Sports

September 24, 1957 – The Dodgers’ Last Game in Brooklyn

Ebbets Field. Photo: Major League Baseball

Ebbets Field

On September 24, 1957, the Brooklyn Dodgers played their last game at beloved but decrepit Ebbets Field.  Originally founded in 1883 as the Brooklyn Athletics, the venerable team which signed the Major League’s first African-American player, Jackie Robinson, was also known over the years as the Grays, the Bridegrooms, the Grooms, the Trolley Dodgers, the Superbas, and the Robins before “Trolley Dodgers” was shortened to Dodgers in 1932.

After businessman Walter O’Malley acquired majority ownership of the team in 1950, he worked with the mayor and city planner of Brooklyn to get permission to build a much-needed, state-of-the-art stadium, but they refused to “play ball”.  O’Malley took the Dodgers on the road to New Jersey for several games in 1956 to signal the seriousness of his intent to move the team unless the situation changed.  Brooklyn’s Mayor Robert F. Wagner, Jr. refused to budge.  Los Angeles, originally angling to acquire the Washington Senators, offered O’Malley land for a stadium, which he would own, and complete control over all revenues.  O’Malley took the Dodgers to LA, convincing New York Giants owner Horace Stoneham to bring his team (also suffering a home-field “disadvantage” in a crumbling stadium) to San Francisco, instead of the then-contemplated move to Minneapolis.  Stoneham agreed, and the Giants-Dodgers rivalry permanently moved west.

After having won the World Championship in 1955, only two years before, the Dodgers could be forgiven for being disappointed that only 6700 diehard fans showed up for their last Brooklyn game.  On this Tuesday in autumn, at 44-year-old Ebbets Field, O’Malley’s team won one last victory before going “Hollywood”, defeating the Pittsburgh Pirates 2-0.

Image Credit: Major League Baseball

September 17, 1957 – Kansas State Fairgrounds Hosts Sprint Car Races

Dale Reed, Heat #2 Winner

On September 17, 1957, the historic half-mile racetrack at the Kansas State Fairgrounds in Hutchinson, Kansas, hosted six sprint car races contested by nineteen excited drivers and crew.  Five thousand fans were in attendance for three qualifying heats of seven laps, a fast car dash of four laps, a six-lap consolation race, and the featured final race of fifteen laps.  Drivers from nine states – Kansas, Nebraska, Missouri, Indiana, Kentucky, Texas, Florida, California, and Minnesota – gathered for the International Motor Contest Association (IMCA) event.  Winners of the qualifying heats were Pete Folse of Tampa, Florida, Dale Reed of Wichita, Kansas, and Al “Cotton” Farmer of Ft. Worth, Texas.  Farmer also came in first in the fast car dash and featured final race; Johnny Pouelson of Gardena, California won the consolation event.

Sprint cars are small, powerful race cars with high power-to-weight ratios designed to run on short oval or circular tracks.  Sprint car racing began shortly after World War I, and by the ’50s some sprint cars racers were using larger flathead V8 Ford or Mercury engines, rather than the pre-World War II vintage 4-cylinders of the ’40s.  Featured race champion Farmer was driving a Les Vaughn Offy, #24.  Les Vaughn owned many frontrunning midget, sprint, and stock racecars from 1948 to 1960.  Young A.J. Foyt got his big break in an Offy, winning his first sprint car race in Minot, North Dakota in 1956.

Final-winning racer Al “Cotton” Farmer was 29 on this warm, sunny day in Hutchinson.  His nickname came from the full white head of hair he sported from boyhood until his death in 2004 in his hometown of Ft. Worth.  He was an automobile chemical salesman, active in local professional and charitable organizations throughout his life, the father of four and grandfather of ten.

Image Credit: L.A.Wood/”Big Car Thunder” by Bob Mays/Kansas Racing History website

September 13, 1957 – The Kalmikoffs Win in Buffalo

Dastardly Ivan and Karol at work.

