Former Brooklyn Dodgers Owner Makes Hall of Fame


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NEW YORK (AP) -- To some aging baseball fans and nostalgia lovers in Brooklyn, the name Walter O'Malley equates with Satan. Fifty years on, they still recall a dark day in 1957 when they learned the owner of the Dodgers was moving their beloved team to California.

So when the Baseball Hall of Fame's veterans committee selected O'Malley on Monday as one of five new members, the news fell flat in Flatbush. Borough president Marty Markowitz, whose job includes sticking up for Brooklyn every way possible, said he was "flabbergasted -- that's the word.''

"For O'Malley, the bottom line was that it was his team to do what he wanted with, and he did it at the expense of breaking our hearts, at the expense of ripping out the hearts of the most enthusiastic fans in baseball,'' said Markowitz, who was 12 years old and lived three blocks from Ebbets Field in 1957.

He said that after he got wind of the impending O'Malley selection last month, he wrote a letter asking the committee to make a deal -- "if you're going to elect O'Malley, then give Brooklyn some respect by putting that great Dodger, Gil Hodges, in the Hall of Fame as well.''

Hodges was a popular player in the heyday of the Dodgers and his repeated rejection by the Hall of fame since 1987 has become something of a cause celebre in Brooklyn. "I'm at a loss to understand it,'' Markowitz said. The committee has not replied, he said.

While perhaps widely shared in Brooklyn, Markowitz's views are not universal.

John Thorn, a leading sports historian, declared O'Malley "a good choice'' for the nation's best-known pantheon of sports heroes.

"He broke my heart in 1957 but he made a great contribution to baseball and the nation by taking baseball west,'' Thorn said in a phone interview. "O'Malley's role as the `Johnny Appleseed' of baseball weighs heavily in his favor, compared to the injury done to the people of Brooklyn.

"Even though he was seen there as a combination of Hitler, Mussolini and Caligula, it probably was a good thing -- he made the 'National Pastime' truly national, rather than the provincial affair that it had been, with only two teams as far west as the Mississippi river and the rest of them in the east.''

O'Malley, who died in 1979, received the minimum nine votes from the 12-member veterans board to qualify for the Hall of Fame.

The Dodgers' departure came just two years after they defeated the hated Yankees in a seven-game 1955 "Subway Series'' that enshrined Dodger players in a Valhalla of their own. A few years later, fabled Ebbets Field was torn down to make room for a new apartment complex.

When the Dodgers' National League rival Giants also decamped in 1957 to San Francisco, it ended a remarkable 11-year era in which at least one of Gotham's three teams reached the World Series in every year but one, 1948. That era is described by Thorn in a recent book, "The Glory Days.''