Why Did the Dodgers and Giants Leave New York?

Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons / Wikimedia Commons

In 1957, the face of New York baseball was forever changed when the Giants and Dodgers—two teams that had been playing in the Big Apple since the late 1800s—abandoned the city for California. To this day, their relocation remains a touchy subject to longtime fans throughout the five boroughs. What drove them to leave town in the first place?

In a word, money.

During the first quarter of the twentieth century, the New York Giants had arguably been Major League Baseball’s most dominant franchise. From 1900 to 1925, they won ten National League pennants and three World Series championships, thanks largely to their bombastic club manager John McGraw. Their home field was the legendary Polo Grounds of Upper Manhattan, a stadium which boasted a seating capacity of 55,000.

However, as the subway system took hold, New Yorkers began leaving Manhattan en masse in favor of neighboring boroughs. With the Dodgers residing in Brooklyn and the Yankees ruling the Bronx, fans were increasingly less-inclined to visit the Polo Grounds when another franchise generally played much closer to home. The fact that the Giants started fielding less-than-stellar teams throughout much of the 1930s and '40s did not help matters. When the '50s came around, moving the club became—in the words of Giants executive Charles "Chub" Feeney—an economic “necessity.”

But what about the Dodgers? They were also losing money, but unlike their longtime rivals, the “Brooklyn Bums” still remained among baseball’s richest teams. In fact, they were later cited as the only National League club to have made a profit from 1952 to 1956.

That didn’t satisfy owner Walter O’Malley. To him, the real problem was Ebbets Field, the stadium the Dodgers had called home since 1913. In addition to yearning for a larger seating capacity, O’Malley believed that the surrounding area’s rising black population (which rallied behind Jackie Robinson) was driving white fans away from the ballpark.

Hoping to eradicate these concerns, O’Malley hatched a plan to build a brand-new stadium for Brooklyn at a cost to taxpayers of $6 million. New York Parks Commissioner Robert Moses nixed the idea, claiming that it violated the Title I Housing Act of 1949. The pair never saw eye to eye on this subject, and in October 1957, the Dodgers officially announced that they’d be moving to Los Angeles for the following season.

O’Malley figured that having a second team in California would be a wise business move, so he convinced Giants owner Horace Stoneham to move his club to San Francisco. Thus, the storied Dodgers-Giants rivalry was preserved and the west coast was formally introduced to Major League Baseball.