I’m sure this has happened to you from time to time, particularly when trying to find something online. You set out looking for one thing and you’re sidetracked after stumbling into an unrelated item that grabs your attention.
While on YouTube recently, I discovered a recording of what was the final Brooklyn Dodgers game ever. It was played on September 29th 1957. The Dodgers’ Albany, New York radio affiliate taped the broadcast and the recording has survived these past 63 years.
Several months earlier on May 28th, the lords of baseball approved the Dodgers move to California with one major stipulation. Another National League club would have to join them out west for the sake of proximity. At that point, the New York Giants were already considering a move to Minneapolis but Brooklyn owner Walter O’Malley was able to convince Horace Stoneham, the Giants owner, to collaborate and move to California too. Stoneham accepted an offer from San Francisco and on August 19th, he made it official, telling the press that the club is moving to the Bay Area.
Attendance was in decline at dilapidated Ebbets Field. For that matter, the Dodgers even played a schedule of home games in Jersey City. O’Malley battled with city power broker Robert Moses who wouldn’t acquiesce to build a new ballpark in downtown Brooklyn, using eminent domain to give the team the land.
Moses was focused on Queens where eventually Shea Stadium was constructed for the Mets. O’Malley insisted that the club belonged in Brooklyn where it had a long and colorful history. Moses was a prolific New York architect, drawing the blueprint for roadways and parks and seeing plans through to their successful conclusions.
On October 7th, nine days after the team’s final game, the Dodgers announced that they were California bound. It was a sad day indeed. The Dodgers and Giants had broken the hearts of many New Yorkers.
THE FINAL GAME AND BROADCAST
The Dodgers had already been eliminated from the pennant race. The Braves would represent the eight team National League in the World Series where they’d beat the Yankees in seven games. The Subway Series between the Yankees and Dodgers was history.
The Dodgers wore Brooklyn uniforms for the final time at Connie Mack Stadium in Philadelphia against the Phillies. The broadcasters and most others knew at that point that a move was pretty much a foregone conclusion.
Brooklyn televised virtually all their home games but not many of their road games in those years. The finale in Philly was on radio only. Sometimes, when the Dodgers had no television planned for the trip, only two announcers would travel, not all three, Vin Scully, Jerry Doggett and Al Helfer.
Helfer didn’t do that final game and it was a harbinger of what was to follow. Al was the odd man out and would never do another Dodgers broadcast again. In Los Angeles, O’Malley swore off television, doing only 11 road games, those in San Francisco. Two announcers sufficed for the team’s first 19 seasons in SoCal. Vin and Jerry were joined in 1977 by Ross Porter after the club kept increasing its number of telecasts and Scully had commitments to CBS for the NFL and some golf. The Scully, Doggett and Porter trio remained intact through 1987.
I checked in with Scully this week who sounds strong and still follows the game. He told me that by the time the last Brooklyn game was played, “There was a strong feeling that they’d leave. There really was no doubt that they were headed to California. There was a heavy feeling in Brooklyn. I’m not sure though about Manhattan with the Giants.”
On that Sunday the 29th, it was mostly cloudy in Philly and the temperature was in the low 60s as Vin and Jerry went to work. Doggett did the first half of the game during which time Scully did commercials between half innings or gave out-of-town scores. Scully did the second half of the game through the final out. There was no explicit mention of the potential move to Los Angeles.
Vin called the two run home run in the last of the sixth by Phils’ first baseman Eddie Bouchee that ended up winning the game, 2-1, “That baby is out of here,” Vin exclaimed. He tagged the homer commercially, “That home run sends a box of Lucky Strike cigarettes to a hospital in the Bronx.” Imagine, back then cigarette smoking was ubiquitous and socially acceptable in most public facilities, hospitals included.
It was Doggett who chronicled the only Dodgers run which came in the top of the first, when Gil Hodges’ double knocked in Gino Cimoli to give the Bums a 1-0 lead.
