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Forever Blue: The True Story of Walter O'Malley, Baseball's Most Controversial Owner, and the Dodgers of Brooklyn and Los Angeles Hardcover – March 19, 2009
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If ever there was a figure who changed the game of baseball, it was Walter OMalley. Criticized in New York and beloved in Los Angeles, OMalley is one of the most controversial owners in the history of American sports. He remade the major leagues and altered the course of history in both Brooklyn and Los Angeles when he moved the Dodgers to California. But while many New York critics attacked him, OMalley looked to the future, declining to argue his case. As a result, fans across the nation have been unable to stop arguing about himuntil now.
Using never-before-seen documents and candid interviews with OMalleys players, associates, and relatives, Pulitzer Prizewinning writer Michael DAntonio finally reveals this complex sportsman and industry pioneer. Born into Tammany Hall connections, OMalley used political contacts to grow wealthy during the Great Depression, and then maneuvered to take control of the formerly downtrodden Dodgers. After his defeat in a war of wills with the famed power broker, Robert Moses, OMalley uprooted the boroughs team and transplanted them to Los Angeles. Once in Los Angeles, OMalley overcame opponents of his stadium and helped define the city. Other owners came to regard him as their guidealmost an unofficial commissionerand he worked behind the scenes to usher in the age of the players union and free agency.
Filled with new revelations about OMalleys battle with Moses, his pioneering business strategies, and his relationship with Jackie Robinson, Forever Blue is a uniquely intimate portrait of a man who changed Americas pastime forever. His fascinating story is fundamental to the history of sports, business, and the American West.
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And then I came across the subject of economics. To quote Milton Friedman, " The purpose of a business is to make money for its owners." Faced with dwindling attendance,and unable to draw 30,000 during the 1956 World Series, a fan base moving to the suburbs, and no place for those fans to park their cars if they were to go to a game, O'Malley was unable to work out a deal for a new ballpark with the master power broker of New York, Robert Moses, who had his own agenda and own personal favorites. Instead, the Dodger owner opted, as any sensible businessman would, to accept an astonishing good deal from the City of Los Angeles, which, like many cities attempting to lure, or even keep major league franchises, shoved it up the taxpayer's fanny. It is not in the too distant past that Illinois, scared that the White Sox would move to St. Petersburg, rolled over and built the American League team a new stadium. Ah, corporatism at its finest! At least the new owners of the Cubs, the Ricketts, of whom most fans are not fond, are using their own dough to rehabilitate Wrigley Field and the surrounding area.
It is of course, hardly unusual for a business to move its base of operations from one city to another. Even before the Dodger move, the Braves moved from Boston to Milwaukee, the Athletics from Philadelphia to Kansas City, the Browns from St. Louis to Baltimore. I'm sure their fans in those abandoned cities were disappointed, as have been other fans many times since. But there was hardly the hue and cry caused by the Dodger departure. This was New York! But the Giants were on their way out of the Polo Grounds as it was, the only question was in which direction, towards Minneapolis-St. Paul or the City By The Bay.
The author of this enlightening book,although having full access to Walter O'Malley's papers, did not, I believe, set out to rehabilitate him. O'Malley did not need the makeover. The old corporate lawyer was, like the rest of us, imperfect. He had his likes and dislikes. He liked to make money, and was reluctant to spend too much on his employees. He made no long-term guarantees. Walter Alston managed the club based on 23 one-year contracts. He was a wheeler-dealer at times, but so what? So was the man he pushed out the Dodger door, Branch Rickey. So was George Steinbrenner, and so are, in these times, Mark Cuban and Jerry Jones and yes, Magic Johnson and the current group that owns the Dodgers. So was another baseball fan who once owned a franchise, George W. Bush. None of it, legally done, is sinful. As Walter O'Malley knew, it's just good business.
In the process O’Malley earned the ire of the whole of Brooklyn, at least partially inappropriately, gained the admiration of movie stars and others who wanted to bask in the glory of the Dodgers as they arrived in luxury in the third inning and left before the end of the seventh, and held the fierce loyalty of such true believers as manager Walter Alston and Buzzie Bavasi. Through all of this, O’Malley created a superb organization that ensured success on the field and generally positive relations outside the lines.
But O’Malley was neither universally liked nor respected; some even considered him evil. I don’t mean the Brooklynites who still condemn him to a special place in hell for spiriting the Dodgers to the West Coast. That story is much more complex than most people appreciate. I am speaking of those inside the MLB power structure. Longtime Dodgers broadcaster Red Barber, for example, characterized O’Malley as “the most devious man I ever met” (p. 335). I tend to believe Barber, in part because of how O’Malley entered the story of Charlie Finley that I researched a few years ago. The characterization of Oakland A’s owner Charlie Finley, who also had his share of troubles with MLB’s most powerful owner, was extremely negative. Finley believed, quite rightly, that for decades O’Malley had manipulated baseball and its commissioners in manners that suited the Dodgers and himself. He believed Commissioner Bowie Kuhn, for example, served as a mere puppet to the powerful Dodger owner. And there is no doubt but that he was right.
Michael D’Antonio’s "Forever Blue" is a passable biography of Walter O’Malley. It is mostly, but not exclusively, about baseball and the Dodgers. D’Antonio gained access to O’Malley papers held by the family and therefore could bring to bear insights not available in any other account of his life. Unfortunately, while he uses these materials I’m not convinced that a real historian rather than a journalist, could not have employed them to write a much more satisfying biography. Until someone does so, this will probably have to suffice. It’s not a bad book, although I think overly apologetic toward an MLB stalwart that has a lot of warts on his face; I just believe the subject is so rich and the opportunity so great that there is much more to be done.
The history of Walter O'Malley is not just the history of the Dodgers; it is the history of Major League Baseball. He was a visionary. He helped bring Jackie Robinson to Brooklyn, breaking the color barrier in professional sports. He made baseball a truly national sport when brought the Dodgers (and the hated Giants) to California. He built a new, state-of-the-art ballpark with Dodger Stadium (which now stands as one of the oldest parks in the professional baseball).
This book wonderfully portrays Walter the man, Walter the business owner, and Walter the history maker.
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He really did try to keep the Dodgers in Brooklyn. A MUST READ.