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Baseball Giants all but gone in NYC's memory

Fifty years later, reminders of the Brooklyn Dodgers are alive and well in the team's former hometown.

There are commemorative ceremonies and statues at minor-league KeySpan Park, a beer named in honor of the team's 1955 pennant, an HBO special starring the "Bums," and plenty of New Yorkers, young and old, still sporting blue caps with the venerable white "B."

While it's almost impossible not to be aware of that dark anniversary of when the Dodgers left for Los Angeles and ripped out the hearts of some of the most dedicated fans in baseball, what about the New York Giants?

They, too, left Gotham for sunny California 50 years ago -- their last game at the Polo Grounds in upper Manhattan was played 50 years ago Saturday. Yet, their memory in the city today has largely been reduced to a whisper.

"It annoys me tremendously, and it annoys a lot of Giant fans that the Dodgers are always getting a lot of publicity, and we¹re always left out," said Neil Moran, 78, a Bronx-born Giants fan who now lives in Brick, N.J.

"That is a thorn in our side."

One likely cause for today's divide, said baseball historian John Thorn, is the Giants, under owner Horace Stoneham, had better reasons for leaving than the Dodgers did.

They were hemorrhaging money, they were losing, their attendance plummeted to 629,000 in 1956 -- only about 8,000 a game -- and the Polo Grounds was crumbling. The Dodgers, on the other hand, were still winning and turning a tidy profit, leaving their fans feeling victimized by Walter O'Malley, an owner they perceived as greedy.

The Dodgers struck a deal with Los Angeles in 1957. Because Major League Baseball did not want just one National League team on the West Coast, O¹Malley persuaded Stoneham, who was already mulling a move to Minneapolis, to relocate to San Francisco.

"It was very disappointing for the New York fans because the rivalry that we had with the Dodgers was, I think, as big as anything that's ever existed in baseball," said Sal Yvars, a catcher for the Giants from 1947-53. "Forget the Red Sox and Yankees."

The Dodgers, in part, are remembered more fondly today, Thorn said, because Ebbets Field, their home stadium that sat 32,000, was uniquely intimate. The massive bathtub-shaped Polo Grounds, however, sat 54,555 and included a center-field wall that stood 480 feet from home plate.

To be sure, the New York Giants are still remembered by some. Bill Kent of the New York Giants Baseball Nostalgia Society, a group of fans that meets three times a year, insists there is still plenty of interest in the team; the Dodgers just receive more publicity, he said. He points to the fact that his organization has increased from four members to 60 in two years and that several books are still being written about the Giants.

"The spirit is still there," said Kent.

Yet, it¹s still puzzling that the Giants' fanfare today seems to border on extinction while the Dodgers' Brooklyn days have become legendary, Thorn added.

"The Giants just seemed to lose character [after winning the World Series in 1954], and they had the best player in baseball, and maybe the best player in the history of the game, patrolling center field [Willie Mays]," Thorn said.

"So it's odd that we don't have that lingering affection for the New York Giants that we have for the Brooklyn Dodgers."

Thorn cites the fact that the Giants had "a lot of strangers" in their 1957 lineup, and even the career of their lone superstar, Mays, was largely defined by his days in San Francisco.

When the Dodgers arrived in L.A., on the other hand, their roster included Brooklyn-made stars Pee Wee Reese, Duke Snider and Gil Hodges.

"I think we miss the Dodgers because we miss the players we grew up with," Thorn said.

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