Brooklyn Dodgers Move to Los Angeles Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

By moving a profitable franchise from Brooklyn to Los Angeles, the Dodgers helped establish professional sports on a truly national basis.

Summary of Event

It was once fashionable to teach American history in terms of Horace Greeley’s nineteenth century aphorism urging young men to “go West.” Although Americans did so, and indeed had done so since the original English settlements along the Atlantic Coast, professional sports were slow to follow suit. Brooklyn Dodgers Los Angeles Dodgers Baseball;franchises [kw]Brooklyn Dodgers Move to Los Angeles (Fall, 1957) [kw]Dodgers Move to Los Angeles, Brooklyn (Fall, 1957) [kw]Los Angeles, Brooklyn Dodgers Move to (Fall, 1957) Brooklyn Dodgers Los Angeles Dodgers Baseball;franchises [g]North America;Fall, 1957: Brooklyn Dodgers Move to Los Angeles[05570] [g]United States;Fall, 1957: Brooklyn Dodgers Move to Los Angeles[05570] [c]Sports;Fall, 1957: Brooklyn Dodgers Move to Los Angeles[05570] [c]Immigration, emigration, and relocation;Fall, 1957: Brooklyn Dodgers Move to Los Angeles[05570] O’Malley, Walter Stoneham, Horace Moses, Robert Poulson, Norris

The most attractive western magnet has traditionally been California. The discovery of gold there in the nineteenth century caused Americans to bypass the high plains and the Rockies and head for the Pacific Coast. A century later, with nearly six million citizens in 1940, California ranked fourth in population; in the next census, with ten million inhabitants, it was the second most populous state. Professional football Football;professional early recognized the attractiveness of the West Coast; shortly after World War II, National Football League National Football League (NFL) owners permitted Dan Reeves to move the Cleveland Rams to Los Angeles Los Angeles Rams , where they captured the NFL title by 1951. There was also a football team in San Francisco—the 49ers, a new club that joined the NFL when the league absorbed the All-American Football Conference in 1950. Football, however, was a minor sport compared with baseball until the mid-1960’s. As late as 1955, for example, the Rams had only four coaches, and the highest-paid player earned less than twenty thousand dollars a season.

By contrast, baseball was America’s national pastime, drawing tens of millions of fans to professional games each year. In addition to the major National and American Leagues, a wide network of minor leagues drew thousands of loyal fans. By the postwar era, however, the major leagues’ structure had remained unchanged for nearly half a century; as a result, the majors had gotten seriously out of alignment with the country’s population centers. By 1950, there were teams in ten cities, the westernmost of which was St. Louis, which housed two teams, the Browns and the Cardinals. Chicago (Cubs and White Sox), Philadelphia Philadelphia Athletics (Athletics and Phillies), and Boston (Braves and Red Sox) also had two teams each; New York was home to both the Yankees and the Giants, with its borough of Brooklyn having its own team, the Dodgers. The Cincinnati Reds, Pittsburgh Pirates, Washington Senators, Cleveland Indians, and Detroit Tigers joined in attempting to claim a World Series title that barely represented the eastern United States.

During the 1950’s, there were a few movements of existing baseball franchises. The Boston Braves Boston Braves were allowed to move west—to Milwaukee in 1953. Perhaps to balance the move “west,” the league permitted the St. Louis Browns St. Louis Browns[Saint Louis Browns] to move to Baltimore the following year. Both franchises were troubled. The Browns had resorted to promotion at the expense of product, allowing the first (and only) midget to appear at bat in major-league history. A 1950’s franchise also changed hands and was allowed to move west from a two-team town, Philadelphia. That team, long the property of Connie Mack, became the Kansas City Athletics Kansas City Athletics in 1954. These moves were the exception rather than the rule.

The departure of the Brooklyn Dodgers to Los Angeles in 1957 was the major breakthrough as the Dodgers became the first successful franchise to move from one city to another. The Brooklyn team had a long history as the storied “bums” whose nickname, the “Dodgers,” reputedly came from Brooklynites’ need to dodge ever-present trolley cars in the 1920’s. The Dodgers had won National League pennants in 1947, 1949, 1952, 1953, 1955, and 1956 and had won the World Series in 1955. In the 1950’s, the franchise single-handedly accounted for 44 percent of the profits of the National League.

Although the franchise was profitable, the Dodgers played in Ebbets Field, an aging ballpark that could seat only thirty-two thousand fans and had poor parking and poorer prospects for expansion. Owner Walter O’Malley pressured the city of New York to provide land for a new stadium, but he simultaneously pressured Horace Stoneham, owner of the New York Giants New York Giants , to move west San Francisco Giants with him. Stoneham’s Giants were another successful team, having won the National League pennant in 1951 and 1954 and the World Series in 1954. Facing falling attendance and the prospect of playing in an old stadium in a deteriorating neighborhood, Stoneham agreed to move to San Francisco, rather than Minneapolis, which was his first choice. In the fall of 1957, the two announced that the Dodgers would from now on call Los Angeles home and that the Giants would be housed in San Francisco. A strong rivalry was thus transferred across the continent. O’Malley paved the way by purchasing the rights of fellow owners to the minor-league clubs on the West Coast and promising a subsidy to the existing teams for continental travel.

Significance

The Dodgers in particular, as the first major successful franchise to move, set a pattern that indelibly shaped the future of professional sports. The move reflected permanent changes in American society apart from demographics. For example, O’Malley recognized that air travel shrank the United States. Planes could now whisk baseball teams across the country to play a series on the West Coast, then fly them back east in time for their next games.