On September 13, 1957, Ivan and Karol Kalmikoff defeated Vic Christy and Sammy Berg in a National Wrestling Alliance event at Buffalo Memorial Auditorium in Buffalo, New York.  The Kalmikoffs tag team – a team of fictitious Soviet brothers consisting of Ivan (Edward Bruce, native son of Detroit, Michigan), and Karol (Karol Piwoworczyk, hailing from Tulsa, Oklahoma) – were very successful in the mid-50s, having begun their sweaty grappling career in 1953 in Amarillo, Texas.  Two other “brothers” participated occasionally: Nikita (Nikita Mulkovich) and Stan or Igor (Eric Pomeroy).

Populated by wild characters with quirky gimmicks, partly athletic event but wholly staged entertainment, professional wrestling featured clearly defined heroes and villains who episodically portrayed the alternating triumph of the forces of good or evil in (and frequently out) of a canvas-floored ring.  What great fun – and how vicariously cathartic – to boo the Communist Red menace Kalmikoffs while the Cold War raged.

Television fueled the popularity of professional wrestling as each of the major networks broadcast the colorful, inexpensive-to-produce matches.  As a result, the ’50s became the “Golden Age” for the pseudo-sport.

Image Credit: Online World of Wrestling

September 3, 1957 – How Bobby Fischer Spent His Summer Vacation

Bobby Fischer in 1957

On September 3, 1957, 14-year-old chess prodigy Bobby Fischer woke up with a new championship title and an extra $125 dollars in his bank account.  Bobby started his summer by winning the United States Junior Chess Championship in July, then went on to defeat Arthur Bisguier  at the prestigious US Open Chess Championships in August.  On September 2nd, Fischer defeated James T. Sherwin in the seventh and final round of the New Jersey Open, played at the Independent Chess Club in East Orange, New Jersey.

The final game between Fischer and Sherwin, a King’s Indian Reversed variation, is well-known and studied in the rarefied air of international chess competition.  Annotated versions of the game can be found in several sources, the first one appearing in the October 1957 edition of Chess ReviewAnnotation is a kind of chess “code” that specifies all the moves of a game in order, including which piece was moved, where it was moved to, whether it captured another piece, and the  individual annotator’s editorial comments in the form of punctuation or other symbols (! – good move, !! – excellent move, ? – mistake, ?? – blunder, and ?! or !? – that was either brilliant, weird, or stupid, not everyone agrees).  Bill Wall of Palm Bay, Florida, retired Air Force officer, former NASA engineer, chess journalist and author of over 600 chess-related articles, considers the September 2nd Fischer-Sherwin game “number one in My 60 Memorable Games by Fischer.”

The son of a German biophysicist, Robert James Fischer was born in Switzerland and grew up in St. Louis, Missouri, and Brooklyn, New York.  He started picking up the game at age 6, and began formal training at the Brooklyn Chess club at age 8.  After winning his first US Junior championship in 1956, he never looked back.  He won every United States Chess Championship he entered, starting in 1957-1958, and in 1963-1964 won by a perfect 11-0 score, the only chess player ever to do so.  He achieved Grandmaster ranking at the youngest age to that date – 15 1/2 – and won a Cold-War “Match of the Century” against Boris Spassky in 1972 to become the World Chess Champion.  Publicity surrounding the televised championship and Bobby’s achievement spurred wide-spread interest among all ages in learning the game.  Membership in the United States Chess Federation skyrocketed.  Fischer’s career had been virtually unstoppable and his withdrawal from the chess scene shortly after the 21-game event against Spassky in Reykjavik, Iceland, surprised the nation and chess players everywhere.  It would be twenty years before he re-emerged to play Spassky in “The Revenge Match of the Twentieth Century”.

Brilliant, enigmatic, vitriolically anti-Semitic and a Holocaust-denier, Bobby lived a nomadic, unsettled life as a fugitive from the American legal system in Hungary, the Philippines, Japan and Iceland before his death in 2008.  He has been called a “genius”, “mad”, a “mythologically-shrouded figure”, a “revolutionary”, a “legend in his own time”, and “the greatest player who ever lived.”

