It is hard for people like me who did not live in Brooklyn when the Dodgers played here to understand how Brooklynites loved them.The Dodgers left Brooklyn in 1957 and broke Brooklyn’s hearts. I met numerous people who told me that they could never follow any baseball team again, so hurt were they by the Dodgers’ departure.
The Dodgers were for many years little better than an average team, but Brooklyn loved them with a passion that is hard to describe. When the Dodgers played the players were not millionaires. Many of them had to work in the off season to make ends meet. The players lived in the community, shopping and praying in Brooklyn just like everyone else. I think part of the love that people in the community had for them was their ordinariness.
We bought our house from Vic La Magna who grew up in Greenpoint and worshipped the Dodgers. He explained to me as kids a large group of Greenpoint kids would ride their bikes to Ebbets field in Crown Heights to watch the Dodgers, but the thrill was waiting until after the game to see the Dodgers appear. The Dodgers in those years felt that it was a privilege to be paid to play a kids’ game and they had to give back to the community. Vic told me that the Dodgers would not only sign autographs, but would talk to the kids, offering them suggestions on how to master the finer points of the game. They might stay a half hour to forty five minutes, never letting a young fan not get an autograph.
A group of young men from Greenpoint and Williamsburg added to the unbelievable ambiance of the Dodgers. They were the SymPHONY
(Accent on the latter syllables) They were local musicians who were started a memorable band.
Old Dodger fans recall that Ebbets Field had a unique character, packed every day with the most enthusiastic and loyal fans a team could have. One of the standard sights and sounds in those games was the Dodger Sym-phony Band.
According to Lou Dallojacono, one of the band’s members, the band appeared at Ebbets fields every day from 1939 until the Dodgers left in ’57.
“The first year they wouldn’t let us in with our instruments, but we found ways of getting around it,” said Lou. “The first guy would pay and go in. He’d then throw down some twine and hoist the instruments one at a time up into the stands.
“When Branch Rickey took over, he saw how popular we were and began to let us in for free. He gave us our own row in section 8 (affectionately known as the “loco section”). There about 10 of us in the band and we’d rotate depending on the time of the game and who worked nights or days. We had a bass drum, cymbals, trumpet, sax, sometimes a trombone. The crowd loved us.
“We’d do what we could to rattle up the other team and have some fun. We’d play our little ditties, start-up chants or make some funny sounds with those instruments. We had a whole repertoire of songs too. We’d start with Take me out to the ball game. When our pitcher was taken out we’d play Who’s Sorry Now or Somebody Else is Taking My Place. When one of our guys got a base on balls, we’d break into Would you like to take a walk.
“We had a whole bunch of songs and routines, but I think we’re best known for the song we always played for the umps, Three Blind Mice.”
I think everyone knows that Dodger Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier. Maybe they do not know that his wife loved the Dodger Sym-Phony.
From a New York Times article
RACHEL ROBINSON heard from a familiar face on Sunday.
Earl Wilson/The New York Times
Rachel Robinson, Jackie Robinson’s widow, at KeySpan Park on Sunday.
“I remember him,” said Mrs. Robinson, pointing to Danny Wilson, whose 85-year-old eyes were peeking over a bouncing trumpet at KeySpan Park in Brooklyn minutes before the hometown Cyclones took the field.
Mr. Wilson is the longest-tenured active member of the Dodgers Sym-Phony — as in phony symphony — which has played on, and on, and on since first arriving at Ebbets Field in 1939 to lead a famously off-key chorus of cheers for its beloved Brooklyn Dodgers, who left New York for Los Angeles after the 1957 baseball season.
Mrs. Robinson, the 85-year-old widow of Jackie Robinson, the Brooklyn Dodger great, smiled as she watched Mr. Wilson play “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” with a bunch of old friends: Arnie Mig, 85, on cymbals; Lou Mento, 82, on bass drum; Rex Sita, 77, on saxophone; and Nick Fiore 77, on trombone. Mr. Wilson drove the band to Sunday’s gig in his own van.
“That first year, Dodgers management did not want us at the ballpark,” Mr. Wilson recalled. “They felt we were a nuisance, but the players and the fans loved us, so we had to sneak into the ballpark. One guy paid the admission fee and lowered a rope over the side of the stadium, and we tied our instruments to the rope and had them hoisted up. Then we ran into the stands and started playing.”
Mr. Wilson, who now lives in Lynbrook, N.Y. — “that’s Brooklyn backwards,” he noted — is one of two living links to the original Sym-Phony. He was recruited as a 17-year-old fill-in by the band in 1939, serenading umpires with tunes like “Three Blind Mice” alongside original band members — all dead except for JoJo Delio, 87, who lives in a nursing home in Massapequa, N.Y.
“Over the years, as the original guys disappeared, we took their places,” said Mr. Fiore, who joined the Sym-Phony 30 years ago. “Danny and the rest of us are all trained musicians who performed with big bands, but we’re still proud to keep this great tradition alive.”
The band members, who now perform at gigs like old-timers’ stickball games and the grand openings of retail stores, were in Coney Island on Sunday to help celebrate two anniversaries: It has been 50 years since the Dodgers packed their duffel bags and left town, and 34 years since the creation of the Jackie Robinson Foundation, which provides four-year college scholarships and mentoring to minority students.
“The Sym-Phony was one of the things people loved about Ebbets Field,” Mrs. Robinson said. “They provided a kind a special character and loving warmth that few other ballparks had, so I’d recognize them anywhere.”