The borough's longstanding passion for the game and its primary role in baseball's creation and growth are made clear by the sites of baseball rallies, Dodger celebrations and the first meeting between Branch Rickey and Jackie Robinson. The neighborhood around Ebbets Field illustrates antipathy for the Giants and the distinctive feel of a ballgame there, and shows why Brooklyn's team moved away.
Such places offer context and insight but what made the Brooklyn baseball experience unlike any other was the character of the land itself. A simple natural feature points to a primeval rivalry with Manhattan, a legendary allegiance to a ballclub, and Brooklyn's marked predisposition to accept and even embrace a player of any color if he could help that team win.
It began this way: affluent Manhattan men created the game in the 1840s. Twenty years later the craft of pitching, elemental baserunning and the essential conduct of the game - much of which after all involves deceit and cunning - derived from what the founding Knickerbockers referred to as "the coarse element on the other side of the East River," in not-so-affluent Brooklyn. The old guard laughed at the stolen base, condemned the bunt as unfair to third-basemen and banned the curveball as a deceptive tactic unworthy of gentlemen.
Brooklyn took to the game like no place else, in the 1860s fostering all three of the great early teams while beginning the practice of under-the-table payments to the best players. Again, the founders were shocked. Wrote the New York Times, "A man who accepts money for playing a child's game is a street prostitute."
At the turn of the century what had been the city of Brooklyn was absorbed into rival New York, and Brooklyn's primary means to civic attention and respect became its ballclub. From this point on, every game took on special significance and every game against New York's Giants became a crusade. But in baseball as in community affairs, Brooklyn habitually came in second-best. The Dodgers eventually, and famously, became team of the underdog.
In 1947, the team of the underdog adds Jackie Robinson.
In 1955 the Dodgers finally won what was to be their only championship in Brooklyn. They were exalted far beyond the borough: a celebration in Havana... a parade in the Virgin Islands... a very special honor in Florence, Italy. (Florence, Italy?!?)
The same traits that occasioned Brooklyn's re-creation of early baseball also engendered the borough's unparalleled regard for its team and made the Brooklyn Dodgers central to the cause of American racial integration.