Seventy years ago today, Jackie Robinson of the Brooklyn Dodgers made his debut at Ebbets Field. This historic moment marked the first time in the twentieth century that an African-American played major league baseball.
Fifty years later, on April 15, 1997, President Bill Clinton paid tribute to Jackie Robinson in Shea Stadium, and Major League Baseball retired his number 42 throughout the league. “No man is bigger than baseball,” commissioner Bud Selig said, “except Jackie Robinson. Jackie Robinson is bigger than baseball.”
By signing Jackie Robinson, the Dodgers had ended the institutionalized racial segregation in baseball that had existed since the 1880s. Robinson endured the slings and arrows of racial slurs bravely and stoically, proving through his play on the field that blacks were just as capable as whites of playing outstanding baseball. Whether you are a baseball fan or not, there is little doubt that Robinson’s breaking of the color barrier impacted the history of America. As the world continues to face issues of hatred and discrimination today, perhaps Robinson’s example is one we should all keep in mind as we continue to strive forward.
On October 30, 1956, the Dodgers sold Ebbets Field to a real estate developer, Marvin Kratter. The sale of the ballpark was one of the early indications that it was nearing the end of its life, and some speculate that this move served as an early catalyst for the sale of the Dodgers to Los Angeles. As part of the deal for the sale, club owner Walter O’Malley is given a three-year lease, with an option to stay two more years, until 1961.
The demolition of Ebbets Field began on February 23, 1960, a little over two years after the Brooklyn Dodgers had finished their final season in Brooklyn. An urn of dirt from behind home plate was given to former catcher Roy Campanella. In place of the stadium, apartment buildings rose, called Ebbets Field Apartments.
On January 2, 1912, Charles Ebbets announced that 4.5 acres of land in the Pigtown section of Brooklyn had been purchased in order to build an 18,000-seat stadium. At the time, the neighborhood in which the concrete and steel stadium would be built consisted of dilapidated homes and junk piles. The name “Pigtown,” in fact, was due to the pigs that once ate their fill at the location, leaving behind an overwhelming stench. The metamorphosis of this plot of land into Ebbets Field would introduce to the area a cathedral where some of baseball’s greatest moments would take place.
On September 15, 1946, a massive swarm of gnats engulfs the second game of a double header between the Brooklyn Dodgers and the Chicago Cubs at Ebbets Field. The insects force the game to be called in the fifth inning.
In a doubleheader at Ebbets Field on 21 September 1934, brothers Dizzy Dean and Paul Dean dominated the Dodgers, each starting a game on the mound for the St. Louis Cardinals. In the first game, Dizzy Dean pitched a two-hit shutout, blanking the Dodgers 13-0. Not to be outdone, his rookie younger brother, Paul, followed up in game two with a no-hitter, as the Cardinals defeated Brooklyn 3-0. This performance made Paul Dean only the fifth pitcher in Major League history to throw a no-hitter in his rookie season.
History’s first televised baseball game was broadcast by NBC on 26 August 1939. The Reds played the Dodgers at Ebbets Field and split a doubleheader, the Dodgers winning 6-2 in the first game, and the Reds taking the second game 5-1. The telecast was shown on experimental station W2XBS. Red Barber called the game for the television audience.
Only two camera angles were in place for the game: one down the third base line, and the other high over home plate in order to capture the entire field. And cameras, not nearly as advanced as they are today, had difficulty capturing any fast-moving plays. While baseball owners initially feared that television coverage would hurt game attendance, they quickly embraced the increased coverage and revenue that could be gained through the sale of broadcast rights and from advertising.
Today, televised sports is a multi-billion dollar industry.