11/25/07 10:00 AM ET
O'Malley's move changed baseball
Dodgers owner opened the West to Major League Baseball
By Tom Singer / MLB.com
In Los Angeles, he is revered. In Brooklyn, he is still reviled.
But personal sentiments aside, no argument exists over the influence and foresight of a brilliant businessman who shifted the Major League landscape with seismic force in the late '50s.
No doubt, baseball would have gradually reached its current scope and size in response to geographic and demographic forces. Still, the historical evidence is that O'Malley was the catalyst for this expansion by maneuvering to move the Dodgers to the West Coast in 1957 -- and convincing Horace Stoneham to do the same with the New York Giants.
O'Malley and Stoneham were baseball's Lewis and Clark. They pushed MLB past the banks of the Mississippi, opening up the Western frontier. The game had already had its Golden Age in the '20s, but O'Malley started the Gold Mine Age.
America of the late '50s was already in the jet age of television and post-war prosperity. But before O'Malley made his daring and unpopular break, MLB consisted of 16 teams, none west of St. Louis, 15 of which drew fewer than 1.5 million fans. Forty years later, MLB had grown to 30 teams, 13 of them left of the Mississippi, 18 of which drew more than 2.3 million.
Nearly 30 years after his death at the age of 75, O'Malley returns to the Veterans Committee's revised Hall of Fame ballot, reduced to a select number of 10 candidates. In last February's vote on the former Composite Ballot, O'Malley ranked third with 36 votes and a 44.4 percentile. The new focused ballot, plus the spotlight of the Dodgers' ongoing celebration of the 50th anniversary of their move, could usher Walter O. into Cooperstown.
O'Malley is on the 2008 Veterans Committee ballot on Executives/Pioneers with Buzzie Bavasi, Bowie Kuhn, Barney Dreyfuss, John Fetzer, Bob Howsam, Ewing Kauffmann, John McHale Sr., Gabe Paul and Marvin Miller.As many as four candidates can be elected by a 75 percent vote of the 12-member committee, which will meet via conference call on Dec. 2 to make its decision. The results will be announced on Dec. 3 during the first day of the Winter Meetings in Nashville, Tenn. Any living inductees will appear at a media conference on Dec. 4. A separate 10-man ballot of managers and umpires simultaneously will be voted upon by a different 16-person committee. As many of as four of them can also be elected.
O'Malley, a scholar with a Fordham law degree, never pretended to be a baseball man, overcoming that shortcoming by surrounding himself with keen talent mavens such as Branch Rickey and Bavasi.
As a persuasive and visionary businessman, however, O'Malley had no peer. Even better evidence of that than his plot to move to Los Angeles -- and out of Brooklyn's dilapidated Ebbets Field, where the Dodgers typically barely drew a million while winning NL pennants -- was the deal he made once he got there.
In an agreement between the Dodgers and the City of Los Angeles, O'Malley and the organization were able to design and build Dodger Stadium in the downtown-abutting Chavez Ravine area with $23 million of private financing. Dodger-owned Wrigley Field, located near Hollywood in South Los Angeles, was transferred to the city and later became the home of the expansion Los Angeles Angels in 1961.
In 1960, O'Malley further purchased several remaining properties in Chavez Ravine for $494,200. That actually was a premium price for an underdeveloped tract valued at $85,750 -- but O'Malley wanted to move the construction process along and he could clearly see gold among the palms and makeshift houses.
And that's what the Dodgers became under the O'Malley stewardship -- the gold standard of baseball franchises. Since Dodger Stadium's 1962 opening, the club has never drawn fewer than 2 million and in 1979 became the first to crack the 3 million barrier.
Ironically, O'Malley never saw that threshold crossed. He passed away on Aug. 9 of that year, nine years after having handed the Dodgers' reins over to his son, Peter, who held them until the club's 1997 sale to Rupert Murdoch.
O'Malley had acquired controlling interest in the Dodgers in 1950, thus he and his son ran the franchise for a half-century, the kind of stability that was their operation's keystone. Their Brooklyn Dodgers featured the Boys of Summer core that remained intact most of the decade. In Los Angeles, they became famed for keeping an infield (Steve Garvey, Davey Lopes, Bill Russell and Ron Cey) together for another decade.
And, of course, in a sport wherein change was inevitable and usually wholesale, the O'Malleys employed just two managers (Walter Alston and Tom Lasorda) from 1954-96 and two general managers (Bavasi and Al Campanis) from 1950-87.
Just another example of the walking contradiction that was Walter O'Malley: He didn't change managers or players, only coasts. But as for his indelible role in the game's history and evolution ... there is no contradicting that.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.