Monday, December 10, 2007

Walter O'Malley Does NOT Belong In the Baseball Hall of Fame

Electing Dick Williams, Billy Southworth and Barney Dreyfuss to the Baseball Hall of Fame was long overdue.

Electing Bowie Kuhn falls into the category of "What were you thinking?" As the French say, "It is worse than a crime, it is a blunder!"

No, for a crime, you have to see electing Walter O'Malley. Lord Waltemort, owner of the Dodgers in part from 1942 and in whole from 1950 until his death in 1979, was not, definitively, the most evil man in baseball history, but he's a finalist for that title.


This man became a part-owner of the Dodgers because he was a lawyer for the Brooklyn Trust Company, which owned a one-third interest in the team, and they appointed him trustee of that share. They chose him over another lawyer with their firm, named William A. Shea. The same Bill Shea who would one day try to undo the damage O'Malley did by bringing a new National League team to New York in what was then considered a modern stadium, which, as you may have guessed, was named for Shea.

This man, in his role with Brooklyn Trust, foreclosed on many a house in what we would now call the New York Tri-State Area during the Great Depression of the 1930s. And, apparently, he liked his job. So, even then, he was sticking it to poor people on behalf of rich people.

This man drove team president (and owner of one of the other one-third interests) Branch Rickey away from the team in 1950.

This man fined anyone who mentioned Rickey's name in his presence.

This man drove Red Barber, one of the most honored broadcasters ever, away from the team in 1953 -- not just away from the Dodgers, but across town to the Yankees, a team Dodger fans may have hated even more than they hated the Giants.

This man traded away Jackie Robinson after the 1956 season, not because Jackie's skills were declining (though they were, he was 37 years old), not because Jackie wanted more money (though he did, O'Malley was always a cheapskate), but because Jackie was a "troublemaker." This man defined "troublemaker" as anyone who disagreed with him.

This man later claimed to have been the man truly responsible for bringing Jackie to the team and reintegrating baseball, not Rickey. This man had absolutely nothing to do with it.

These are some awful acts, including driving away from the team Rickey, Barber and Robinson, three of the most honorable men, and three of the most significant men, in the history of the game.

All this was done before he began making public statements about moving the Dodgers.


It is true that Robert Moses, who controlled several agencies in the governments of the City of New York and the State of New York, prevented O'Malley from building his domed stadium in Downtown Brooklyn, the "Atlantic Yards" site on top of the old Long Island Rail Road Terminal, where Bruce Ratner now wants to build, among other things, an arena he can move the New Jersey Nets into. Moses did that damage and far more. He was scum.

But here's the argument for O'Malley: He had to leave, because Moses wouldn't listen to his pleas to build a stadium to keep the team in Brooklyn; and he was a visionary who brought Major League Baseball to the Pacific Coast, and that's why he belongs in the Hall of Fame.

Like hell he does.

Think about it:

* If O'Malley was such a "visionary" for bringing big-league ball to the Pacific Coast, then he should have been visionary enough to find a way around Moses. Talk to Mayor Robert Wagner. Talk to Governor Averell Harriman. Talk to somebody with a lot of money, who might have more pull with the Mayor and the Governor. (At one point, it was rumored that Nelson Rockefeller, preparing his campaign to oppose Harriman the next year, which he won, was interested in buying the Dodgers and doing something to keep them in Brooklyn, but O'Malley wouldn't sell the team.)

O'Malley was visionary enough to finagle all kinds of concessions from the City of Los Angeles; he should have been visionary enough to work with, or through, or around Moses.

* If O'Malley was such a visionary for bringing big-league ball to the Pacific Coast, then he wasn't the first. As early as 1941, the St. Louis Browns had reached an agreement to move to L.A. The move was expected to be approved at the baseball winter meetings.

But Pearl Harbor was bombed before those meetings could be held, and baseball had to worry about being played at all in 1942 before President Franklin D. Roosevelt wrote his "Green Light Letter" to Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis. The move never happened due to travel restrictions, and the Browns moved for the 1954 season, becoming the Baltimore Orioles.

And the Pacific Coast League had been thinking for a few years before 1957 about simply declaring themselves a major league. Since the expansion of 1961-62 brought a new team, adopting the name "Los Angeles Angels" from the former PCL team, it is logical to presume that big-league ball would have reached the Pacific Coast anyway around that time, even without O'Malley's move.

Therefore, if O'Malley wasn't the first to consider big-league ball on the Coast, he wasn't a "visionary."

