Baseball History All Over Brooklyn
It's MLB Opening Day! Hopes are high for the the teams we love over the coming season. Across Brooklyn, there are traces of "America’s Game," dating back to baseball's infancy, spanning more than 160 years, and connecting to many legendary greats of the sport. Here are are a few places to keep you occupied when you're team's not playing.
Though the Brooklyn Dodgers capture most of the ink, baseball in Brooklyn actually began with the amateur game in the late 1850s. Henry Chadwick, an avid promoter of early baseball, is credited with creating the first box score in 1859, the printed statistical summary of a game that still allows fans to follow the performances of their teams, even when they can’t be at the ballpark. Author of baseball’s first printed rule book and elected to the Hall of Fame in 1938, Chadwick is buried in Brooklyn’s historic Green-Wood Cemetery, along with Dodger’s owner Charles Ebbets and Jim Creighton, baseball’s first national superstar. The latter, an accomplished cricketer whose baseball pitching expertise for Brooklyn’s Excelsiors led to him become one of the game’s first paid players, died at 21 in 1862 at the height of his fame after suffering an abdominal injury from hitting a home run.
The Old Stone House
Few know that Park Slope’s Old Stone House served as the clubhouse for the team that became the Brooklyn Dodgers during their early years when they played at Washington Park, a grounds built on the swampy land near Gowanus Creek where the current park and playground still sit. Formed as the Brooklyn Grays in 1883, the team was variously known as the Superbas, Robins, Bridegrooms, even the Trolley Dodgers before exclusively becoming the Dodgers in 1932. Charles Ebbets, who went on to become principal owner of the club, began working for the team during that 1883 season, selling tickets, peanuts, and scorecards he printed himself. By 1890, Ebbets began investing in the club, owning 80% and becoming club president in 1898. That season, a second, bigger Washington Park opened (which could seat 15,000 fans), where the Dodgers played for a further 15 seasons.
Former Site of Ebbetts Field
Determined to build an even bigger ballpark, Ebbets began secretly buying parcels of land in part of the nearby Flatbush neighborhood, a former garbage dump known as Pigtown. Selling half his Dodger shares to finance the stadium, his new 25,000-seat Ebbets Field opened in April 1913. (Ebbets lived a short walk away, at 193 Ocean Avenue, so that he could oversee construction.) It was here that “Dem Bums”— whose storied line-up included Hall of Fame legends like Jackie Robinson, Pee Wee Reese, Gil Hodges, Don Newcombe, Duke Snyder, and Roy Campanella— later won six National League pennants and one World Series between 1947, when Robinson arrived breaking the color barrier, and 1956. A 1962 historical marker at 1700 Bedford Avenue commemorates where the stadium was located before being felled by the wrecking ball in 1960. Meanwhile, the Dodgers’ World Championship banner, won when they bested the Yankees in seven games during the 1955 World Series, is on display at the Brooklyn Historical Society.
Finally, for a glimpse of how those Dodger teams lived in the popular imagination of Brooklynites, pay a visit to The City Reliquary. Filled to the brim with curios and ephemera of the borough’s history, a wall of Jackie Robinson baseball cards and press clippings celebrates the Dodger legend’s significance both on and off the field.
- By John Major, Author, 111 Places in Brooklyn That You Must Not Miss. Photos by Ed Lefkowicz
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