Arts &
  Arts Culture Analysis  
Vol. 20, No. 4, 2021
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Robert J. Lewis
  Senior Editor
Bernard Dubé
  Contributing Editors
David Solway
Louis René Beres
Nick Catalano
Chris Barry
Don Dewey
Howard Richler
Gary Olson
Oslavi Linares
Jordan Adler
Andrew Hlavacek
Daniel Charchuk
  Music Editors
Serge Gamache
  Arts Editor
Lydia Schrufer
Mady Bourdage
Jerry Prindle
Chantal Levesque Denis Beaumont
Emanuel Pordes
  Past Contributors
  Noam Chomsky
Mark Kingwell
Naomi Klein
Arundhati Roy
Evelyn Lau
Stephen Lewis
Robert Fisk
Margaret Somerville
Mona Eltahawy
Michael Moore
Julius Grey
Irshad Manji
Richard Rodriguez
Navi Pillay
Ernesto Zedillo
Pico Iyer
Edward Said
Jean Baudrillard
Bill Moyers
Barbara Ehrenreich
Leon Wieseltier
Nayan Chanda
Charles Lewis
John Lavery
Tariq Ali
Michael Albert
Rochelle Gurstein
Alex Waterhouse-Hayward


where legends were made



Donald Dewey has written some 40 books of fiction and nonfiction, as well as contributed scores of stories to magazines and other periodicals. He has also had some 30 plays staged in Europe and the United States. Dewey was editor of the ASME-award winning magazine Attenzione and was editorial director of the East-West Network, overseeing a dozen in-flight magazines and the PBS organ Dial. Don's latest book, Nullo, is now available.

Wrigley Field and Fenway Park notwithstanding, no baseball facility past or present has dramatized the relationship between a team and its fans as Brooklyn’s Ebbets Field did between 1913 and 1957. Depending on the weather, the alcohol consumed, and the scoreboard, the relationship could be balky, loving, or violent, and this was after owner Charles Ebbets had risked making it literally incendiary. In fact, it wasn’t until some 24,000 people (the capacity at the time) converged on the park’s single rotunda entrance for an inaugural preseason exhibition against the Yankees on April 5, 1913 that Ebbets realized he had a fire hazard on his hands with every cigarette and cigar in sight. Since it was too late to make radical alterations in architect Clarence Van Buskirk’s designs for the official opener against Philadelphia four days later, Ebbets hurriedly cut tiny cell-like windows into the street walls around the park as additional ticket booths and hacked out four extra entry portals. For those not going through the rotunda, buying a ticket was like slipping a little something to a prison inmate and walking into the stadium was akin to stepping into a dark warehouse. Few airs of self-importance survived the ramp climb to seats.

The park was as intimate as any outdoor professional sports arena could be. This didn’t owe only to the short outfield distances; from the left field foul pole to center field, Ebbets Field was actually comparable to a number of other parks. Even in right field, where a 40-foot screen was installed above advertising signs to help neutralize a paltry distance of 297 feet down the line, there were similarities to Philadelphia’s Baker Bowl and St. Louis’s Sportsman’s Park. The intimacy was more the product of the facility’s location in Brooklyn, the proximity of the stands to the field, and the high rate of grandstand regulars long before season ticket holders had become an indispensable part of baseball’s finances.

Although near Prospect Park and the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens, Ebbets Field was squeezed into the most urban of neighbourhoods. The notion that the field (and the team) relied primarily on a rough-hewn lumpen fan base is more indebted to populist nostalgia than to the historical record. Abetting this perception is the fact that the land gobbled up for the facility by Ebbets was, at the beginning of the 20th century, a tawdry collection of shanties and chicken coops known locally as Pigtown. But it wasn’t long after the Dodgers moved in that the area around Bedford Avenue and Montgomery Place developed into an ever-widening zone of middle-class apartment buildings and private homes whose occupants were as apt to commute to Manhattan offices as drive plumbing supplies trucks or line up for unemployment benefits. If there was a solid core of blue-collar fans from the surrounding neighbourhoods of Flatbush, Prospect Heights, and Bed-Stuy, many of them were highly paid union workers. Certainly, the Dodgers anticipated no prohibitive economic barriers when they took the lead among big league clubs in televising games in the 1950s --- a period when a 17” black-and-white set still represented an appreciable family investment. The persisting image of a low-class clientele has also been furthered by baseball writers who, if not beguiled by the dems-and-dese Hollywood stereotypes of William Bendix and Lloyd Nolan, have felt compelled to distinguish in sociological shorthand the Dodger fan from his Giant (usually characterized as Manhattan white-collar and show business) and Yankee (only those with money clips need apply) counterparts.

