Before the Brooklyn Nets had ever played a single regular-season game, I sat down with Brooklyn borough President Marty Markowitz to ask him a few questions about Brooklyn. One thing that came up when talking to Markowitz, a lifelong resident of Brooklyn, were his memories of the Brooklyn Dodgers before they left the borough in 1957. With the release of the movie "42" last week, we felt it appropriate to bring Marty back to share those memories again. Enjoy.
The Jackie Robinson House, 5224 Tilden, where he lived rookie year
The decision of Deron Williams to buy a place in Manhattan instead of Brooklyn is a lost opportunity. The Brooklyn Dodgers were beloved in part because they were neighbors.
The Dodgers were built around a familiar core – [Pee Wee] Reese, [Jackie] Robinson, [Roy] Campanella, [Clem] Labine, [Duke] Snider, [Carl] Erskine, [Gil] Hodges – most of whom lived not only in Brooklyn, but in one neighborhood, Bay Ridge, where there sons played in the local little league and their wives shopped at Rossi the butcher. The players carpooled to the ballpark. Kids rang their doorbell for autographs. They were great and they were neighbors.
For what it's worth; at least Deron Williams lives in NYC. Many of the Nets live in NJ.
By MICHAEL SHAPIRO
When you grow up in the Brooklyn I knew, which was pretty much the worst possible time – just missing the Dodgers and years before it got so cool – your memories of the place are almost always flat, dull and gray.
My Brooklyn, circa 1952 to 1974, (from birth to graduation from Brooklyn College) was a place you were supposed to leave, for college, Staten Island, Nassau County, Jersey or if you were exceedingly lucky and unusually ambitious, “the city.” And yet, years later, there was still a sense that it all could have been so much better. Brooklyn did not have to be the place where there never seemed much of anything to do except to talk about all the good things that waited to be done when you finally bade the place goodbye.
The Dodgers had a lot to do with that, especially if, like me, you’d never been to Ebbets Field and so could only imagine a time when the little ballpark was always crowded and the days always sunny and the Dodgers, the sainted Bums, always beloved. We who arrived too late had no splendid not sure of this word. Splendid? Ironic, but not quite sure….memories of hot dogs turning green as they boiled their way through the second game of an August doubleheader, or the acrid smell from the Ebbets Field bathrooms.
As it happens, some years ago, I set about trying to live those happy years vicariously by doing what writers do and recreating that time through other peoples’ stories. I learned, not surprisingly, the reality was not what we'd come to remember.
To begin, we have come to assume that the faithful adored always, despite all the many years when the team, the bums, the “daffiness boys” languished in the second division and attendance was limited to those without gainful employment. Actually, their departure was more painful because, while the Dodgers had spent much of their long history being quite bad, from 1946-1956 they were were surely the best team in the National League and the second best in baseball. Yes, they lost to the Yankees four times in the World Series, but they had five trips to the series in ten years. And one, there-is-a-God world championship, in 1955.
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Recently, I sat down to chat with Brooklyn Borough President and Brooklyn's #1 fan Marty Markowitz. We discussed the role of sports in Brooklyn life, "loony" Dodger fans and his memory of the team. "The Dodgers were Brooklyn. When they won we smiled. When they lost we were sad. When I heard people go past my apt building laughing, I knew we’d won." See below, and stay tuned for more.
Nets blogger Bob Windrem at Nets Daily talks about his personal experience with Brooklyn sports:
On August 27, 1955, I traveled by bus with Cub Scout Pack 10 from Cliffwood Beach, NJ, to Brooklyn to see the Dodgers play the Cincinnati Redlegs. It was good time to go: The season was drawing to a close, the Dodgers were comfortably in first (on their way to their last championship in Brooklyn) and it was a chance for manager Walt Alston to experiment. Seats were cheap.
As we traveled across the bridge over the Raritan River, it looked so big to us kids that there was general foreboding, alleviated only by the cubmaster leading us in song. We drove through Manhattan, this was a decade before the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge was complete, and through Brooklyn to Ebbetts Field, piling out of the bus, with our Brooklyn blue Dodgers caps, balls and gloves. I was a Dodger fan back then, so it was a big thrill for a little guy.
We settled in the left field bleachers. I marveled at how close I was to Sandy Amoros and how green the field was. I remember being very quiet, almost reverential.
Legendary broadcaster and native Brooklynite Marv Albert guest-wrote for the New York Times, talking the Brooklyn Nets, announcing for the first-ever professional game in Brooklyn, his hoop game, his relationship with Walter O'Malley and the Brooklyn Dodgers, being a Knicks ballboy (THE PICTURE!) and more. A snippet:
Around the city, people keep asking me about the Nets — at a rate that I never thought possible. Fanatics from New Jersey used to be the only people who wanted to chat me up about the Nets. Sometimes, you hardly knew they had taken the court at Izod Center. Far more often, people wanted to talk to me about the Knicks — and kept asking after I left the Knicks’ TV booth to call Nets games.
The Nets are a likable group, and even without playing a game they’ve become popular. I think they’ll win over kids who haven’t developed loyalties yet. They will certainly lure basketball fans drawn to the new arena by games against the Lakers, the Celtics, the Thunder and the Heat. And if the Knicks stumble and don’t make the playoffs, some Knicks fans might defect to watch Deron Williams and Joe Johnson.
The Nets are finally being embraced, perhaps for the first time since Julius Erving’s heyday.
With all the Brooklyn Dodgers nostalgia, it’s tempting to think that basketball only recently became The Brooklyn Game. I was struck then reading the wonderful Jane Leavy biography of Dodger icon/hero Sandy Koufax by this:
When he was growing up, baseball was neither Koufax’s dream nor his passion. His dream was to play for the New York Knicks…
Koufax didn’t play much basketball…until his family returned to Brooklyn, where every open space was a court, or a half court, and every fire escape ladder was a potential basket. Others practiced shooting; Koufax practice the anonymous, contentious skill of rebounding….
He scoured the borough in search of The Big Game, which invariably took place at Brighton Beach, where playground legends, college stars, and pros gathered to hone their games, and the game basketball could become. Back then, no one knew from vertical leap. Vertical was for skyscrapers. But Koufax had wattage in his legs, hands large enough to palm the ball, and he didn’t shy away from contact. On the playground, players asked: You sure this boy is white? “He was just a skinny Jewish kid in a bandanna who challenged our small little prejudices,” [Jerry] Della Femina said.
Soon his name began to appear in the fine print of the Brooklyn Eagle sports pages, usually misspelled. Caufax. Kaufox. Kofax, Kauflex, Kouflex. “He was an incredibly smooth basketball player,” said Alan Dershowitz, another neighborhood kid who made good—as a legal authority and auth or I, Dershowitz Fame. “He would fake a jumper, drive the baseline, come under the boards and reverse the dunk. We weren’t used to that.”
His friends remember a dramatic moment in 1953, In an exhibition game with the Knicks, Koufax impressed the pros with his dunks and ended up playing basketball and baseball at the University of Cincinnati, where he was discovered by the Dodgers.