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Dodgers' owner Walter O'Malley

Under his ownership, Dodgers won several pennants in Brooklyn and Los Angeles

January 29, 2007 | Tom Singer

COOPERSTOWN, NY:   Baseball is the province of divided opinion. Attitudes about issues and players differ, depending on which end of the country or of the standings you ask, and Walter O�Malley typifies this discord.

Walter O'Malley

Walter O'Malley pioneered Major League Baseball's move to the west coast. (National Baseball Hall of Fame Library)

In Los Angeles, he is revered. In Brooklyn, he is still reviled.

But personal sentiments aside, no argument exists over the influence and foresight of a brilliant businessman who shifted the Major League landscape with seismic force in the late �50s.

No doubt, baseball would have gradually reached its current scope and size, in response to geographic and demographic forces. Still, the historical evidence is that O�Malley was the catalyst for this expansion by maneuvering to move the Dodgers to the West Coast in 1957, and convincing Horace Stoneham to do the same with the New York Giants.

O�Malley and Stoneham were baseball�s Lewis and Clark. They pushed MLB past the Mississippi, opening up the Western frontier. The game had already had its Golden Age in the �20s, but O�Malley started the Gold Mine Age.

America of the late �50s was already in the jet age of television and post-war prosperity. But before O�Malley made his daring and unpopular break, MLB consisted of 16 teams, none West of St. Louis, 15 of which drew fewer than 1.5 million fans. Forty years later, MLB had grown to 30 teams, 13 of them left of the Mississippi, 18 of which drew more than 2.3 million.

Nearly 30 years after his death at the age of 75, O�Malley returns on the Composite Ballot of the Hall of Fame Veterans Committee. In 2003, the most recent Composite balloting, he attracted 48.1 percent of the votes, finishing second behind famed umpire Doug Harvey�s 60.8 percent.

A candidate must get 75% of the vote to gain election.  Results of the 2007 Veterans Committee election will be announced on February 27, and the Induction Ceremony will take place on July 29 in Cooperstown.

O�Malley, a scholar with a Fordham law degree, never pretended to be a baseball man, overcoming that shortcoming by surrounding himself with keen talent maven such as Branch Rickey and Buzzie Bavasi.

As a persuasive and visionary businessman, however, O�Malley had no peer. Even better evidence of that than his plot to move to Los Angeles � and out of Brooklyn�s dilapidated Ebbets Field, where the Dodgers typically barely drew a million while winning NL pennants -- was the deal he made once he got there.

O�Malley purchased the downtown-abutting Chavez Ravine area, the sprawling current site of Dodger Stadium, for $494,000. That actually was a premium price for an underdeveloped tract valued at $92,000 � but O�Malley could clearly see gold among the palms and makeshift houses.

And that�s what the Dodgers became under the O�Malley stewardship � the gold standard of baseball franchises. Since Dodger Stadium�s 1962 opening, the club has never drawn fewer than 2 million and in 1979 became the first to crack the 3 million barrier.

Ironically, O�Malley never saw that threshold crossed. He passed away on Aug. 9 of that year, nine years after having handed the Dodgers� reins over to his son, Peter, who held them until the club�s 1997 sale to Rupert Murdoch.

O�Malley had acquired controlling interest in the Dodgers in 1950, thus he and his son ran the franchise for a half-century, the kind of stability that was their operation�s keystone. Their Brooklyn Dodgers featured the Boys of Summer core that remained intact most of the decade. In Los Angeles, they became famed for keeping an infield (Steve Garvey, Davey Lopes, Bill Russell, Ron Cey) together for another decade.

And, of course, in a sport wherein change was inevitable and usually wholesale, the O�Malleys employed two managers (Walter Alston and Tom Lasorda) from 1954 to 1996 and two general managers (Bavasi and Al Campanis) from 1950 to 1987.

Just another example of the walking contradiction that was Walter O�Malley. He didn�t change managers or players, only coasts. But as for his indelible role in the game�s history and evolution... there is no contradicting that.

Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com

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