For the first time in eleven years, the Mets are making an old-fashioned West Coast swing: they are visiting the Giants and the Dodgers on the same trip. Thanks to expansion and whatever else influences the schedulemakers, there has not been a “traditional” SF-LA (or LA-SF) itinerary since August of 1998, a tour that included the Padres for good measure. FYI, the Mets went 5-4 then. I hope they go 1-0 tonight in San Fran and, to invoke my all-purpose phrase of conditionality, take it from there.
But I really hope they stick it to the Giants and the Dodgers, because I hate them all over again.
I just got through reading an engaging book called After Many a Summer by Robert E. Murphy. It examines the many steps taken by Walter O’Malley and Horace Stoneham toward California and out of New York. You’d think there might be enough of those books out there, but Murphy finds some new ground to tread, particularly where the Giants, forever overshadowed in the nostalgiasphere, are concerned. What I liked in particular was Murphy’s refusal to assign easy blame. Too often in the story of the Dodgers’ bolt, it is either all O’Malley’s fault or all Robert Moses’ fault. No, the author reminds us, it takes many to tango out the door.
The dynamic among the Mets, Giants and Dodgers, given the not-so-incidental roles two of them played in creating the third, could be viewed as a bizarre love triangle. It’s not so much that the Mets wouldn’t exist without the departure of their predecessors. It’s that they wouldn’t exist without the stubbornness of those who were departed upon. The National League was willing to continue without New York; it was New Yorkers who refused to be sated by being part of a one-team market and by being left only one league — the wrong league in their judgment.
I don’t know if it’s possible to fully comprehend if you weren’t around prior to 1958, or didn’t at least come of age as my generation did when the stories were told again and again by those who had been, what it meant for New York to be a National League town. This wasn’t Philadelphia or Boston or St. Louis where one team endured and one went substantially unmourned once it relocated. This was New York, for crissake. This was where we had two teams and two fanbases in the same league, not just the same sport. League delineation meant far more then than it does now. The New York Giants and Brooklyn Dodgers were one-quarter of the National League. Blindered dolts like Warren Giles, the N.L. president, were willing to abandon that in quest of California gold. All the Senior Circuit owners went along. A pox on them.
And a blessing, as ever, on Bill Shea for leading the charge to right the historical wrong and give New York’s National League fans what they craved and what they deserved: a baseball team. My next read is Michael Shapiro’s Bottom of the Ninth, which picks up the story where After Many a Summer leaves off. I’ve peeked inside a bit and am intrigued that someone is telling the tale of the never-was Continental League, which all students of Metsiana surely recognize as the launching pad for our franchise. I look forward to reporting back to you what Shapiro has to say on Mr. Shea and everybody else involved.
But I’m still sore at Stoneham and I’m still sore at O’Malley. How dare they — how fucking dare they — leave New York to the Yankees? One was extraordinarily greedy, one was as incompetent as he could be; both, as Murphy reveals repeatedly, said whatever suited their aims on a given day. I don’t wish either or both had stayed so I could have grown up a Giants fan enmeshed in a rivalry with the Dodgers (or vice-versa, possibly), but I’m just offended from a historical basis. You were National League baseball in New York and you didn’t value that. You may have explored your options and you may have required new venues, but you took a flying leap when a subtle shift would have sufficed.
One team played in Manhattan. One team played in Brooklyn. Either of them could have relocated to Queens as the Flushing Meadow site was ripe and ready for building in the late ’50s just as it was in the early ’60s. Queens? No, that would never do! Instead, they became California clubs and New York went barren until 1962. It’s revolting to even consider.
Just because we more or less like what we received as compensation doesn’t mean the thieves should be let off the hook for snatching what belonged to us. We should despise the San Francisco Giants and the Los Angeles Dodgers like we disdain the Philadelphia Phillies and the Atlanta Braves. We who attempt to honor the memory of the New York Giants and the Brooklyn Dodgers for who and what they were prior to 1958 should be especially virulent in our dislike. Those Giants and those Dodgers, the ones who were here before they were kidnapped? They’re all right. They got this thing going. They were, individually and together, baseball in a very tangible way. The Giants practically invented the modern game in the early 1900s. The Dodgers gave it a much-needed shove into the second half of the 20th century. Bully for them and the respective niches they carved in our heritage. But then their owners both turned their backs on us. The moment they went coastal is when they should have earned a permanent place on New York’s cosmic enemies list.
Unless either is playing the Yankees, who committed a far greater crime against the city’s sense of humanity by staying.
This western swing will end and I’ll probably go back to not worrying much about the present incarnations of the Giants and Dodgers, but it galls…it really, really galls that two owners would do to New York what Stoneham and O’Malley did. They took National League baseball away from where it thrived and where it lived. Others may have stood by or not done enough to stop them, but it was they who did the deed. They decided it wasn’t worth their trouble to be the New York Giants and Brooklyn Dodgers. Don’t let revisionism get in the way of that fact. Ptui! to Walter O’Malley. Ptui! to Horace Stoneham.
Foul. Just foul.
For aficionados of the team that made the Dodgers and Giants largely irrelevant, there is Faith and Fear in Flushing: An Intense Personal History of the New York Mets, available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble or a bookstore near you. Keep in touch and join the discussion on Facebook.