Deep in the heart of Flatbush, Brooklyn, not all that long ago, you used to hear the sounds of cracking bats and thousands of Dodgers fans rooting for their home team. From 1913 to 1957, Ebbets Field was a beacon to sports fans all over the five boroughs. With a peak occupancy of over 31,000, Ebbets Field was one of the greatest, albeit most cramped, 20th-century professional baseball stadiums.
Keep reading to get the full story on the park, including its demolition.
First organized in 1884, the franchise went by many names, including the Atlantics, Grays, Bridegrooms, Grooms, Superbas, and Trolley Dodgers. Officially, they were simply called the Brooklyn Baseball Club, and their jerseys did not bear the name “Dodgers” until 1932.
Charles Ebbets was first and foremost a baseball fan. The native New Yorker worked his way up through the franchise, starting his career selling tickets, scorecards he printed himself, and peanuts at Washington Park Stadium, the Dodgers home base in Park Slope. Over the years, he bought more and more stock in the team. So much so that by January 1898, he owned 80% of the team’s stock. When then owner Charles H. Byrne died that month, Ebbets was elected the new team president and set out to find a new location to host the Dodgers.
Washington Park Stadium could only hold 18,000 and was made of wood, making it especially liable to fire. Stadiums in Baltimore, Philadelphia, Boston and Chicago all experienced fires in the 1894 season. Ebbets had two primary interests: A steel stadium with way higher capacity.
Newly rich due to the sale of a family building in Manhattan, Ebbets slowly and quietly started to purchase land and buildings in Flatbush, which would become the new home of the Brooklyn Dodgers. This process took several years. Ebbets began purchasing land in 1905 and didn’t have enough to begin construction until 1912.
The field itself took just over a year to construct. Ebbets named it after himself and welcomed crowds there for the first time on April 9, 1913. The Dodgers lost, but the stadium was a hit. Initially, Ebbets could hold 23,000 in its grandstands, but the stadium routinely added more seating.
In 1926, they added bleacher seats to the outfield. In 1929, a press box finally appeared, hanging over the upper deck. The biggest addition came in 1931 when the double-decked grandstand was extended down the third baseline and around the corner to centerfield. Today, Yankee Stadium can hold over 57,000 fans, but in the 1930s, 31,000 crowding the stands of Ebbets Field was a sight to behold.
That said, the fans at Ebbets saw much more than crowds. The park was home to some of the most memorable moments in baseball history.
Ebbets Field hosted the World Series in 1916, 1920, 1941, 1947, 1949, 1952, 1953, 1955, and 1956. In 1947 baseball legend Jackie Robinson made his major league debut in Ebbets Field, breaking the race barrier. He played his first in-season game against the Boston Braves to a crowd of 26,623 spectators, over 14,000 of whom were black. Johnny Vander Meer threw a no-hitter in 1938, and Gil Hodges hit four home runs in one game in 1950.
Throughout the first half of the 20th century, Ebbets Field became a shining home for baseball in New York City. Thousands of fans passed through its gates, listening to the tunes of Gladys Gooding, the field’s full-time organist.
Sadly, by the 1940s and 1950s, Ebbets Field fell into disrepair, the many seating extensions and renovations leading to serious structural issues. Seats were cramped, and aisles were narrow. The stadium’s plumbing was a mess.
Around the same time, Brooklyn was experiencing a period of migration. Many baseball fans moved outside the city to the surrounding suburbs. With no space for parking, a stadium like Ebbets Field had nothing to offer visiting fans who wanted to drive in.
Charles Ebbets died in 1925, and the team changed hands several times over the next two decades. Walter O’Malley came to power in 1950 after handling the team’s legal counsel for over 15 years. O’Malley had quietly been putting together plans to construct a new stadium in Brooklyn for the Dodgers, but those plans were put to bed by polarizing city official Robert Moses.
The two went head to head for years, exchanging threats and ultimatums until Walter O’Malley finally hatched a plan with the New York Giants to move both teams to the west coast. During the 1956 season, the Dodgers even moved several home games to New Jersey to stick it to New York City officials. In May of 1957, NL owners granted both teams the right to leave. That was the end of the Dodgers at Ebbets.
The Brooklyn Dodgers played their last game at Ebbets Field on September 24, 1957, to a small crowd of only 6,702 fans. After 45 seasons at Ebbets, the Dodgers defeated the Pittsburgh Pirates, 2–0, and packed their bags for Los Angeles.
In 1960, Ebbets Field was demolished. If you’re ever in Flatbush, you can still find a plaque on its site. Many artifacts and signage from the original stadium are on display at the Baseball Hall of Fame.
The Dodgers’ move from Brooklyn to Los Angeles still inspires the old tear from baseball fans who were lucky enough to see the team play in the ’40s and ’50s. Memories of Ebbets Field live on in their minds and the incredible photographs we have of the stadium.
Despite the issues it faced, Ebbets Field was the site of historic games and cheering crowds for a glorious time. They say sometimes you can still hear the roaring sound of Brooklyn baseball fans coming from Flatbush.