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The most hated man in baseball?

March 22, 2009 | 11:52 am


Photo: Newly minted Los Angeles Dodger fans at Dodger Stadium, opening day, 1962.

When owner Walter O'Malley announced in 1957 that he would move the Dodgers from Brooklyn to Los Angeles, many New Yorkers decided he was "a money-grubbing weasel who ripped the soul from their community." That's how David Davis describes the enmity the move generated in his review of "Forever Blue: The True Story of Walter O'Malley, Baseball's Most Controversial Owner, and the Dodgers of Brooklyn and Los Angeles" by Michael D'Antonio.

D'Antonio makes the case, Davis says, that O'Malley was driven to leave New York by Robert Moses, who wouldn't give him enough land for a new ballpark. But that rationale won't satisfy those who repeat the joke, "If Stalin, Hitler and O'Malley are in a room and you only have two bullets, who do you shoot?" (The answer: "O'Malley, twice.")

As for that new ballpark, Davis writes, "D'Antonio debunks the myth that Dodger Stadium ruined Chavez Ravine. Its dismantling happened before O'Malley's arrival, when residents were displaced in advance of a public housing project that was to be built on the site." Which isn't exactly the whole story -- a 2003 documentary maintains that "the residents were told that they would have first choice for these new homes"; eventually the housing project was the victim of both Red Scare politics and a land trade that City Councilman Ed Roybal called a "sweetheart deal" for O'Malley.

"If there's a flaw in 'Forever Blue,' it's that D'Antonio is too deferential," David writes.

Walter O'Malley doesn't need an apologist. Alternately shrewd and ruthless, he operated with one underlying principal: doing what was best for the Dodgers and O'Malley. Often, that meant parting company -- with players who'd lost a step, with executives who became too independent, with cities that refused to negotiate on his terms, with fans unable to let go. By the time of his death, in 1979, the legacy of his Hall of Fame career was secure: Professional sports is, first and foremost, a business.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: courtesy G2 via Flickr.