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How Tough a Move Out West for the LA Dodgers

I wasn’t a baseball fan in 1957.  I was alive, but had no idea that two New York baseball teams were moving west.  The New York baseball Giants went to San Francisco, and the Brooklyn Dodgers went to Los Angeles.

CityofDreamsCoverSo, sixty years later, a best-seller captivates the way that the Dodgers’ move transformed the city of Los Angeles.  The book is by Jerald Podair, entitled City of Dreams: Dodger Stadium and the Birth of Modern Los Angeles (Princeton Press, 2017).

Despite having been released in early April, the book is still in the top 25 in two Amazon.com sub-categories, neither of which have anything to do with sports!  Rather, the categories are urban development, and city planning.  Perhaps that alone will tell you the impact of the move on the region.

Here is a review of the book by Publishers Weekly, from March 3, 2017:  “When Walter O’Malley dragged the Dodgers out of Brooklyn in 1957, he unwittingly triggered a battle over the future of Los Angeles. Lawrence University historian Podair recreates a protracted conflict that saw the suburbs face off against an unlikely alliance of unions and big corporations including oil, and the L.A. Times. Frustrated by the Machiavellian New York urban planner Robert Moses, O’Malley, like so many before him, headed west to a city that had deliriously morphed from orange groves to a tract-house megalopolis. Eager to shed their provincial status—and inflate the value of their real-estate—L.A. power brokers offered O’Malley a stadium site in Chavez Ravine, where a Mexican-American community had been devastated by a failed plan for public housing. The new stadium was a fait accompli until “the Folks” (mostly white middle-class homeowners) ignited a multi-year conflict that ranged from the courts to the voting booth and resonated across the country. Podair frames the Dodger Stadium struggle as a collision between two very different visions for L.A.: one an endless suburb of low taxes and minimal government, and the other more centralized and hierarchical, with generous state funding for cultural monuments that, not coincidentally, would make the rich even richer. Careful research and straightforward prose make this an excellent introduction, though unimaginative repetition of theses smacks of a high-school textbook. The semi-heroic portrayal of the team owner borders on partisan, but Podair does have a point: O’Malley sweated for his vision.”

And, here is a comment from John Buntin, in the Wall Street Journal:  “By 1956, the owner of the Brooklyn Dodgers, Walter O’Malley, was a frustrated man. The rival New York Yankees, from a 67,000-seat stadium in the Bronx, ruled Major League Baseball. The Boston Braves had just moved to Milwaukee and increased home attendance by 600% — dramatically boosting their revenue and their advantage in the quest for talent. Decrepit Ebbets Field, by contrast, had only 32,000 seats, making it one of the smallest ballparks in the majors. O’Malley knew he needed a new stadium to compete. How “O’Malley came by that new stadium is vividly recounted in Jerald Podair’s City of Dreams: Dodger Stadium and the Birth of Modern Los Angeles. It’s the tale of how the fight to bring the Dodgers west transformed not only Major League Baseball but Southern California as well, determining what kind of city 20th-century Los Angeles would be. . . . Podair is right to see this as a critical moment in Los Angeles’s history and is a sure-footed guide through the political fight.”

Here is Jerald Podair’s self-written biography, taken from the website at LawrenceJeraldPodairPicture University, where he teaches:

I am Professor of History and the Robert S. French Professor of American Studies at Lawrence University, in Appleton, Wisconsin, where I have taught since 1998. I’m a native of New York City and a former practicing attorney. I received my B.A. from New York University, a J.D. from Columbia University Law School, and a Ph.D. in American history from Princeton University. My research interests are in 20th century American urban history and racial and ethnic relations.

I am the author of The Strike That Changed New York: Blacks, Whites, and the Ocean Hill-Brownsville Crisis, published by Yale University Press, which was a finalist for the Organization of American Historians’ Liberty Legacy Foundation Award for the best book on the struggle for civil rights in the United States, and an honorable mention for the Urban History Association’s Book Award in North American urban history. My biography of the civil rights and labor leader Bayard Rustin, entitled Bayard Rustin: American Dreamer, was published in 2009 by Rowman & Littlefield. My co-edited book, The Struggle for Equality: Essays on Sectional Conflict, the Civil War, and the Long Reconstruction, was published in 2011 by the University of Virginia Press. I contributed an essay entitled, “An Awful Choice: Bayard Rustin and New York City’s Civil Rights Wars, 1968,” for that volume. I am also the co-author of American Conversations: From the Centennial to the Millennium, a collection of primary sources in American history after 1877, published by Pearson in 2012. I’m presently writing a book entitled Building Dodger Stadium: Land, Power, and the Fate of Modern Los Angeles for Princeton University Press, in which I use the struggle over the construction of the iconic ballpark between 1957 and 1962 to examine arguments over civic identity in an emerging 20th century American supercity.

My articles and reviews have appeared in The American Historical Review, The Journal of American History, The Journal of Urban History, Reviews in American History, Radical History Review, Labor History, Film & History, and American Studies. I contributed an essay, “’One City, One Standard’: The Struggle for Equality in Rudolph Giuliani’s New York,” to Civil Rights in New York City: From World War II to the Giuliani Era, published by Fordham University Press in 2011.

At Lawrence University, I teach courses on a variety of topics in nineteenth and twentieth-century American history, including the Civil War and Reconstruction; Abraham Lincoln; the Great Depression and New Deal; the 1960s; the JFK assassination; and the Civil Rights Movement. I also teach Lawrence’s first course in American Studies, which I introduced in 2007. Since 2004 I have taught Lawrence’s Senior Experience research seminar for history majors, “The Practice of History.”

I am the recipient of the Allan Nevins Prize, awarded by the Society of American Historians for “literary distinction in the writing of history,” and a Fellow of the New York Academy of History. I was appointed to Wisconsin’s Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission, on which I served from 2008 to 2009. In 2010, I was honored by Lawrence University with its Award for Excellence in Scholarship, and in 2012 with its Faculty Convocation Award. In 2013 I co-edited Learning for a Lifetime: Liberal Arts and the Life of the Mind at Lawrence University, a volume of essays by Lawrence alumni on the impact of liberal education on their professional, intellectual, and personal development.”

I don’t see much chance of us presenting this at the First Friday Book Synopsis.  Its scope is beyond what we focus upon.  But, we have many blog visitors who are both sports fans and urban enthusiasts who will like this book.