Charles Ebbets built his ballpark, made of concrete and steel, in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn. He broke ground March 4, 1912, on a cold afternoon. His shovel barely bit into the hard ground.
Hogs and goats milled about. The place was a dump, literally. It stank to high heaven. New Yorkers called the area “Pigtown.”
But, several trolley lines ran through all this mess. A subway line would open soon, and the busy Brooklyn Navy Yard stood not far away. Fans could easily get to this ballpark.
Ebbets planned to call the new Dodger home Washington Park, the same name as the old wooden park it was replacing. Then, a reporter piped up.
“Call it Ebbets Field, Charlie,” the newspaper man said, according to a New York Times article. “You put yourself in hock to build it.” And, so it was christened Ebbets Field.
Charles Hercules Ebbets Sr, born Oct. 29, 1859 in New York City, began working for the Dodgers as a bookkeeper in 1883. By 1890, he held some shares in the team. Eight years later, the Brooklyn Base Ball board promoted Ebbets to team president.
Washington Park, capacity of 18,800, also opened in 1898. Ebbets, an ambitious but humorless man by most accounts, quickly began dreaming of an even bigger home for his Dodger team. He quietly started buying land in Flatbush.
Ebbets Field opened April 9, 1913, on a blustery day. The Philadelphia Phillies beat the Dodgers 1-0 in front of fewer than 10,000 fans, or about 15,000 less than capacity. Casey Stengel, future manager and orator, patrolled center field for Brooklyn.
Like most ballparks, Ebbets underwent several changes through the years. Originally, it was 419 feet from home plate down the left-field foul line and 477 feet to center. The right-field line measured just 301 feet from home plate. Lefty hitters loved Ebbets Field. Right-handed batters loathed the place. Ebbets was a pitcher’s park.
The team added more seats in the 1920s, bringing in the fences in left field and center field. Extension of a double-decked grandstand in left and center expanded seating capacity to about 32,000. The Fences continued to get closer and closer to home plate. The dimensions eventually settled in at about 348 feet down the left-field line, 389 to center and 297 to right. Welcome to a bandbox.
Dodger attendance boomed, as it did at most ballparks, following World War II. The team that drew fewer than 9,000 fans a game in 1943 and fewer than 8,000 fans a game in 1944, attracted almost 23,000 fans per game in 1946.
This sudden popularity also coincided with the arrival of the Boys of Summer. Players like Duke Snider and Roy Campanella and, of course, Jackie Robinson, helped make the Dodgers a force in National League pennant races.
By 1955, though, this group had lost four World Series. Would they ever win one? They were already down two game to none in ’55 against their nemesis, the New York Yankees. Time was running out.
Johnny Podres, 22 years old, born in Witherbee, N.Y., battled his way to a 9-10 won-loss record in 1955 and a 3.74 ERA. He gave up 160 hits in 159.1 innings and struck out 114. The lefty was still learning. He’d be starting Game 3 for the Dodgers at Ebbets Field.
Bob Turley took the ball for the Yankees. A right-hander from East St. Louis, Ill., Turley went 17-13 in ’55 with a 3.06 ERA. The 24-year-old made the American League All-Star team for the second straight year. Turley struck out 210 batters, but he also walked 170.
The big guy (6-foot-2, 210 pounds) didn’t bring his “A” game to Ebbets Field. He didn’t bring his “B” game, either. Turley lasted just 1.1 innings. He gave up three hits, one walks and four runs, all earned.
Roy Campanella belted a two-run home run in the bottom of the first inning. The popular catcher had slammed 32 home runs in the regular season and driven in 107 runs. The two-time MVP and veteran of the Negro Leagues also hit .318 with an on-base percentage of .395. Too many, Campy was the good-natured heart and soul of the Brooklyn Dodgers.
The Yanks tied it up in the top of the second. Mickey Mantle, the young Yankee slugger, hit a lead-off homer. Phil Rizzuto added an RBI single that scored Moose Skowren.
Brooklyn went up 4-2 in the bottom half of that inning. First, Jim Gilliam walked with the bases loaded. That free pass ended Turley’s day. It did not, however, put an end to the Yankee wild streaks. New pitcher Tom Morgan came in and promptly walked Pee Wee Reese to plate another run.
The Dodgers’ lead increased to 6-2 in the bottom of the fourth. Campanella ripped a run-scoring single. Carl Furillo followed with a sacrifice fly.
New York closed the gap to 6-3 in the top of the seventh. Andy Carey smacked a triple to bring in Rizzuto, who had walked. Brooklyn put up its fourth two-run inning in the bottom of the seventh off reliever Tom Sturdivant. Sandy Amoros and Reese both lined base hits to score runners.
Podres cruised to victory. He hurled a complete game, scattering seven hits, while striking out six and walking two. The final score ended up 8-3. Dodgers were still in it, down just two games to one. They could tie things up in Game 4. The Dodgers loved playing at Ebbets Field.
Time of the game: 2:20
Winning pitcher: Johnny Podres
Losing pitcher: Bob Turley
Home runs: Roy Campanella (Brooklyn)
Mickey Mantle (New York)