The most important distinction of the Dodger fan was to be found in the neighbourhood around Ebbets Field and in the neighbourhood the team made of the entire borough of Brooklyn. While the most populous borough, Brooklyn didn’t have Manhattan’s daunting skyline or Queens’s endless sprawl. It was a physically manageable community in which black as well as (predominantly) white ethnic clusters exposed a topographical order policed by thoroughfares and parkways. If these separations later proved to be the borough’s undoing, stoking a social crisis and an economic depression in which the Dodgers themselves played a key role by moving to Los Angeles, they first seeded that most sentimental of urban communal hungers for being the-many-in-the-one. Centered around an entertainment like a major league baseball team, there wasn’t all that much of a gamble in satisfying the hunger, or in the pride at having it. Two-and-a-half hours, nine innings, a season --- it was a preciously timed romance of togetherness that embraced the manual labourer who wanted a few hits with his beer, the Bay Ridge home owner who took his kids to Sunday doubleheaders, the high school student who walked a few blocks to night games after finishing his homework, and the housewife who wanted a closeup view of the pitcher who looked so much more sensitive than her husband.

And the closeup views were there. The distance between the coaching boxes and front row field boxes was less than 10 feet, enabling omniscient hecklers to guide Brooklyn and visiting coaches through the game and making it imperative the coaches ingratiate themselves. If the bullpens were called into action, the relievers (Dodgers in right field, visitors in left field) had to warm up in the narrowest of strips between the foul lines and the stands, allowing several dozen more experts to pronounce on who was or wasn’t ready (not to mention tempting a humourless visiting reliever to miss his catcher by several yards when the taunting became too much). As Leo Durocher discovered to his chagrin in 1941, even the most remote seats --- the bleachers in the upper deck of center field --- didn’t always deter hands-on fan participation.

Watching one of his aces, Whitlow Wyatt, labouring during a game, manager Durocher was debating with himself about going to the bullpen when he noticed that, at the end of the top of the fifth inning, centerfielder Pete Reiser stopped off on his way into the dugout to exchange a few words with club owner Larry MacPhail, sitting nearby. When Reiser came into the dugout, he handed Durocher a note suggesting that Wyatt be replaced by Hugh Casey. While seething over MacPhail’s interference, the manager did what he was told, bringing in Casey, who promptly let the game get completely out of hand. Bent on having at least the satisfaction of putting MacPhail in his place over the loss, Durocher was stunned to hear that the owner had never written any note. Reiser provided the explanation: The outfielder had merely stopped off to say hello to MacPhail, the note had been thrown to him from the bleachers by Hilda Chester, the cowbell-ringing fan who wanted it delivered to Durocher.

Chester was the most noted of the raucous fans that made Ebbets Field synonymous with grandstand characters. A one-time peanut sacker for the Harry M. Stevens company, she was forced into retirement by two heart attacks. Forbidden by her doctor to excite herself by yelling for the Dodgers, she took to showing up in the bleachers with a frying pan and iron ladle, banging away from the first pitch to the last. When this became unbearable for those around her, she was presented with a cowbell as the lesser of two noises. Her devotion to Durocher was so fervid that she perjured herself in an assault case brought by a fan against the manager, lying that he had only been defending her honour (Durocher and a ballpark guard had actually beaten up a heckler under the grandstands).

