Monday, July 09, 2007
From The New York Daily News…
A turf war for the ages
Dodgers’ move to L.A. left Brooklyn broken, but real story is one of pride and prejudice
By Stanley Crouch
The American sun dies last in California, which is famous for its love of the natural and its unbending dedication to the artificial. In 1957, the Dodgers moved to Los Angeles from Brooklyn, where baseball had been integrated in 1947 through the luminous reserve and volatile talent of Jackie Robinson. Those were 10 years of cultural and athletic magic of such magnitude, victory and sorrow that the Dodgers were thought to have lost all of their gritty urban meaning when they went west as yet another natural force ready to be placed in a lineup of flesh and plastic.
Or that is how those in Brooklyn and those who hate what they consider the Styrofoam nature of California would like to think things had taken place. As the relentlessly bitter story goes, the inevitable “they” had pulled another fast one and the thousands who had assumed a mutual identity through their love of the Dodgers had lost something irreplaceable.
It was not quite that simple, however, and why the Dodgers left is a far less well-known story than what their general manager, Branch Rickey, achieved when he chose to become the Abraham Lincoln of baseball by freeing black players from the unwritten segregation that held them back from playing in the major leagues.
Both the story of Robinson and the Dodgers’ move are well told in “Brooklyn Dodgers: The Ghosts of Flatbush,” premiering Wednesday on HBO. I recommend it highly because far too many of us are victims of a lazy amnesia that takes over whenever something that preceded our adolescence and young adulthood is brought up. Consequently, we do not know how much has been done by our predecessors to push this nation, sometimes screeching and braying, toward realizing its democratic promises and the imperatives set in place by those promises.
It is always important to know that the grandeur and magnetism of America did not come out of nowhere. They are the result of people refusing to accept the limitations imposed by color, class, religion, gender and ethnicity. All true progress in a nation as diverse as ours came through coalitions that crossed lines in the interest of principles and the story of the integration of baseball is such a story.
Robinson was black as tar, handsome, soft-spoken, well-educated and a magnificent athlete capable of coolly letting hysterical racist abuse slide off of his back like slime. His example showed the power of nonviolence and sacrificial self-control that our era of icy manipulation, crude materialism and voluminous ego barely comprehends. There were many like him, but white America had not seen them in action. So Robinson not only broke baseball’s color line, his very being contradicted every stereotype about black Americans.
As interesting is the story of how Dodger owner Walter O’Malley was defeated by Robert Moses, New York’s master politician who would not let the baseball team build a new stadium in Brooklyn. He had other plans.
The decisions that sent the Dodgers west are shown not so much as manipulations of the system but as another of those moments when two titans met, their massive egos rising like horns. Not a drop of blood was shed, but the heart of Brooklyn was broken and the unifying myth of a people’s team went down the drain along with the spontaneous glory, discipline and sportsmanship that once made professional American athletes so much more valuable to the human spirit than they are now.