Party and the nation’s economic stability 63 years later. What fun!
Ironically, it may be that Bernie reached the exact opposite conclusion than the facts of the episode dictate. Brooklynites and the standard narrative hold that O’Malley and his Giants counterpart calculated that the West Coast presented a new Major League Baseball market too rich to ignore. That was certainly true, but as Jonathan Tobin points out, the myth of O’Malley’s greed doesn’t square with the facts.
Robert Caro’s “Power Broker,” the definitive biography of New York City planner Robert Moses, showed how Moses, the city’s planning czar, blocked the Dodgers from building a new stadium in Brooklyn, though the team’s ball park, steeped in golden hued nostalgia as it is today, was decaying and located in a declining neighborhood. Fr from being eager to flee, O’Malley wanted to build a domed stadium in downtown Brooklyn. Even though his team was filled with stars like Jackie Robinson, Pee Wee Reese, Gil Hodges and Duke Snider, attendance at Dodger games had been declining. falling by almost 50% in ten years. O’Malley warned that unless he could replace his crumbling stadium—unlike today’s team owners, he was ready to pay for a new ball park himself— he had no choice but to consider moving the team.
Moses, a government bureaucrat with near dictatorial power, adamantly stood in the way. He had sole authority to control major governmental building projects, and was not accountable to any elected politician or legislature. That enabled him to cut through red tape and neighborhood protests to build the highways, bridges, tunnels, parks and institutions like the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, wielding exactly the kind on undemocratic power Sanders and allies like Rep. Oasio-Cortez believe must be accepted in order to address the threat posed by climate change, and, in the process, to remake America.
Stymied by Moses from pursuing his ambitious dream and seeing little benefit to his team in losing its connection to its home borough without the advantage of opening up a vast new and profitable market, O’Malley enriched his stockholders by taking a better offer from Los Angeles. That made him a hero to Southern Californians but a villain to New Yorkers….Those, like Sanders, who still see what happened in 1957 as only a case of corporate greed, ignore the fact that main reason Brooklyn lost the Dodgers was the unaccountable governmental authority Moses presided over. But that’s a story that debunks a belief in big government rather than inspiring it.