What do I do in the winter? Too much of it I spend browsing old ballpark photos, trying to imagine what it was like to worship at one of the great lost cathedrals. I found these two color shots of Ebbets Field (on ballparksofbaseball.com) particularly striking.
This appears to be a generic, idyllic, almost mythic scene from long ago, back when trees grew in Brooklyn. But a number of details should scream out to the observant fan. Most useful are the numbers – on the uniforms and on that lovely vintage scoreboard – which tell us that Johnny Logan (23) of the Braves is kneeling in the on deck circle, while Johnny Podres (45) is about to fire a 1-0 pitch in the top of the eighth inning of a 1-1 nailbiter.
This is Sunday, July 14, 1957. It’s the Dodgers’ final summer in New York, and they’re stubbornly staying on the periphery of the pennant race. Podres has just come on in relief of “The Barber,” Sal Maglie, and he is about to land in good fielding position, for this very pitch will be grounded back to him by Milwaukee second baseman Red Schoendienst. The 24-year old southpaw will retire the side in order here, but surrender the lead soon enough, in the ninth. Gil Hodges, though, will send the fans home happy by hitting a 2-run homer in the bottom half to win the game 3-2.
Alas, the National League pennant flying just below the stars and stripes in this second photo will be the last to ever fly in Flatbush. The announcement of Hodges as a Schaefer Beer award-winner makes sense, but Ed Roebuck didn’t pitch that day. Upon closer examination, the matchups of the six other NL clubs are all the same, but the scores themselves have disappeared. The next home game is apparently not ’til some time in August. This photo must have been taken on a different date… A cursory rundown of the Dodgers’ schedule indicates that we have jumped ahead six weeks, to the Braves’ next (and final) trip to Brooklyn. The center field bleachers are full, but the sacred grass and bullpen remain empty before this August 24 matinee. If you turn your head to the left, you can almost see some ghostly grounds crew men hosing down the baked and beaten dirt… then close your eyes and taste the cloud of a thousand unfiltered Lucky Strikes wafting thru the grandstand… and if you really listen, you’ll hear the beastly Fairlanes and Bel-Airs honking out on Bedford Avenue.
Milwaukee has been red hot (27-10 since the Hodges walk-off homer), and has built a commanding six-game lead in the standings, en route to its first World Series. Hank Aaron and his mates will hammer Podres this afternoon, sending him to the showers in the fourth. The loss effectively eliminates the Bums; never again will this large a crowd pack itself into this little old ballpark. There are glimpses of a new and glorious future. Just last night a pair of youngsters named Koufax and Drysdale held the booming Brave bats to just two runs. A book called On the Road is about to be let loose on America. In 1957, the future is still in the West, and it has no use for Ebbets Field.