In 1957—two years after they reached their zenith by beating the Yankees to win their only World Series title—the Brooklyn Dodgers left Flatbush for the sun and expanse of Los Angeles. When they played their final game in Brooklyn, just 6,700 fans turned out to Ebbets Field, a 44-year-old stadium that was squeezed into one city block and had only 700 parking spaces, 32,000 cramped seats and few modern amenities.
Da Bums' decline and departure is told in HBO's Brooklyn Dodgers: The Ghosts of Flatbush. Though—like Ken Burns's Civil War series—it occasionally displays the overwrought sentimentality and nostalgia that often comes in the reckoning of defeat, the documentary has a sensitive eye for the political, social and economic changes that swept postwar America.
As white, middle-class fans streamed out of Brooklyn for the Long Island suburbs in the 1940s and '50s, Dodgers owner Walter O'Malley believed the key to luring them back for baseball was to build a domed stadium in Brooklyn. But New York officials balked, preferring that a new park be built in Queens. So when L.A. came along with a better offer, O'Malley uprooted the club that helped give three million Brooklynites an identity long after the once independent municipality joined New York City. After the Dodgers left, says actor Louis Gossett Jr., who is from Coney Island, "there was nothing for everybody to homogeneously identify with."
Ghosts shows that O'Malley fought to keep the team in Brooklyn, but many still see him as the villain. "When you're eight years old, you don't give a damn about business," says Charley Steiner, a Brooklyn native and current Dodgers announcer. " Los Angeles might as well have been Saturn, it was so far away."
The extent of the affection Brooklynites had for the long-gone team makes Ghosts heartwarming. But at the same time it's sad that instead of celebrating the team's legacy—Jackie Robinson, Duke Snider, Red Barber—many of those who remember the team are still so bitter. Says John Sexton, the president of New York University, " Walter O'Malley is down there in the seventh ring of Dante's hell on the list of the most vile people of the 20th century."