Brooklyn Rallies For Dodgers' Return

The quest may be quixotic, but hope springs eternal

Along Flatbush Avenue, a swirling thoroughfare of honking cars and grocery-laden shoppers, white flyers hang like tiny banners from telephone poles, spreading word of the crusade with a simple imperative: "Bring the Dodgers Back to Brooklyn."

In the pantheon of baseball lore, there are teams and there are legends, but there is a special place for the Brooklyn Dodgers and their faithful fans. Brooklyn-ites have been dreaming of their team's return since owner Walter O'Malley - known here as "the Judas of Flatbush" - moved the team to Los Angeles in 1957.

At the time, Brooklyn mourned and fell into a long economic downturn that mirrored its mood. But now the New York City borough is on an economic upswing, and with the upturn has come the serendipitous news that the Dodgers are for sale, giving Brooklyn its first real chance in 40 years to bring the "boys of summer" home.

"The Dodgers were a special part of Brooklyn," says borough president Howard Golden. "When they left, it completely destroyed us. But now we're showing a lot of strength. I'm excited about Brooklyn's comeback, and we need the Dodgers to complete this."

Mr. Golden swung into action the day after the Dodgers were put on the block. Sporting a "Leave the Dodgers in Brooklyn" pin, he held a press conference to urge New York's mayor and the governor to help establish a commission to explore financing and stadium locations.

Recent investment, like a $2 billion business complex and new hotels, has given the borough the economic and psychological momentum to sustain the team's return, Golden says, and support is overwhelming.

Local schools have taken up petitions, stores display signs, and people all over the country have sent letters and money, including one New Hampshire youngster who sent her $10 allowance along with a photo of herself in her baseball uniform.

It'll take a lot of $10 bills to buy the Dodgers though: Early speculation puts the team's price tag at about $200 million. Supporters say the money could be raised by issuing bonds or securing private buyers.

Although the mayor and governor have pledged support, some say the quest is quixotic. "It really is a farce," says a local sportswriter. "There's absolutely no chance of it happening."

One problem is that current owner Peter O'Malley has said he doesn't want the Dodgers to leave Los Angeles. And the borough faces two formidable foes in New York's attendance-conscious teams, the Yankees and particularly the Mets, who might try to block another National League team from moving onto their turf.

"There's such a thing as territorial rights," admits Golden, "but it's also true that if I own a deli and someone wants to open another deli across the street, I can't stop them. It's business. It's a question maybe courts have to answer."

For Brooklynites, the issue of baseball as business rankles - it was O'Malley's justification for moving westward. "When the Dodgers left, it took what we thought was a sport and a game and woke us up to the fact that it was a business," remembers long-time fan Lee Shapiro. "It was the end of innocence."

Fans like Mr. Shapiro, a manager of labor relations at Con Edison, recall the beloved "Brooklyn Bums" of the late 1940s and early '50s, when 13 Elsie Ice Cream Bar wrappers got a kid into the bleacher seats for free, and before every home game, a player invited one lucky kid onto the field to play catch.

"They weren't pretty boys," says Eric Cohen, a third-generation Brooklynite. "They lived right in the neighborhood, they rode the subway."

That salt-of-the-earth quality produced intensely loyal fans who withstood five heart-breaking World Series losses to the rival Yankees between 1941 and 1953, and reveled in six series pennants in the 10 years after World War II.

But the Dodgers distinguished themselves by being more than just the common man's team. Under manager Branch Rickey, the team took the daring step of breaking baseball's color barrier and hiring slugger Jackie Robinson, opening the field to talented black and Hispanic players who fuel the game today.

Golden, who is flying a Brooklyn Dodgers pennant over the borough hall until the team "returns where it belongs," harks back to that legacy of greatness - on and off the field - as he campaigns. "Baseball used to be the national pastime, but it is no longer," he says. "We have to do something to restore that confidence and bring that kind of standard back. "

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