Another conspicuous presence was Jack Pierce, who was so obsessed with Cookie Lavagetto after the third baseman had begun patronizing his eatery that he was never without business cards urging the player’s election to the White House. When Pierce showed up at Ebbets Field, he did so with two cartons of balloons, a helium tank, a giant banner, and two bottles of scotch. Ensconced in a third base box seat, he would belt down his scotch, scream out “Cookie!” at regular intervals, then puncture one of his inflated balloons for emphasis. Then there was the Dodger Sym-Phony, a band that whipped up “Three Blind Mice” when the umpires walked out on the field or figured in some rhubarb. When four umpires rather than three became the norm, the band changed its chief specialty number to “The Worms Crawl In, the Worms Crawl Out” to accompany every retired opposition hitter as he went back to the bench.

But as colourful as the Chesters, Pierces, and Sym-Phony musicians were, Ebbets Field was always more about its own character than about individual characters. With only half the capacity of the Polo Grounds and Yankee Stadium even after expansions from the original Van Buskirk design, it conferred on every body passing through the turnstile the simultaneous sensation of being exclusive for having one of the relatively few tickets for sale and of being excluded from the higher financial worlds of Manhattan and the Bronx. Such chauvinistic ambivalence might have been a distraction in other places, but it had been endemic to Brooklyn since the place had lost its city status and been swallowed up within New York City in 1898.

By way of business compensation for its smaller plant, Ebbets Field’s general admission policy did not bother much about coordinating the number of tickets sold and the number of seats in the house. This regularly produced two-rank-deep fans standing behind the infield reserved seats in the lower stands; for the most significant games, a couple of thousand more camped down on the steps of the upper deck. Aside from negating Ebbets’s concern about fire hazards and making touring vendors work harder for sales, the shoulder-to-shoulder spectating imposed a formalized informality in which only too much silence aroused suspicion. You didn’t hesitate to share an opinion on a play, if necessary even with someone who kept apologizing for sticking a shoe into your back.

Ebbets Field didn’t invent passion, not even of the baseball fan kind. If the Dodgers hadn’t played there for as many years as they did, they would have played somewhere else and undoubtedly drawn the same peculiarly Brooklyn metropolitan following. Among other things, the park didn’t have the benefit of its own idealizations. The real Ebbets Field always had paint chips in its seats and rails and scrawny teenage vendors who always appeared on the verge of collapsing from the orangeade tanks they had to carry on their backs as they negotiated all but impassable staircases. Only the elapse of more than six decades can make that paint more resplendent or those tanks any lighter. But the real Ebbets Field also had Frank Germano, who in 1940 leaped out of the stands to slug umpire George Magerkurth for what he saw as one bad call too many. Sentenced to six months for the assault, Germano could only smile that “good, I’ll be out in time for the season opener at Ebbets.”


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Also by Donald Dewey:
Capricorn Three
Baseball, Myth, and the Gods of Summer Pt. I
Baseball, Myth and the Gods of Summer Pt. II
Double Bill
Heroes and Victims
The Relationships Conundrum
The Finger
Smoke Blowers
Noticing Death
Passive Resistance
Not Playing It Safe
The Expectation Medium
Crisis in Critics
Words Not to Live By
Knowing the Killer
Racism to the Rescue
Punk Times
Not Playing It Safe
Meeting the Author
The Overwriting Syndrome
Writers As Ideas
Let Them Entertain Us
It's a Kindergarten Life
Being and Disconnectedness
History of Humour in the Cinema
Cartoon Power


Don Dewey's latest book, entitled Nullo, is about Danny, a reporter for a New York daily, who receives a deus ex machina for his frazzled life when a bureaucratic snafu sends the wrong coffin from Italy. Soon, he finds himself assigned to Rome to escort the sister of the man who should have been in the coffin.

As he accompanies her dance through Italian red tape, he realizes two things -- that he is in love with her and that he is far more interested in the story of the Italian whose body had been sent to New York than in that of her deceased brother. The dilemma becomes only more complicated when a third body is found to have been misplaced and when one of the three turns out not to be very dead.

You can purchase Nullo through Sunbury Press at or anywhere books are sold.











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