Baseball history has a way of repeating itself. The recent financial problems of the Los Angeles Dodgers are no different.
Team owner Frank McCourt filed for bankruptcy in June and agreed to sell the team in bankruptcy court this December. In the midst of the Great Depression the 1941 Brooklyn Dodgers teetered on the brink of bankruptcy as well. How the 2011 and 1941 team’s seasons unfolded says a lot about the times.
Despite the fact that center fielder Matt Kemp almost made baseball history by becoming the first man to win the Triple Crown in 44 years and attendance neared 3,000,000 the 2011 Dodgers could not make payroll, The team finished third in the National League West with an 82-79 record. With the exception of Kemp’s .324 batting average, 39 home runs and 120 runs batted in one of the model franchises in sports was all but irrelevant.
In 1941 the Dodgers were in the process of rebuilding a team that was suffering financially as a result of The Depression. The team had been losing money throughout the late 1930’s as attendance at Ebbett’s Field plummeted. By the end of the decade the Brooklyn Trust Company had gained controlling interest in the team and pressured the club to improve its solvency.
As has happened often in baseball history the league took matters into its own hands. In 1938 National League President Ford Frick told the Dodgers to hire Larry McPhail as their general manager. This set the wheels in motion for the 1941 Dodgers run to the pennant.
Unlike today, it did not cost as much to run a team and sign players so McPhail was able to get what he needed to make the Dodgers competitive. He brought first baseman Dolph Camilli and pitcher Kirby Higbe from the St. Louis Cardinals. They would be two of the key cogs in what many Brooklyn fans called the greatest season in baseball history. Like Kemp, Camilli almost won the Triple Crown as he led the league in home runs and RBI. Along with teammate Whit Wyatt, Higbe led the league with 22 wins.
The Dodgers led the National League in almost every major offensive category and in earned run average. Outfielders Joe Medwick, Dixie Walker and Pete Reiser helped Camilli with the offense. Reiser led the league in batting average at .343.
The team was managed by one of the fieriest men in baseball history, Leo ‘The Lip’ Durocher. He guided them to a 100 win season and a date with the New York Yankees in the World Series.
The Dodgers would lose in five games to the Yankees in a fall classic best remembered for catcher Mickey Owens missing a third strike with two outs which allowed the Yankees to win game four. This did nothing to dampen the memory of Brooklyn’s first pennant in 21 years.
The 2011 Los Angeles Dodgers finished third in a season filled with financial turmoil. The 1941 Brooklyn Dodgers won a pennant in spite of it.
Both are a mirror of their times and go down in baseball history for totally different reasons.