For this, the final installment of my first CLS series, I discuss the history of one of the biggest rivalries in baseball, and how the rivalry was transplanted from the New York metropolitan area to California, and why.
The Dodgers-Giants rivalry has existed in Major League Baseball for decades, and is one of the fiercest, arguably the second after the Yankees-Red Sox. However, for a time, ownership between the then-Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants both had the same problem: their playing grounds stunk, and the New York City government wouldn’t help them get new ones.
Mind you, the Dodgers were not accustomed to trouble, they had merely years before broken the color barrier with Jackie Robinson, and were perennial contenders who often found their World Series hopes dashed because the New York Giants or the Yankees. The Dodgers, who were the last major institution of Brooklyn separatism after the 1898 merger (still referred to in Brooklyn as the “mistake of ’98”), and the Giants both wanted new playing grounds, but the city of New York kept getting in the way. NYC Construction Coordinator wanted the Dodgers to move to Queens, where Shea Stadium would eventually be built.
The Dodgers owner, Walter O’Malley, saw an opening to rectify his team’s problems, as well as expand Major League Baseball’s influence on the West Coast, traveling out to Los Angeles and quickly getting support there for a potential Dodgers move. However, Major League Baseball was adamant that there be an additional team out there so that when another team, none of which were west of the Mississippi at the time, flew out there they wouldn’t be going out there for just one series.
Cue the Giants. Giants owner, Horace Stoneham, realized that a move wouldn’t be the worst thing for his team, after all NYC was being difficult in replacing the aging Polo Grounds where his Giants played, and saw the potential of a west coast move; however, before California officials talked him into it, he nearly moved the franchise to Minneapolis, Minnesota; eventually the Washington Senators would move there and become the Minnesota Twins. O’Malley convinced him that a move out there would be mutually beneficial for both teams, providing each a divisional opponent closer than St. Louis, then the nearest MLB team.
Of course, the move scarred Brooklyn, and made O’Malley persona non grata there for the rest of his life, with the following often said:
“If you asked a Brooklyn Dodger fan, if you had a gun with only two bullets in it and were in a room with Hitler, Stalin and O’Malley, who would you shoot? The answer: O’Malley, twice!”
What had changed in Major League Baseball was the rise of air travel between series; no longer bound to buses and trains, teams had greater flexibility, and transcontinental flights were common place. Not only that, but California was booming, both economically and in terms of population; it was long overdue for an MLB team. The San Francisco 49ers were in place, having merged into the NFL out of the All-American Football conference, and five years after the moves, the AFL would establish the Raiders and Chargers in Oakland and Los Angeles (although the Chargers relocated to San Diego after one season). It wasn’t just the 49ers that made all that possible; it was the ability of MLB to be flexible and work with its two west coast teams, the first two of a current six.
Furthermore, the duel move cleared the path for other moves westward by the traditionally east coast teams of Major League Baseball, as well as future expansion teams. It helped set up the Major League Baseball we know today, as well as establish that the west coast was a golden opportunity for major sports expansion, as seen by later expansions by not only baseball, but hockey, football, and basketball.
Now, the California side of the move was far from acrimonious; if anything, there was general elation that the two biggest rivals, in terms of California cities, had two of the biggest rivals in Major League Baseball, a feeling which gripped the state and reinforced that baseball was king. The rivalry still continues to this day, with legendary figures, many of whom weren’t even born when the Dodgers and Giants were in New York, adding fuel to the fiery rivalry across the years.
Which makes the fact that their mutual move to the west coast, conducted in the winter of 1957-1958, was made for mutual interests all the more amusing. The first game these teams played as California teams was against each other, with the Dodgers winning. The Dodgers have won five World Series since moving, and the Giants two, although the Giants two are more recent.
When we look back at the ugly franchise moves over the years, the Cleveland Browns to Baltimore, the Seattle Supersonics to OKC, we can look back on the Dodgers move as being easy at the top, and incredibly rough on the fans. However, writers in Brooklyn still, even to this day, follow the Dodgers; the Giants, on the other hand, are purely owned by the San Francisco Bay Area, with few remnants of their time in Manhattan still remaining. New York still had the Yankees, and eventually the Mets, so baseball not only survived but thrived there.
Brooklyn, for its part, recently gained a team of their own, the Brooklyn Nets, who relocated there from New Jersey in 2012. Not the New York Nets, no, this team belonged to Brooklyn. Over a century after the “mistake of ’98”, and over fifty-five years after the departure of the Dodgers, Brooklyn still has its identity, and now another team of their own. Still, I wonder if older individuals there would trade the Nets for their beloved Dodgers; no doubt there are many there who would.