The Dodgers’ move also reflected the increasing importance of television Television;sports broadcasts Baseball;television broadcasting in financing sports. Ironically, although O’Malley saw Los Angeles as a new media market, he wanted to establish a pay-television system for the team. He was far ahead of his time; the state of California voted a referendum against paying for televised sports. The angry O’Malley then minimized the number of televised games. By contrast, the Rams football team early saw the importance of television in sports—perhaps a more appropriate response for a team close to the entertainment capital of America. In 1950, when only 9 percent of America’s homes had television sets, the club allowed a Los Angeles station to televise home games. The contract cushioned what the Rams anticipated might be a loss of attendance by guaranteeing revenue equal to a 5 percent increase.

The team’s attendance declined by half, a fact that was used by owners to block local television broadcasting of NFL games for many years. Both responses foreshadowed future developments, as television revenues became increasingly important to sports franchises. Almost 60 percent of professional football revenues came from media broadcasts by 1990, while professional baseball, basketball, and hockey clubs depended on broadcast sales for nearly 50, 30, and 23 percent of operating income, respectively, the same year. Television also increasingly dictated the location of sports franchises. Sizable media markets fostered the move of the Braves from Milwaukee to Atlanta in 1966 and encouraged the creation of new baseball teams in such towns as Toronto, Seattle, Montreal, Denver, and Miami. The other major professional leagues followed suit, moving and adding franchises to keep pace with demographic shifts.

The move west not only reflected changes in business but also caused changes in baseball, which became a bigger business. As baseball became more commercial, the owners became less and less men who were born into the game (such as Bill Veeck, whose father had been an executive with the Chicago Cubs) or who had inherited a team (such as the Comiskey family, longtime owners of the Chicago White Sox). Increasingly, ownership of franchises became the province of wealthy men for whom baseball was often a secondary interest; some teams even became the property of corporations.

The Los Angeles Dodgers became highly successful, partly because O’Malley secured at virtually no cost from the City of Los Angeles three hundred acres of land near the city’s downtown for construction of a stadium. Dodger Stadium O’Malley was also given mineral rights (including oil rights) to the land and the promise of roads. He even built a golf course and a housing development nearby. His team did well, setting attendance records of more than two million fans for twelve straight years before passing the three million mark in 1978. The growth helped stimulate the expansion of baseball and other sports franchises to the West Coast and to other new areas.

The American League, to match the National and to forestall a projected Continental League, added teams in Minneapolis and Los Angeles. It was no accident that the new Los Angeles (later California) Angels were forced to play in Dodger Stadium until their own ballpark was opened. An American League team journeyed to the San Francisco area in 1968, when the Athletics, born in Philadelphia, ended their fourteen-year stay in Kansas City and moved to Oakland.

The obvious success of the Dodgers’ move helped trigger a general expansion of all of America’s major sports leagues through the addition of new teams. Professional football was the major beneficiary. The NFL was a comparatively minor league in 1952, when its eleven teams each enjoyed yearly revenues of only about $70,000. By 1960, the thirteen NFL teams received roughly $238,000 each. At the end of the decade, following the merger of the National and American Football Leagues, twenty-six NFL teams each received $1.75 million a year.

Similar changes occurred in the National Basketball Association National Basketball Association Basketball (NBA), which added nine teams between 1963 and 1975, partly in response to the challenge from the American Basketball Association. As in baseball and football, the new teams tended to be in the South and West. Professional basketball’s first major western move was also to Los Angeles, where the Minneapolis Lakers resettled for the 1960-1961 season. Two years later, the NBA’s Warriors left Philadelphia for San Francisco.

In the wake of the stability that had characterized major-league baseball through the 1950’s, when neither teams changed cities nor many players changed teams, sports teams and their athletes became much more mobile. The move of the Dodgers from Brooklyn to Los Angeles in part, paved the way. The financial success of the move encouraged the expansion of baseball and other sports through new franchises and helped make the business of sports far more national in scope. Brooklyn Dodgers Los Angeles Dodgers Baseball;franchises

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Kahn, Roger. The Boys of Summer. New York: Harper & Row, 1972. Kahn, a Brooklyn-born sportswriter, covered the Dodgers during 1952 and 1953. In the late 1960’s, he revisited members of the early 1950’s teams. Kahn captures nicely the reverence Brooklyn fans had for the team, and he paints a realistic picture of “boys” once summer ends.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Leonard, Wilbert Marcellus, II. A Sociological Perspective of Sport. 5th ed. Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1998. Leonard’s chapters on history, economics, and the mass media provide interesting material on the impact of professional sports on the economy and society.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Sullivan, Neil J. The Dodgers Move West. New York: Oxford University Press, 1987. An excellent one-volume survey of the move and the issues it raised. Includes a detailed accounting of the political maneuverings over the ball club in both New York and Los Angeles. Thorough and scholarly, with appendixes, extensive notes, and an index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Voight, David Quentin. From Postwar Expansion to the Electronic Age. Vol. 3 in American Baseball. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1983. A standard history of baseball, encyclopedic in scope. Voight covers the period from the 1940’s through the 1980’s in this volume.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Zimbalist, Andrew S. Baseball and Billions: A Probing Look Inside the Big Business of Our National Pastime. New York: BasicBooks, 1992. Discusses the finances of major league baseball, showing how team owners distort accounting data to show losses instead of profits. Excellent insights into how the sport became a business.

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