If any baseball figure represents pure evil in the hearts of longtime fans, it isn't Barry Bonds. Nor Alex Rodriguez, Pete Rose, Ty Cobb, or even the Chicago Black Sox. No, for many people, especially traditionalists, the most evil figure in baseball history is Walter O'Malley, who owned and operated the Dodgers for more than thirty years. What possible transgression could the owner of a baseball team commit that would surpass the damage done by the players listed above?
Simple. He moved the Dodgers from Brooklyn to Los Angeles.
It is this one act that has defined him — and damned him — for many, many years. But O'Malley's true impact on the game of baseball was quite vast and covered many different aspects of the game. In Forever Blue: The True Story of Walter O'Malley, Michael D'Antonio gets to the bottom of this familiar myth and tries to reveal the truthbehind it. Yes, O'Malley did, as owner of the Dodgers, make the decision to move the team to Los Angeles. However, the characterization of him as an evil manipulator who broke the hearts of a neighborhood and ripped a civic institution away from a passionate community is the utter fiction. That the myth has survived so long proves the persistence of true hatred, especially when it comes to baseball.
For the most part, Michael D'Antonio does a fine job with his biography of O'Malley. He offers a concise view of the years leading up to his involvement with the Dodgers, astutely noting the most relevant stories and putting them together to create a realistic image of this now-mythical man. Granted, the end leaves much to be desired, but I'll get to that later.
Walter O'Malley came to own the Dodgers in a very roundabout way. As part of his job with the Brooklyn Trust Company, O'Malley was assigned to keep close tabs on one of the bank's biggest debtors: the Brooklyn Dodgers. The "Daffiness Boys" of the 1930's were rarely winners, but they always entertained the fans and soon became a part of the Brooklyn cultural identity. Unfortunately, the Dodger "daffiness" also applied to the team's business dealings off the field. The team's financial affairs were a mess. Not only that, but decision-making at the executive levels was thwarted by squabbling among the heirs of the team's previous owners. It's hard to imagine a more hopeless situation for a young, inexperienced lawyer such as Walter O'Malley.