The last game ever played at Ebbets Field was on Sept. 24, 1957 — exactly 50 years ago Monday.
The Dodgers won, but the joy of the crowd of just 6,700 people was extremely short-lived. You don’t need to be historian to recall what happened next: The team left, the beloved stadium was torn down, a dour housing project was built on the site, and whatever flame still flickered with the hope that the inner city would survive the loss of the Dodgers and their fans was extinguished.
So forgive me for being a little sentimental, but on Monday, I wandered over to the place where that last game was played and where Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier expecting something to be happening: A few old guys pointing at the hallowed ground and muttering about a great Pete Reiser catch; an official from Major League Baseball making a speech about The Game; or perhaps a baseball historian or two giving a tour.
Instead, what I found was a Brooklyn as distant from Pee Wee and Duke and Preacher and Oisk as the Earth is from a star on Orion’s belt.
There’s no evidence that anything, let alone one of the most significant moments in civil rights, happened on what is now a cement plaza bounded by Bedford Avenue, Sullivan Street, McKeever Place and Montgomery Street.
Ebbets Field exists only in the mind of the graying men and women who abandoned it long before the Dodgers did. Across Sullivan Street from what was the Ebbets Field entrance — a portal so beautiful that the Mets are re-creating it at their new stadium in Queens — is now a commercial laundry and an auto-body shop.
Where “Campy” once climbed the backstop to catch foul pop-ups is a little jungle gym. There’s a tiny little plaque, hidden by bushes, that marks the “site” of Ebbets Field. But it’s physically in the cheap seats in right field. And how’s this for irony: There’s even a sign that reads, “No ball playing.”
The only real collection of Ebbets Field memorabilia or memories is on the walls of the McDonald’s across McKeever from the former entrance.
Dozens of photos from the Dodgers’ glory days, almost all of them featuring Jackie Robinson, are there, though few customers pay them much attention.
So it has come down to this: McDonald’s is the only keeper of the Dodgers’ flame at the very place where it burned.
Perhaps that’s to be expected when a chain burger joint is the cleanest restaurant in the neighborhood, and the Dodgers play happily in Los Angeles, 3,000 miles from the dour housing project built to replace them.
“I didn’t even know today was the anniversary of the last game,” said Maxwell Moreau, an Ebbets Field security guard who hails from Haiti. “No one told me anything.”
Maxwell said that old men show up from time to time and look for any remnant of their old stomping grounds. “But I never know what to tell them. I have no connection to that,” he said, standing in front of a Yankee logo that someone hung (heresy!) in the security office.
Another security guard, Abdul, also sported Yankee paraphernalia. I asked him where home plate was. He didn’t know.
That kind ofâ€ˆignorance bothers Brenda Scott, the tenants association president. For years, Scott has been calling for Major League Baseball to adopt the site, rather than hold its regular Jackie Robinson commemorations at stadiums all over the country — anywhere but at the place where Robinson actually changed the world.
“In April, we had a commemoration for the 60th anniversary of Jackie breaking the color barrier, but no one from Major League Baseball showed up,” she said. “There were events at every stadium, but no one came to where Jackie Robinson actually played. No one comes here.”
A little while later, Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries did show up, holding a virtually unattended press conference (it was just me and News 12) to also chide Major League Baseball.
Jeffries said that the “Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities” program (RBI) has distributed grants in 200 cities nationwide — and funds nine programs in New York — but Brooklyn hasn’t seen a dime, Jeffries said.
Borough President Markowitz, donning an ill-fitting Dodgers cap, also joined the event, calling for more respect for the site of Ebbets Field. He promised a statue of Jackie Robinson so that “the young people can know what he did for Brooklyn and for everyone.”
The press conference broke up and I walked around a little while longer. When I returned to the plaza an hour later, a man was being arrested.