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Dodger Babies

Feb 17, 2011 2:57 PM | 3 comments

Here at the Brooklyn Collection, we have a large collection of photographs of Brooklyn's much-missed local baseball team, the Dodgers.  These are mostly images snapped by Brooklyn Daily Eagle photographers, depicting the players on the field, at training camps, and in locker rooms -- their faces flushed and euphoric with victory, or grim with defeat.  Though these images are fascinating -- especially for a Brooklyn transplant like me, who never knew the borough's glory days of hometeam baseball -- I've become more engrossed by the photographs of the players' lives off the baseball diamond. 

From the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, September 23, 1952: "Dodger players had their hands full yesterday with no game scheduled at Ebbets Field." Left to right: Rube Walker and daughter Deborah, Clyde King and daughter Princy, and Ralph Branca with daughter Patty.

Judging by the abundance of these images in our files, it became a routine matter for Eagle photographers in the 1950s to visit the most popular players at their Brooklyn homes, documenting their everyday lives in their surprisingly modest living rooms and backyards.  Some of the photographs were never even published in the paper, but luckily they've survived the past sixty-odd years to give us a glimpse into the private lives of baseball legends like Pee-Wee Reese and Jackie Robinson.  The images are a testimony to the fullness of these men's characters, as these heroes on the field were, simultaneously, fathers in the home.  And the photographs are full of adorable Dodger babies!  Let the gawking begin!

Bobby Morgan, Jr., son of infielder Bobby Morgan, at 6 months old.

Our first stop is the Hodges home, where man-of-the-house (and, incidentally, Dodger first baseman) Gil assists in changing his son, Gil Jr.'s, diaper.  Hodges says it's more difficult than making a "first-to-second-to-first double play."


Indeed, little Gillie Hodges proves to be the real star of the show, as he later demonstrates his burgeoning baseball abilities.  He's profiled in a May 2, 1952 article as, "a husky little fellow, and described by other players as the only two-year-old with muscles."

Here's Gillie flexing those famous pipes, winding up for a pitch:





At bat:

And finally, sliding home:

A telling discrepancy that emerges as one looks through these images is that despite being "intimate" portrayals of the players at home, the photographs are often obviously staged.  This becomes most apparent in the photos of players' sons, who are almost always made to mug for the camera in stances mimicking their fathers' profession.  Bewildered expressions abound here -- what do three-year-olds know about baseball?

Carl Furillo Jr., 3 years old, son of right-fielder Carl Furillo.

Kevin Snider, 2 1/2 years old, son of center-fielder Duke Snider.

Dan Erskine, 3 1/2 years old, son of pitcher Carl Erskine.

The folder of photos depicting Jackie Robinson's home life inadvertently provides a kind of meta-commentary on this artificiality of the Dodger family photographs.  First we get a heart-warming look at Robinson's interactions with his children...

Jackie Robinson with wife Rachel and five-month-old son, Jack Jr., in 1947.

Jackie cleaning Jackie Jr.'s ears in 1949.

...followed by this image of a "candid" photoshoot in Jackie Robinson's home.  Note the wary look his son gives the camera.

Not all of the photos are so obviously posed.  One of my favorites is this shot of Dodger pitcher Don Newcombe -- who, in 1949, became the first black pitcher to start a World Series game.  The child guzzling his soda pop is identified as "Normie", although it's unclear if he's Newcombe's son or some other relative.  

 The real prize of the Dodger family photo files, though, relates to catcher Roy Campanella.  In the weeks leading up to the 1953 World Series, in which the Dodgers would battle their rivals from across the river, the Yankees, the Eagle asked Campanella's 10-year-old son David to describe "how it feels to be the son of a hero."  Young David wrote a brief essay in response, which was printed in the Eagle on September 30, 1953, along with this photo.

I was amazed to discover that we have David's actual essay, the piece of paper he's pictured with here, written on the same flimsy brown writing paper with light blue lines that is still ubiquitous in grammar schools.

While David's penmanship is laudable, here's a transcription of his essay, just in case.

"How I feel to be the son of a baseball hero.

I don't feel any different from anybody else. I go to the Queens School and I'm the 5th grade.  I have a lot of friends there. I do my studies after school. I like to play punchball and basketball with my friends. Sometimes, I watch the ballgames to see Daddy play. When Daddy comes home we talk about the game. I don't like it when the other players get angry because daddy gets so many hits. One thing I do like is that little Jackie Robinson and I always know a lot about the baseball games.  I like it when daddy gets a home run. I always mark it on the calendar.  I'm proud of him."


2/17/2011 6:56:27 PM #

Great post!
Did Gil Hodges really say changing a diaper is more difficult than making a "first-to-second-to-first double play."?  Unbelievable!  I love the photo of little Gillie sliding into base!  Home run!


2/24/2011 1:11:16 PM #

Love your posts! Now I want to play some punchball, whatever that is...

Dave Kapell

3/3/2011 9:05:59 AM #

This is fantastic!