Tales From Moses’ Magic Meadow

A big topic here in New York City today is the first official MLB game at Citi Field last night. For those of you that haven’t, I suggest you read The Dodgers Move West, written by Neil J. Sullivan in 1987. Sullivan is a professor at Baruch College, and his book serves as a textbook for baseball fans to learn what really happened to cause the Dodgers and Giants exodus out of New York City. A side benefit of the book it that it also chronicles the history of the efforts to bring professional baseball to Queens – specifically to the place I like to refer to as: Moses’ Magic Meadow.

Sorry Brooklyn Baseball fans, but the book was one of the first to debunk the convenient, but not accurate assumption that Walter O’Malley was solely to blame for the migration of the Dodgers to the west. As you read the book, you will see similar forces at work that are also very much a part of the current Brooklyn Nets/Atlantic Yards fiasco today. O’Malley, by the way, is long since departed.

The book also sheds light on the involvement of his majesty, Robert Moses. His borderline psychotic and irrational lifetime infatuation with developing The Flushing Meadows was heavily affecting his judgment by the mid-50’s, and O’Malley simply had no chance whatsoever to gain approval from Moses unless he agreed to move to the Magic Meadow. This may not be breaking news, but it’s important to realize that the Dodgers were going to move somewhere, because the Borough of Brooklyn and the City of New York were simply not capable of enacting any realistic plan to keep them.

The part that story that surprised me were the circumstances surrounding the Giants move to San Francisco. I never realized that Giants’ owner Horace Stoneham made his decision completely independently of O’Malley. For those of you that doubt it, here’s a Stoneham quote, found on page 442 of Peter Golenbock’s book, Bums:

“…I had intended to move the Giants out of New York even before I knew Mr. O’Malley was intending to move. I was unhappy playing in the Polo Grounds. The ballpark was old, and it was darn near impossible to finance one in that area. I had intended to go to Minneapolis…”

Given the circumstances, why didn’t Moses offer Stoneham the Magic Meadow? Even Manhattan Borough President Hulan Jack had a suggestion for Stoneham: build a 110,000 seat stadium at the west side railroad yard? Sound familiar?

But here’s where the story gets interesting – the “efforts” of George McLaughlin and William Shea.

In 1957, McLaughin worked for Moses. He contacted Stoneham and offered to purchase the Giants for $5 million on behalf of an unnamed, non-profit entity. One can assume Moses was standing by, at the ready to create yet another of his infamous governmental money funnels. The Giants would then rent a stadium that would be built for them at the Magic Meadow in lieu of paying taxes – a deal O’Malley never asked for in Brooklyn. When Stoneham made it clear the Giants weren’t for sale, McLaughlin continued to pester him. McLaughlin eventually went public, offering any National League team the opportunity to relocate to Queens.

That’s when William Shea got involved. The attorney informed National League President Warren Giles of the “Moses, McLaughlin Plan” to put a National League team in Queens – before the Dodgers and Giants had even made their decisions to leave. After McLaughlin was stone-cold-busted in propogating a lie that Stoneham had secretly negotiated for the Reds to move to Queens, McLaughlin demanded that Giles force a team to move to Queens or grant a new franchise – before the 1957 season ended or the Dodgers or Giants had made their decisions to move. Giles ignored the request.

Robert Moses must have been beside himself. Didn’t the National League know who he WAS? Shea focused his efforts to the Continental League concept, which of course led Major League Baseball to welcome the Los Angeles Angels, Houston Astros, Minnesota Twins, and New York Mets expansion franchises in 1961-62. I’m not sure what McLaughlin got for his troubles outside of a taxpayer pension, but we all know one of the rewards for private citizen Shea – his name would be etched on the side of the  Montrosity at Moses’ Magic Meadow – from 1964 to 2008.

Flushing Meadows Park - 1959

Flushing Meadows Park - 1959

After reading the book, it’s easy to see how the events of 50 years ago continue to affect us today: the failure of the proposed stadium at the West Side Yards, the ongoing Atlantic Yards fiasco, the new Yankee Stadium, and of course Citi Field. I can’t be certain, but I’d like to believe that the Yankees and Mets hierarchy read Sullivan’s book.

You should too.

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