Free to Dream They got mad in 1957. Now, many in Brooklyn, N.Y., hope to get even by buying the baseball team. The Dodgers say forget about it. An L.A. boy turned New Yorker isn't sure whom to root for.

March 13, 1997|By Joe Mathews | Joe Mathews,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

BROOKLYN, N.Y. -- The sign is taped to the window of the Brooklyn Public Library. At first, it casts doubt on everything ever said about New York. The sign's notion is warm, fuzzy, dreamy even, in the face of the odds. "Bring the Dodgers home to Brooklyn," it says. In January, the Los Angeles Dodgers were put up for sale by owner Peter O'Malley. He is the son of Walter O'Malley, who in 1957 committed the sort of atrocity, folks in Brooklyn say, for which the United Nations convenes War Crimes Tribunals: He moved the beloved Dodgers from Ebbets Field to sunny Southern California.

The day the Dodgers went up for sale, Brooklyn Borough President Howard Golden held a press conference to say he was going to arrange to buy the team back. It was treated by the media as a joke, a funny one-day story ("Bring Them Back!" screamed the New York Post). The idea seemed crazy; the Dodgers draw 3 million fans a year these days, and the O'Malleys are committed to keeping the team in L.A. "On the day that Camelot appears in England," Roger Kahn, author of "The Boys of Summer," inveighed, "the Dodgers will return to Brooklyn."

Get ready for King Arthur.

Once again, the media has missed the story. In Brooklyn, you see, the Dodgers coming back is no joke, no lark. It is as serious a civic project as the new Brooklyn-Queens Third Water Tunnel, only more urgent. Elementary school students are knocking on doors, collecting signatures on petitions. The owner of Gage & Tollner, the borough's oldest restaurant, has offered up his eatery as a meeting place for Brooklynites to plan their purchase. Business leaders and ministers are debating whether a limited partnership or a public trust should own the team.

And oh, yes, this is New York, so there is a commission, appointed by Golden, Gov. George Pataki and Mayor Rudolph (( Giuliani (the least enthusiastic of the three; he grew up in Brooklyn as the only Yankees fan on his block). The commission's aim? "To end the Dodgers' temporary stay on the West Coast," Pataki declares. To suggest this idea is the least bit fanciful, that Brooklyn's 40-year-old claim stretches the limits of ownership, is dangerous.

"What do you mean crazy? What do you mean unrealistic?" Golden barks like the World War II Navy man he was. "Stop laughing. Brooklyn is the Dodgers' home. Wouldn't you love to see them back here?"

That's my quandary. For the past five weeks, Brooklyn has been my home, the place I've moved to follow my wife's career. But for me, home will always be Southern California, where I was raised, played shortstop for the Pasadena Southwest Little League Giants, and, at age 8, watched Fernando Valenzuela, a Mexican rookie, pitch the Dodgers to the 1981 world championship. To translate to Baltimorese: I am the equivalent of a young, diehard Indianapolis Colts fan who moves to Charm City and buys a 33rd Street rowhouse with a view of Memorial Stadium. I'd love to be able to watch my hometown team play, but here?

Golden kindly offers to "explain our point of view," and I wander over to his office in downtown Brooklyn. Flying high above Borough Hall is the Dodgers flag -- which Golden has ordered to remain until the Dodgers return.

On the third floor of the building is the nerve center of the Dodgers campaign. Answering the phones are two young women whose desks have been pushed together. They both say they'd like to see the Dodgers return home, but seem just as interested in kibbitzing about obnoxious men or the latest TV movie. "It was totally scary how Dallas just became one big hole in the ground," says one.

She is interrupted by the phone. "Bring the Dodgers home to Brooklyn? The best thing is to write a letter to the borough president expressing your support," she says. "Where are you calling from? Colorado? Wow."

'Love of a team'

After five, four-year terms as borough president, Golden has amassed several bookshelves of Brooklyn lore; Dodgers memorabilia sits in one corner. He points to a picture of Ebbets Field, to the spot in the bleachers where he sat when he was just a boy from Flatbush. His favorite player was Gil Hodges, whom everyone knew because he lived on Bedford Avenue, just like anybody else.

Golden says he welcomes doubters for his Dodgers project; the doubters said Brooklyn could never attract a major hotel, but now the Marriott is going in, the first new hotel in 50 years. He says there is no hidden agenda for the Dodgers campaign, only the "love of a team, no revenge, no grudge." Still, he concedes that when he was in Los Angeles once and drove by Dodger

Stadium, "I had to look the other way."

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