Image Credit: Sam Falk/New York Times

August 17, 1957 – Phillies Hall-of-Famer Richie Ashburn’s Freak At-Bat

Phillie Richie Ashburn

On August 17, 1957, one of Philadelphia’s most loved baseball heroes fouled twice, striking the same spectator, in one at-bat.

Center-fielder Richie Ashburn, one of the 1950 National League Champion “Whiz Kids,” played outstanding ball for the Phillies from 1948 until 1959.  He led the league several times in batting and fielding statistics, retiring with a .308 lifetime batting average.  After his retirement from baseball in 1962, he joined the Phillies radio and TV broadcast team as a color commentator, a job he loved and held until his death in 1997.  A long campaign by Philadelphia fans resulted in his induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1995.  Over 25,000 local fans drove to Cooperstown for the ceremony – a day which must have meant much to the boy who grew up on a farm in Tilden, Nebraska, dreaming of his day in the big leagues.

But August 17th was not quite a day he had dreamed of.  In the second game of a four-game series against the New York Giants, which the Phillies won, 3-1, Richie fouled twice into the stands, striking spectator Alice Roth.  Alice was married to Philadelphia Bulletin Sports Editor Earl Roth.  The first errant ball broke her nose; the second struck her as she was being carried out of the stands on a stretcher.  Alice was a good sport and she and Richie remained friends for many years.

The Philadelphia Phillies retired Ashburn’s #1 in 1979.  The center-field entertainment area of Citizens Bank Park, the Phillies current stadium, is named Ashburn Alley in honor of Richie’s 47 years of service to the Phillies organization.

Image Credit: Chuck Hofmann/Madison County Museum

August 9, 1957 – The Chicago College All Star Game

On August 9, 1957, the Chicago College All Star Game was held at Soldier Field in Chicago.  Originated by the Chicago Tribune in the 1930s, the All Star Game pitted a team of the year’s most talented graduated-senior college football players against the previous season’s NFL championship team.  The game was held as a showcase for the best of both the college and professional football worlds, and as a fundraiser for local charities.

Player selections for the college stars – the incoming rookies for the next professional season – were made by public ballot.  In the thirties, college players were generally better than their pro counterparts, but the pro teams quickly established themselves as powerhouses to be dealt with.  The public loved the competition between the college stars and the pros and the all star game drew great crowds – in 1947, a whopping 105,840 people turned out at Soldier Field to watch the college all stars defeat the Chicago Bears 16-0.

The 1957 game featured the college all stars, including John Brodie of Stanford, Jim Brown of Syracuse, and Paul Hornung of Notre Dame, against the 1956 NFL Champions, the New York Giants.  As rain fell on Soldier Field, almost 75,000 fans watched an exciting game in which the lead changed several times.  Giants quarterback Chuck Conerly and Brodie both demonstrated their strong passing skills, but in the end the Giants defeated the all stars, 22-12.

Image Credit: The Chicago Tribune Charities

July 21, 1957 – Althea Gibson Wins the U.S. Open Tennis Championships

Embed from Getty Images

Althea Gibson at the Colorado Tennis Open in the summer of 1957

On July 21, 1957, Althea Gibson entered the record books as the first African-American – male or female – to win the U.S. Open Tennis Championship singles title.  On July 6, two weeks earlier, Althea had become the first African-American to win at Wimbledon, taking the singles title by defeating Darlene Hard,  then the doubles title with Hard as her partner.  In all, Althea won eleven major tennis championships in the late 1950s and was voted Female Athlete of the Year for 1957 by the Associated Press, another first for an African-American.  The AP honored her again with the title in 1958.

Born into poverty in South Carolina, Gibson grew up in Harlem.  She came to the attention of Lynchberg, Virginia physician Walter Johnson, who was active in the African-American tennis community.  Johnson helped Althea obtain better instruction and access to competitions within the U.S. Tennis Association.  In 1964, Gibson amazingly switched to golf and joined the Ladies Professional Golf Association – again, the first African-American to do so.  She was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1971.

Althea_Gibson_NYWTS

Althea Gibson in December, 1955.

Image Credits: Dave Mathias/Denver Post/Getty Images; Fred Palumbo/NYWTS/Wikimedia Commons Public Domain