It was a different world for sure in 1957. Professional athletes had to work in the off-season to make ends meet. Doggett (below left, with Sully) spent some time on that final broadcast sharing with the audience what the ballplayers would be doing in the winter.
Duke Snyder planned to work on an avocado farm, Cimoli headed to California to among other things make an appearance on the Red Skelton Show. Both Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale would spend the winter serving in the military. The squat Don Zimmer would work in construction, and Randy Jackson planned to sell insurance in Athens, Georgia.
And get this, pitching coach Joe Becker would train mules in Arkansas. Doggett said that Becker was asked which is harder, training pitchers or mules and Becker said pitchers can be as stubborn as mules.
In the days of the reserve clause, ballplayers’ salaries paled badly to the many millions they make today. Cimoli, a center fielder, was in the big leagues for ten years. Shortly thereafter, he went to work for UPS. After 21 years of working for the delivery company, UPS honored him for not getting into as much as one accident as a driver. He was called the ‘Lou Gehrig of UPS.’
Oh, only two sponsors, not the tens we hear and see today in each game. Schaefer Beer and Lucky Strikes were the two staple sponsors back in Brooklyn days.
And, guess who threw the last pitch for the Brooklyn Dodgers? Hall of Famer, Sandy Koufax, in relief. He wouldn’t come into his own until the club arrived in Los Angeles. Bob Kennedy was the last man to ever hit in a Brooklyn uniform. Scully told the audience that “this will be Bob’s final game. He will retire after the season.”
Just when the game ended, Scully simply said, “1957 goes down the drain.”
The sign off wasn’t typical. Nothing official could be said for another nine days, yet Scully didn’t let the opportunity slip to capture the traumatic emotions of the day.
The last Dodgers’ post game show wasn’t long at all. Scully pretty much knew that this was it for Brooklyn but he never led on officially. He briefly put his statistician Alan Roth on the air, asking him how long he’d been with the club and Roth said since 1947. Alan would remain with the Dodgers in Los Angeles through the middle of the 1964 season. He would later become NBC’s statistician on its baseball broadcasts.
Roth was not an ordinary statistician. He is considered the father of analytics. Branch Rickey hired him to give the club an edge on competitors. Roth had statistical data on anything and everything before the day of the computer. His desk and briefcase were filled with spreadsheets and according to Scully, he had yellow pads filled with information galore. Alan would depict graphically where batters hit the ball and off what kind of pitches, against right-handed or left-handed pitching. “If you needed something in middle of the broadcast, Alan was right on it,” Vin said.
The iconic voice then put his engineer on the air for a short few seconds to wish the audience a good off-season.
Wrapping it up, Vin’s valedictory was typically elegant, “We take a low bow from the waste and doff our cap for the final time. Jerry and I will pull down the curtain on the season. We hope we’ll be talking with you in 1958.”
There was of course more to it. I asked Vin this past Sunday whether he knew he would be invited to Los Angeles to continue broadcasting the games. He said, “Yes, I was confident that Jerry and I were going. I also felt that they weren’t going to ask Al to come with us. Al might have slowed down a bit. He was with the Dodgers before the war and then went into the service. It was tough on Al, a veteran announcer who’d been around for quite some time.” Helfer would later surface for a couple years, first with the Houston Astros and then the Oakland A’s.
How about the broadcasters out west, did they have a shot at getting the announcing gig in Los Angeles? Scully: “There was strong pressure on O’Malley to use local announcers, those who had done the minor league teams there, the Hollywood Stars and the Los Angeles Angels. But O’Malley had our backs and insisted upon us. We were gratified. There was room for only two in the boat and Jerry and I were headed for the vast unknown.”
In a matter of time, Scully would rule over the vast unknown and beyond, becoming the country’s greatest play-by-play voice ever.
MORE WITH VIN LATER THIS WEEK!
Brooklyn 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 – 1 4 0
Philadelphia 0 0 0 0 0 2 0 0 x – 2 4 1