During last Sunday’s game at Dodger Stadium between the Dodgers and the New York Mets, the Dodgers surpassed the three-million mark in attendance for the 18th time in the last 19 seasons and the 28th time since the franchise moved to Los Angeles from Brooklyn in 1958. And while Dodger fans still marvel at the incredible beauty of Blue Heaven on Earth as its 52nd season winds down, few Dodger fans are aware that construction of Dodger Stadium almost didn’t happen; and even fewer are aware that beloved Hall of Fame broadcaster Vin Scully actually played a key role in it happening at all.
Is this true? Did Vin Scully actually have this kind of clout even back in 1958?
The short answer is yes, but as you might imagine there is a lot more to this story.
Although many longtime Brooklyn Dodger fans still blame former Dodgers owner Walter O’Malley for moving their beloved Bums from Brooklyn to Los Angeles in 1958, the truth of the matter is that O’Malley, who was born and raised in Brooklyn, did everything that he possibly could to keep the team in the borough. Unfortunately, New York City Parks Commissioner Robert Moses, who had tremendous power and say regarding land and construction projects in New York City, absolutely refused to allow O’Malley to build a new stadium in Brooklyn to replace the extremely outdated Ebbets Field – this in spite of the fact that O’Malley agreed to finance the new stadium entirely out of his own pocket.
Believing that O’Malley was bluffing about actually moving the Dodgers out of New York, Moses refused to back down and instead offered the Dodgers owner land near Flushing Meadow to build his new stadium – land on which Shea Stadium was eventually build and where Citi Field stands today; land that is in the borough of Queens not Brooklyn. (Somehow the Queens Dodgers or even worse, the Flushing Dodgers, doesn’t have a very good ring to it).
But O’Malley was not bluffing – it was either Brooklyn or move the team to Los Angeles, where city officials had been courting the Dodgers owner since 1956 and were more than willing to work with him on acquiring land for a new stadium. Thus, it was Robert Moses who forced O’Malley’s hand and on September 24, 1957 the Dodgers played their final game at Ebbets Field.
The move to Los Angeles wasn’t without its problems for O’Malley; in fact, there were huge problems. While L.A. City officials welcomed O’Malley and his Dodgers with open arms, many others did not – most notably a man named John Smith who owned the San Diego Padres, a Triple-A team in the Pacific Coast League. It was Smith’s contention that allowing the Dodgers to build their own stadium in Los Angeles would be an economic threat to his minor league franchise – a franchise that would one day itself become a major league expansion team.
To compound matters, resistance to O’Malley’s plan to build a new stadium near downtown Los Angeles was intense because the land on which the city had approved for the proposed construction of Dodger Stadium, Chavez Ravine, was home to hundreds of squatters who would be forced to leave their shanty homes. As a result, opponents of the new stadium forced the matter to be put before L.A. voters in a referendum titled Proposition B.
Although it wasn’t discovered until after the election, the driving force lobbying against Proposition B was none other than John Smith.
So how does Vin Scully play into all of this?
This excerpt from Neil J. Sullivan’s outstanding 1989 book The Dodgers Move West pretty much sums it up:
“Perhaps the most formidable asset which Walter O’Malley might have brought to bear in support of Proposition B was the Dodgers’ announcer, Vin Scully. Scully was immediately popular in Los Angeles, and with the team doing so poorly [in 1958] he became the focus for much of the enthusiasm about the team. He was the only member of the Dodgers having a good year. Scully relates that Walter O’Malley never discussed the political contest with him, nor suggested that Scully try to sway voters during his broadcasts. Such an attempt might have been received as a crude measure and triggered a backlash, but the tactic was apparently never even considered. Scully also reports that he personally felt no responsibility for the outcome of the referendum. He maintains he didn’t consider the seriousness of Proposition B until after the election was over. Up to that point, he was as unaware as Walter O’Malley about the exercise in direct democracy, and only later realized how fragile a hold the Dodgers had on Los Angeles. The announcer’s innocence served the Dodgers very well.”
In the largest turnout for a non-presidential election (62.3%), Los Angeles voters passed Proposition B by the slimmest of margins – 351,683 in favor to 325,898 opposed, a difference of only 25,785 votes. Had the ballot measure failed, the Dodgers, in all likelihood, would have moved elsewhere – quite possibly Minneapolis, which was lobbying hard for an MLB team and eventually landing the Washington Senators and renaming them the Twins. (I can’t even imagine).
Did Vin Scully’s love affair with Dodgers fans, even brand new L.A. Dodger fans have a direct impact on the final outcome of Proposition B?
I’ll let you be the judge of that.
* * * * * * * *
The Dodgers Move West – Neil J. Sullivan p-145
Walter O’Malley Official Website – June 3, 1958