(by Craig Berger, exclusive to NxtGenNexus)
The Los Angeles Dodgers are in the World Series again for the first time in almost 30 years. Today, the face of the ownership of the organization is well-known to most as former Los Angeles Lakers legend Magic Johnson. But back in 1988, the last time the Dodgers won the Fall Classic, the ownership of the Dodgers was firmly in the hands of one family business: The O’Malley Family.
The Walter O’Malley Story
Walter O’Malley was a powerful lawyer in New York in the thirties and forties. In 1940, he was brought in to help manage the finances of Charles Ebbets, who owned Ebbets Field and half of the Dodger organization. By 1944, O’Malley found himself as the Brooklyn Dodgers attorney of record with a 25 percent stake in the team. Branch Rickey, famous for his success with the St. Louis Cardinals, was another owner with a 25 percent stake in the team, and the two often found themselves at odds, with O’Malley being the more aggressive and flamboyant owner.
One of the other co-owners, John Smith, President of Pfizer, died in 1950, at around the same time that Branch Rickey’s contract as General Manager was set to expire. O’Malley decided it was time to make his move and bought out Rickey, while Smith’s wife turned over her shares to the Brooklyn Trust Company, which O’Malley, as the company’s Chief Counsel, controlled. On October 26, 1950, O’Malley officially become President and Chief Stockholder of the Brooklyn Dodgers.
O’Malley was responsible for many landmark moves as owner of the Dodgers. With Rickey, he was the first owner to break the color barrier in baseball by hiring Jackie Robinson. He oversaw many successful seasons in the early years of his majority ownership, including pennants in 1952 and 1953 and the Brooklyn Dodgers first World Series victory ever in 1955. He oversaw the signing of Hall of Fame picture Sandy Koufax and instituted some long time Dodger legends, including coaches Walt Alston and Tommy Lasorda, who between them coached for decades, and legendary announcer Vin Scully.
Probably the most notable move by O’Malley was to move the team from Brooklyn to Los Angeles in 1958. This move earned him the lifelong hatred of many Brooklyn fans, but the ones who stuck by the Dodgers were rewarded with another World Series victory in 1959.
Finally, in 1970, Walter O’Malley retired as President of the Los Angeles Dodgers, turning over the team to his son Peter O’Malley. Peter continued the tradition of loyalty to Dodger staff, keeling Vin Scully as the voice of the Dodgers for his entire tenure, as well as overseeing the longest-running intact infield in Major League history, third baseman Ron Cey, shortstop Bill Russell, second baseman Davey Lopes and first baseman Steve Garvey.
The Dodgers continued to have success under Peter, with a couple more pennants before finally beating the Yankees again in 1981 in the World Series. The O’Malley’s last Dodger World Series came in 1988, and it would be the last, as Peter O’Malley sold the team to Rupert Murdoch in 1998.
The instability that followed may have been what kept the team out of the World Series for the next nearly 20 years, which just goes to show you the strength inherent in a family business!