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Could Dodgers return to Brooklyn? If only ...

With the Los Angeles Dodgers filing for reorganizational bankruptcy, some people, encouraged particularly by the New York Sun, are musing about returning the baseball team to Brooklyn, where it was central to the identity of the working-class borough, smashed racism with the hiring of Jackie Robinson and other great black players and contributed the best part of the golden age of New York baseball.The Sun’s idea is that the New York metropolitan area, with only two Major League Baseball teams, the Yankees and the Mets, is underserved on a per-capita basis and could support a third team, as the area did until the Dodgers and Giants moved to California in 1958, and that the Tampa Bay Rays, a relatively recent expansion team not doing well financially in Florida, could replace the Dodgers in L.A.For those in love with the memory of baseball in Brooklyn and the golden age, it’s a wonderful dream. But, as a practical matter, it is probably no more than that.In the first place, the Dodgers are far more than a going concern in Los Angeles. Their bankruptcy results only from the contentious divorce of the team’s owner and his high living and that of his ex-wife. It’s a disgrace, but ordinary, responsible management can fix it. Second, the Dodgers have been in Los Angeles nearly as long as they were in Brooklyn, and as much as Brooklyn, home to generations of immigrants of all ethnicities, has populated and integrated half the country, hardly anyone there now under the age of 60 has any memory of the team. While Brooklyn deserves historical redress for the great crime of 53 years ago, Los Angeles has the far stronger claim to the team now and doesn’t deserve a similar injury.And third, what really is a professional baseball team these days anyway? Back in the golden age players usually were very much part of the communities in which they played. Many Dodgers of old, including the most famous ones, lived in Brooklyn, if only because back then, before the players union, they were pretty much slaves to the team owners and grossly underpaid. Today, of course, teams and players together are often grossly overpaid even as they have no loyalty to each other and often no loyalty to their cities as well. As the comedian Jerry Seinfeld muses about baseball: “What are we rooting for? Just laundry.” That is, the only constant left is the team uniform. The Rays as easily could move to Brooklyn as to Los Angeles. What is so evocative is merely the name of the old team that was stolen away.Besides, the quality that may have made baseball in Brooklyn most deserving of loyalty, its accessibility, is long gone. Back in the golden age, any blue-collar worker in the city might be able to afford to go to a game every once in a while and even take his family. Not today, as tickets cost practically as much as a weekend on the Riviera and the seats are largely occupied by the plutocracy. Today the working class and those who aspire to any sort of physical community will have to find a far more deserving focus for their aspiring loyalty than baseball — if, indeed, they even want one, perhaps being satisfied with the infinite virtual communities available to them via the Internet.Yes, the nostalgia is powerful and poignant as it involves what forever will be a compelling part of the American story — the lovable losers and almost winners; the long-suffering fans daring smug rivals to wait until next year; the intimate band box that was Ebbets Field, matched today only by Fenway Park in Boston and Wrigley Field in Chicago; the world-changing courage and triumph of Robinson and his spectacularly fearless play; and, of course, the day of deliverance, Oct. 4, 1955, the day of Brooklyn’s one and only World Series championship, inflicted against the hated Yankees at Yankee Stadium itself, the underdogs coming out on top at last.But powerful as nostalgia is, in the end it is all just nostalgia. As the columnist Mary McGrory remarked ruefully a few decades ago, “Baseball is what we were, and football is what we have become.”The Dodgers back in Brooklyn? If only.… Wait till next life. Chris Powell is managing editor of the Journal Inquirer in Manchester.

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