In this revisionist version of the Dodgers’ exodus from Brooklyn to Los Angeles, viewed by many as a journey from Eden to Sodom, the Prime Mover emerges as less like Satan and more like Moses—visionary, flawed and ultimately justified.
D’Antonio, who has written on aspects of cultural history from chocolate bars (Hershey, 2006) to spirituality (Heaven on Earth, 1992), enjoyed unlimited access to the huge archive of Walter O’Malley’s papers and has extracted numerous goodies. None, however, is more revealing that what must now be considered unquestionable fact. O’Malley (1903–79) labored assiduously to keep the Dodgers in Brooklyn, but was stymied at every juncture by Robert Moses, New York’s de facto czar of construction. D’Antonio interviewed myriad surviving participants in the story, players included, to uncover other uncomfortable facts. Even during the Dodgers’ late-’40s/early-’50s glory years, attendance at Ebbets Field was declining for many reasons: lack of parking, white flight to the suburbs, the rise of television. Meanwhile, large cities across the country craved major-league baseball franchises. Los Angeles and San Francisco were respectively courting the Dodgers and Giants, though Milwaukee scooped them both by acquiring the Braves from Boston. When O’Malley saw L.A.’s offer, and realized that there was slim hope for help in Brooklyn, he decamped and transferred the franchise to the West Coast. There, as the author notes, it has flourished spectacularly in one of baseball’s greatest stadiums. D’Antonio spices his forays into baseball business with plenty of baseball folklore. There are several pages on Bobby Thompson’s mythic home run, many on the advent and reign of Jackie Robinson. He sometimes has difficulty with balance, offering only a few swift sentences on Roy Campanella’s career-ending accident, for example. Readers may also wish for more about O’Malley’s private life. We see the franchise owner as a consummate politician, a true mover-and-shaker, but we get few glimpses of his Dodger-blue soul.
First-rate cultural history from a writer who touches almost all bases.