Fifty years ago, Angelenos packed the polls for one of the biggest elections in city history. On the ballot was a referendum on LA's deal to swap land so the newly-arrived Dodgers could build a baseball stadium in Chavez Ravine. Proposition B - "B" for baseball - passed by a whisker. It was almost the last step in the Dodgers' journey west from Brooklyn. KPCC's Special Correspondent Kitty Felde begins a seven-part series looking at the politics and the personalities that brought major league baseball to Los Angeles.
["Take Me Out to the Ball Game" plays]
Kitty Felde: It's hard to imagine Los Angeles without the Dodgers. But there was a time when it didn't seem that L.A. cared all that much about bringing a major league baseball team to town. The Dodgers' late owner Walter O'Malley remembered it well in a 1970s interview.
Walter O'Malley: We did not have an idea that we would be received as well as we have finally been received. We immediately, on coming here, ran into all sorts of political problems: a referendum, lawsuits. How we ever survived all of that, I don't know, but we did.
Roz Wyman: People will say now, "Was it really that controversial?" I cannot tell you how controversial.
Felde: Roz Wyman was a 22-year-old USC graduate when she ran for L.A. City Council in 1953. She won, and became the youngest person and only the second woman on the L.A. City Council. Wyman credits her victory to a promise that resonated with voters.
Wyman: I had on this little piece of literature: "Let's bring major league baseball to Los Angeles." And I must say, this was the one thing I hadn't studied in depth. (laughs) I just thought you went out and said, "Why don't you come to our city?" Well, it just doesn't work like that.
Felde: Wyman's promise of big league baseball in Los Angeles became more difficult to fulfill when voters rejected a 1955 city ballot measure to build a baseball stadium. That meant any team that settled in L.A. would have to build a ballpark with its own money.
That didn't stop Wyman. She wrote a letter to Walter O'Malley and asked if he was interested in moving his Brooklyn ballclub west. O'Malley replied that L.A. already had "two teams in organized baseball," the Pacific Coast League's Los Angeles Angels and the Hollywood Stars.
Besides, he was busy trying to build a new stadium in Brooklyn to replace Ebbets Field, the Dodgers' 40-year-old ballpark in Flatbush that O'Malley thought was too old and too small. Longtime Dodger announcer Vin Scully remembers Ebbets Field:
Vin Scully: Well it was very small, it was very intimate. The fans were very much closer to the players than they are here. They were very vocal. But because they were so close to the players, you were aware of the vocalness of the crowd.
Also, it was a hodge podge. It was, in those days, a team that was built on, on poor play, so when the good years came, they were relished thoroughly.
Felde: The Brooklyn franchise was one of the oldest in professional baseball. Born in 1884, the Trolley Dodgers were named after the citizens who dodged the trolley cars that crisscrossed the borough. After a half-century of mediocrity, the Dodgers got good in the 1940s.
In a span of 16 years, they won seven National League pennants, and almost grabbed four more. In 1947, team president Branch Rickey put baseball's first black player, Jackie Robinson, into Dodger blue. In 1955, Brooklyn won its first and only World Series. That was also the year Americans bought more new cars than ever before. For Walter O'Malley, that was a problem.
O'Malley: In Brooklyn, we didn't have a single parking lot. We parked in the driveways of people who had homes in the vicinity. The day of the Brooklyn trolley dodger was over. And we had to reckon with the automobile.
Felde: The Dodgers also had to reckon with the Milwaukee Braves of the 1950s, a team with a newer stadium, more fans, and better players. O'Malley's public solution was to scrap Ebbets Field and build a futuristic domed baseball stadium in Brooklyn. And if city planners in New York didn't go along, O'Malley had a private solution, too: Los Angeles. That's for next time.
["Take Me Out to the Ball Game" plays]