- Mover and Shaker: Walter O’Malley, the Dodgers, and Baseball’s Westward Expansion by Andy McCue
For some, the mention of the move of the Dodgers baseball franchise from Brooklyn, New York, to Los Angeles, California, brings an emotional response. For those from Brooklyn, the response may be full of pain and loss, but, for those in California, it may be a happy one that recalls the arrival of major-league baseball to the West Coast. The perspective from which one comes to this event in 1957 shapes the opinion of the man who made the decision to make the move, team owner Walter O’Malley. In Mover and Shaker, Andy McCue, author of Baseball by the Books: The Complete History and Bibliography of Baseball Fiction and former president of the Society for American Baseball Research, provides an objective review of the life of a man who changed baseball history.
McCue reexamines the popular memory of Walter O’Malley, not only the version created by the New York sportswriters who vilified him but also O’Malley’s own self-constructed personal story. McCue documents his analysis with detailed notes and a bibliography. He acknowledges that the O’Malley family declined to cooperate with his project.
After a detailed biography of Walter O’Malley’s grandparents and parents, McCue describes O’Malley’s legal career, which included a shift from private practice to employment as the Dodger’s attorney to being a minority stockholder of the team during World War II. From his first years as an owner, O’Malley saw the need for a new stadium. Although the issue of a new ballpark would not become public knowledge until 1953, the board of directors recognized from the late 1940s the need either to invest significant money in maintenance and improvement of Ebbets Fields or to find a new location. Refurbishing the stadium or relocating the team became an ongoing issue for O’Malley.
In October 1950, Walter O’Malley became chief stockholder in the Brooklyn Dodgers. With full decision-making power, he looked seriously at his options with the stadium. [End Page 270] The politics of New York and Los Angeles take center stage in O’Malley’s decision to leave Brooklyn. The decisions related to that move—weighing the options in New York, relocating to California, and building Dodger Stadium—are the centerpiece of the O’Malley story.
McCue challenges some aspects of the move to California that became lore. First, O’Malley wanted New York City to pay for a new ballpark. McCue states that O’Malley would have paid for it himself, as well as the property taxes, if the city could have subsidized his purchase of the land. Second, the New York Giants joined the Brooklyn Dodgers in moving to California in 1957. While the common understanding was that O’Malley forced the Giants to leave New York, in fact, owner Harold Stoneham had already planned to leave, but for Minnesota. O’Malley influenced Stoneham to change his destination to San Francisco. Third, O’Malley faced a number of problems when he arrived in Los Angeles, which challenges the idea of a well-planned real estate investment proposed by the New York press. Finding an appropriate location in which to play before Dodger Stadium opened in 1962 was difficult. The process of acquiring the land of the permanent location was controversial. In June 1958, Angelinos voted to approve the transfer of land from the city to the Dodgers. The city removed local homeowners, and construction of the stadium, or the “monument to the O’Malley’s,” began with private financing in 1959.
Through the 1960s, Walter groomed son Peter O’Malley, who worked in various aspects of the Dodger organization. In 1970, Peter O’Malley became president. On August 9, 1979, Walter O’Malley died of congestive heart failure.
McCue does devote a few pages to the rocky relationship between Walter O’Malley and Jackie Robinson but notes that O’Malley was...