June 11, 2005

BUCKY BALL:

Will Travel for Stadium (ROGER KAHN, 6/11/05, NY Times)

BLOOMBERG FIELD, the billion-dollar stadium that will not be appearing on the West Side of Manhattan, is the second super ballpark not to be built in New York City in modern times. The other, O'Malley Downs, would have housed the Brooklyn Dodgers under a dome at Flatbush and Atlantic Avenues. Had that scheme worked, most Brooklynites today would be rooting for their Dodgers. Californians meanwhile could well be trying to work up enthusiasm for an erratic baseball team called The Los Angeles Mets.

Walter O'Malley, the man who moved the Dodgers west, was a lawyer by trade but a buccaneer at heart. He grew up in New York and lived in Brooklyn for many years; when he wrested control of the Dodgers from Branch Rickey in 1950, he told the press, "I'm really just another fan."

Our paths crossed at a small Brooklyn prep school called Froebel Academy where I was a student and O'Malley was chairman of the board. This became a mixed blessing later when I started covering the Dodgers for The New York Herald Tribune. Because of the old-school tie, O'Malley often fed me exclusive information. But when he disliked one of my stories he growled in a Tammany basso that seemed to carry clear to Coney Island, "I'm surprised a Froebel boy would write something so negative."

In 1953, he told me, the Dodgers grossed $5.9 million for an operating profit of $2.2 million, very big baseball numbers at the time. (Jackie Robinson, the greatest drawing card in the game, never earned more than $43,000 a season.) But profits had to stay high, O'Malley said, to sustain a winning franchise. "I've studied the history," he said. "In Brooklyn the ball club is either in first place or in bankruptcy."

In 1955, a few days after the Brooklyn Dodgers won their only World Series, O'Malley summoned the press. He had commissioned "Buckminster Fuller of Princeton" to design a new Dodger Stadium as a geodesic dome. The basic idea, he said, came from ancient Rome. "I wondered about the Coliseum, did the Romans call off battles between gladiators when it rained?" he went on. "I did some research and found out they did not. The Romans developed a retractable canvas dome. When rain started, slaves cranked winches opening the canvas and Roman citizens did not get wet. Or overheated. A hole in the center of the canvas let warm air rush up and out, and that also blocked the rain. A dome worked in Rome. It will work in Brooklyn."


Another way he was ahead of his time, wanting to build an ugly 70s stadium in the 50s.

Posted by Orrin Judd at June 11, 2005 8:41 AM
Comments

Losing the Dodgers was a tragedy. Baseball should have never allowed it. They should have elevated the PCL to a third major league.

The Jets are a different story. Football teams are ephemera. If pro football were really important, there would be a team in the nation's second largest city.

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at June 11, 2005 10:31 AM

I've never understood the whining from New Yorkers over the Dodgers and Giants. Especially the latter. They kept the team that was a winner while sending the losers to a couple of chump cities on the Left Coast. Add in the Mets, and ignore LA's first ten years, and New York got the better deal. (I guess it's that first ten years that causes the whining.)

World Series Appearances since 1956:

NY Yankees: 1957, 1958, 1960, 1961, 1962, 1963, 1964, 1976, 1977, 1978, 1981, 1996, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2003
LA Dodgers 1959, 1963, 1965, 1966, 1974, 1977, 1978, 1981, 1988
San Francisco Giants: 1962, 1989, 2002
NY Mets: 1969, 1973, 1986, 2000

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at June 11, 2005 11:58 AM

The Dodgers were stuck in a lousy field in a worse neighborhood, but they could have made it work. Certainly, the TV revenue for a Dodger team based in Brooklyn would be enormous, greater than the Mets today.

Raoul,

The Giants were the #3 franchise in NY, stuck in a terrible stadium for baseball in Harlem. Nobody really misses them here.

The Dodgers are a different matter. Brooklyn is a place. Its natives feel themselves to be quite different from other New Yorkers and more similar to each other than any are to other New Yorkers. It's almost like Bavarians in Germany. The Dodgers were the great unifying symbol of Brooklyn, and their rise mirrored our recovery from the Great Depression. O'Malley's thief in the night routine took the heart out of Brooklyn and presaged the decline of the City as a whole.

Posted by: bart at June 11, 2005 1:00 PM

The decline of Brooklyn began with the merger in 1898. After that it was all downhill.

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at June 11, 2005 3:46 PM

But he did build a gem in Chavez Ravine. Saw a Sunday afternoon game three about 10 years ago, a perfect day. I am sure that is what baseball will be like in heaven.

Posted by: Dan at June 11, 2005 4:27 PM

As a young college student, I worked as a pedicab (bicycle rickshaw) driver at the World's Fair in Montreal in 1967. Almost all my customers were American tourists. The American pavillion was a geodesic dome designed by Fuller, which was idolized by the beautiful people and was filled with dolls and all kinds of similarly unconnected, meaningless, abstract arsty stuff. It was supposed to be a celebration of "airiness" and "innocence" and whatever. It was just across from the huge Soviet pavillion, which was crammed with glorious achievements of the Revolution, actually quite well done.

Some days, it seemed that my job was trying to convince embarrassed Americans that it wasn't as bad as all that.

Posted by: Peter B at June 11, 2005 7:41 PM

I dunno about the merits of using geodesic domes for huge commercial public spaces, but they have several advantages as single-family housing, the primary one being that they can be extremely cheap (but durable) to build.

Of course, a lot of people who do build geodesic domes spend as much as if they'd erected a conventionally framed home, but it's not necessary to do so.

Posted by: Michael Herdegen at June 12, 2005 7:49 AM
« "SURPRISED, DELIGHTED, AND HUMBLED": | Main | PUTTING THE "T" IN NAFTA: »