When it comes to the classic old ballparks, there is none as storied and beloved as Ebbets Field. During the late 1940s through 1957 it served as a focal point for social change, and then it was ultimately undone by shifts in economic markets and social demographics. It was the province of Jackie, the Duke, Campy, Gil and Pee Wee. It was the pulpit of Red Barber and Vin Scully. It was stage to Hilda Chester, Happy Felton, and a “Symphony Band.” I doubt that anything I could or would write might do justice to what Ebbets Field meant then nor how it is remembered, pondered, or embraced today. So I won’t try. What I will do is share some very exciting news for the MEARS Museum and for collectors of vintage stadia across the hobby…The pairing is complete.
I believe the collecting of stadia items is still in its infancy. Although folks have been gathering ballpark relics and artifacts for some time, they are still not widely researched or understood. For me this means they are grossly undervalued in all but the most extreme cases. Back in June of this year I published an article titled “The Categorization of Major League Baseball Artifacts.” I won’t rehash that effort as you can read it at your leisure, but in that piece I identified stadia items as being Category 1 artifacts meaning “those with a direct connection to the conduct of the game; not commercially available to the general public”.
-Correspondence and Official Business Communications/Documents
I don’t want to stray too far from the topic at hand, but suffice to say I will be circling back with a more detailed effort on collecting stadia artifacts in the weeks to come. This piece is about two specific spectacular pieces of baseball history. The MEARS Museum collection now features the only know pairing of Ebbets Field ushers caps that span the period of 1947-1957. This may not sound like much at first blush, but then to be as excited as I am about this, you’d have to know something about the availability of these caps. In looking over auction data and with some knowledge as to what resides in private collection, I only have records of three surviving caps total, in any condition.
Imagery Analysis and Dating
During the period of c1947-1957, imagery analysis confirms that the ushers at Brooklyn’s Ebbets Field wore two styles of caps. The Type I (Ebbets Field embroidery) cap dates from c1947-1954 while the Type II (Dodgers embroidery) cap dates to the period of c1954-1957. My survey of images (still and film) included:
-1947 World Series Film (DVD)
-1949 World Series Film (DVD)
-1952 World Series Film (DVD)
-1953 World Series Film (DVD)
-1955 World Series Film (DVD)
-1956 World Series Film (DVD)
-Summer of 1953; Rare Sports Films (DVD)
-Summer of 1955; Rare Sports Films (DVD)
-Summer of 1957; Rare Sports Films (DVD)
-Dem Bums: The History of the Brooklyn Dodgers (DVD)
-Ken Burns Baseball: The Capital of Baseball (1950-1959) (DVD)
-When It Was a Game (VOL I-III) (DVD)
–Through a Blue Lens: The Brooklyn Dodgers Photographs of Barney Stein, 1937-1957
Dennis D’Agostinio & Bonnie Crosby
-Summer in the City: New York Baseball 1947-1947
Vic Ziegel and Claus Guglberger
–The Pictorial History of the Brooklyn Dodgers
Population of Serving Examples
-Imagery analysis of photographs from the pre-demolition auction of Ebbets Field on 24 April 1960; shows at that least four (4) ushers caps were among the items offered (pages 150-153 of “Through a Blue Lens.”) These photographs allow two of the four caps to be identified as Type II caps. One the Type II caps features an employee button of #12. It is not known if any of these caps survive today, and if so if they are also part of the count of known surviving examples.
-A survey of sports memorabilia auctions from 1988 to date indicates that the only Ebbets Field ushers caps that have been offered publicly are the two pictured here.
-A survey of private collections indicates that one additional Type II cap (employee button # 388) resides in the collection of the Gary Cypress Sports Museum; Los Angeles, California. According to Gary Cypress in article that appeared on line through ESPN on 11 October, 2015 “I’m going to put the Dodger collection in a trust,” he said. “The Dodger collection cannot be replaced. There are no duplicates of what I have. Gloves, balls and bats can be replaced, but the history of a franchise which took me 25 years to assemble, that’s impossible to replace. That’s a treasure, and I don’t want my kids to blow the treasure. It’s my love, and even after death, I’m going to be looking down saying, ‘No, no, no,’ if they want to get rid of it. You can’t do that. It’s history, and that means something to me.”
As such, I would put the known surviving population of Ebbets Field ushers caps is three (3):
Type I: 1 (MEARS Museum Collection)
Type II: 1 (MEARS Museum Collection)
Type II: 1 (Gary Cypres Collection)
While the designs of the caps are similar, the most striking difference is the naming convention that is embroidered on the cap, with Type I featuring EBBETS FIELD and Type II featuring a team association of DODGERS (devoid of any specific location). The same can be seen in and said of the employee buttons featured on each of the caps. I place this transition in cap design as taking place c1954. It is also interesting to note that the jackets worn by the ushers did not change style or design throughout the 1947-1957 period as they only featured a left breast patch that included the name “Dodgers.
With all that being said, it appears to me that The O’Malley had already decided the move was on well in advance of the of the October 1956 announcement that Ebbets Field had been sold to a real estate developer (the Dodgers retained the rights to play at Ebbets through the 1959 season if so desired). Usher caps bearing the embroidered DODGERS would have been appropriate at any location housing the ball club and would not have to be replaced WHEN the team left Ebbets Field.
Having and seeing these two caps together not only links an important time and place in baseball history (Brooklyn-Ebbets Field/1947-1957), but as a researched pair they offer some possible invaluable insights into the subtle changes that where afoot well before the Dodgers announced they were headed to the west coast. If we collect and prize artifacts for their connection to past, then this is a significant pairing in every way shape or form.