* If O'Malley was a visionary for moving the team, then he really is responsible for moving the team, and then you have to admit why he moved the team. Sure, Ebbets Field was small, with just 31,497 seats, but it wasn't the smallest ballpark in the majors. (Washington, Cincinnati and St. Louis then had smaller parks, and those in Boston, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Kansas City weren't much bigger.) And it wasn't falling apart, like the Polo Grounds was across town. Granted, parking was a problem, only 750 spaces. Contrast that with the 10,000 spaces the Milwaukee Braves had for County Stadium, which then seated about 44,000 people; and with the 12,000 spaces that would be lined up for both 55,601-seat Shea Stadium and 56,000-seat Dodger Stadium. That's why O'Malley wanted the LIRR site: Both subway and commuter-rail access, eliminating the need for a lot of parking.

And it wasn't that the Dodgers weren't making enough money. They were making more money than any team in the majors, with the possible exception of the Yankees. This was a result of having the best attendance in the League until, and then except for, the Braves in their new city and stadium. That was why O'Malley wanted the new stadium, somewhere, anywhere: The money.

If he thought he could make more money in London, in Tokyo, in Antarctica or on the freakin' Moon, that's where he would've moved the team. And if he's all about the money, then that's what fueled his "vision," not an idea of how to improve baseball.

* And, finally, if the move of the Dodgers really can be blamed on Moses, not O'Malley -- or not just O'Malley -- if O'Malley really didn't have a choice but to move the Dodgers, which is a defensible position, if not a palatable one, then there goes the whole "visionary" argument: You're not a visionary if you're forced into position to see the vision.


So while ESPN did a "Top 5 Reasons You Can't Blame Walter O'Malley for Moving the Brooklyn Ddogers," we can do a Top 5 Reasons Why Walter O'Malley Doesn't Belong in the Hall of Fame:

5. He was a filthy piece of scum who drove men who truly did belong in the Hall (and are in) away.

4. His "vision" failed him when it still could've saved the team for Brooklyn.

3. His "vision" was not his own: It had been "seen" before.

2. He was no visionary: He was forced into his choice.

1. His "vision" was evil, driven solely by greed, and did nothing to improve baseball.


Many years ago, Brooklyn natives and then New York Post teammates Jack Newfield and Pete Hamill met for lunch, and talked about doing a column called "The Ten Worst Human Beings Who Ever Lived." They agreed to start by each writing their three worst on their napkins, and then comparing.

Each man had the same three names, in the same order:

1. Adolf Hitler.
2. Josef Stalin.
3. Walter O'Malley.

The column was never written, but the story turned out to be worth more to them than the column would've been.

No, O'Malley wasn't on the same level as Hitler or Stalin. Nor, to cite evil contemporaries, was he Senator Joseph McCarthy or American Nazi Party leader George Lincoln Rockwell. Or mob boss Albert Anastasia, rubbed out mere days after the Dodgers' move was announced; or Charlie Starkweather, a Nebraska teenager who went on a killing spree a year later.

And he was no more of a cheapskate than his hated partner Branch Rickey, or his crosstown competitors George Weiss (who ran the Yankees for Del Webb and Dan Topping) and Horace Stoneham (owner of the Giants).

But if you're familiar with Keith Olbermann's MSNBC show Countdown, and you take into account all the harm O'Malley did before he was in baseball, all the rotten things he did in Brooklyn, and all the crap he pulled in Los Angeles, then you'd have to agree that he fits Olbermann's criteria for his routine, which matches the parlor game Newfield and Hamill began on their napkins at that Manhattan coffee shop lo those many years ago: "The Worst Person in the World."

At Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum in London, Hitler's statue, uniquely among the statues there, can only be displayed in a glass case, because people constantly defaced it, even decades after the Allies won World War II. There is one bust at the Pro Football Hall of Fame that cannot be displayed in the honorees' gallery, for the same reason: O.J. Simpson's.

Walter O'Malley never killed anybody (as far as we know), but if the Baseball Hall of Fame puts his plaque in their gallery, I'll guarantee you that someone will attempt to damage it. And it might not be some 70-year-old Met fan who once rooted for the Brooklyn Dodgers. It might be someone who just cares about baseball.

I would not condone defacing the plaque. Simply giving it the finger will do. And doing that would prove that you care more about baseball than Walter Francis O'Malley ever did.

He wasn't a dictator. He wasn't a mass murderer. He wasn't someone who ruined people's professional or personal lives just to get re-elected or to get his name in the paper or his face on TV.

He was just a greedy bastard. And for that, he was, by the Newfield/Hamill or Olbermann definition, a completely fair nominee for The Worst Person in the World.

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