A coincidence, but one which raises a question. The coincidence: last night Japan won the title game in the World Baseball Classic, and last night I happened across a curious minor relic of the relationship between baseball in the U.S. and baseball in Japan. The question it raised in my mind: do the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim of Orange County of California of the Pacific Time Zone of the United States of America have an officially stated policy on matters of war and peace and the use of nuclear weapons? Because the Dodgers do. Or at least, they did.
I discovered via Mark Giselson's always informative Norwegianity blog that Roger Cadenhead discovered a plaque the Dodgers, then of Brooklyn, had made to commemorate the team's first visit to Japan in 1956. The inscription on the plaque reads:
We dedicate this visit in memory of those baseball fans and others who here died by atomic action on Aug. 6, 1945. May their souls rest in peace and with God's help and man's resolution peace will prevail forever, amen.
So, the Dodgers: pro-peace, and recognize “atomic action” (love the euphemism) to be a unique horror worthy of special mention. And this statement was committed to bronze only 11 years after the end of World War II, during the thick of the red-baiting '50's. Coming out as pro-peace and reminding people that The Bomb was more than a simple shield against the red tide, would normally have been enough in '56 to get an organization denounced as a pro-communist front outfit. But apparently being National League Champions was guarantee enough of 100% All-Americanism. What the Japanese thought about the plaque is hard to say, since although the official website dedicated to then Dodger owner Walter O'Malley says the team presented the plaque to “Japanese officials” during the visit, Roger Cadenhead found the plaque in Dodgertown, the team's Florida spring training stadium, “next to a concession stand's mustard and ketchup dispensers, right beside another plaque that recognizes Dodgertown for achievements in landscaping.”
Still, the sentiment was there, and at least we know that for a brief moment in 1956, the Dodgers were a high-minded club, representing the best and most generous impulses of America. Well, sort of… Because while the Dodgers were busy being high-minded and generous in Japan, Walter O'Malley had already involved the club in one of the most brutal and dishonest exercises of power in baseball history: the seizure of Chavez Ravine.
Neither Cadenhead nor the official O'Malley site mention it, but it was on his way to Japan for this Dodger tour that O'Malley met in secret with Los Angeles city officials to open negotiations to bring the Dodgers to L.A. And it was during this stopover in L.A. that O'Malley decided that the Dodgers must have Chavez Ravine as the site for the team's stadium.
Chavez Ravine was then a collection of working class Latino communities busy fighting L.A. over the city's highly questionable attempt to seize their homes through the power of eminent domain. O'Malley's fixation on Chavez Ravine as the site for his stadium sealed the fate of those communities. The whole story is told here, in a very thorough and entertaining series of animated shorts. So, while baseball was turning a diplomatic face to the world, a series of events that ended on May 9, 1959 with a brutal sheriff's department raid to clear out the remaining residents,
and a fleet of bulldozers
destroying a working class community, had been set in motion.
The whole Chavez Ravine episode may have been an even more questionable use of eminent domain for the private enrichment of rich ball club owners than the Texas Rangers stadium deal that made George W. Bush millions, but I will say one thing in defense of the way the Dodgers arrived in L.A. At least when the team's owner decided he wanted to be associated with L.A., he had the decency to actually leave Brooklyn, and not just insult the fans by changing the team's name to the Los Angeles Dodgers of Brooklyn.
(photos via the Online Archive of California)