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The Last Of The Brooklyn Dodgers

Richard Staff interviews four former Brooklyn Dodgers players, who, despite the team's move to Los Angeles, still identify with their Brooklyn roots.

“When I was a kid and heard ‘Wait ‘til next year,’ I knew exactly what that meant,” said the Brooklyn-born comedian Richard Lewis. He spent his childhood rooting for the Dodgers from the Yankee town of Englewood, N.J. “There were spectacular players, and I just couldn’t fathom why they couldn’t get over the top.” In our conversation near the end of 2023, Lewis ran down almost the entire 1955 lineup and starting rotation. He gave special attention to Carl Furillo and his shotgun arm, and the bent finger of starting rotation member Clem Labine. “Everyone had their idiosyncratic behavior and personalities, just like the city did,” Lewis said. “It was a perfect love affair.” 

Fans say things like this, but what’s striking about the surviving Dodgers I spoke to is that the players say it, too. Just as the pool of Brooklyn Dodgers fans has declined, so too has the number of players who once called Brooklyn home. On New Year’s Day in 2015, there were 31 surviving Dodgers; on the same day in 2021, there were 14. Today, of the hundreds of players to appear in a regular-season game for the Brooklyn Dodgers, only six remain: Third baseman Bob Aspromonte, 85; utility man Tommy Brown, 96; starting pitcher Carl Erskine, 97; first baseman Jim Gentile, 89; pitcher Fred Kipp, 92; and Hall of Fame starter Sandy Koufax, 88. Generations later, this offbeat love affair remains as strong on both sides as it was when Brooklyn was still the home of the world champions in 1955. 

“It can never be replicated, the atmosphere at Ebbets Field,” Aspromonte told me from his home in Texas. “The passion of the fans, it all worked so well together.” Now a Houston Astros Hall of Famer, Aspromonte is the last Brooklyn Dodger to have appeared in a big-league game, which he did for Hodges’s Mets in 1971. A Brooklyn native and high school classmate of Sandy Koufax, Aspromonte played in one game for the Brooklyn Dodgers near the end of the 1956 season, when he was 18 years old. “The two sides completed each other,” he said, “and it really showed.”

Not only did Aspromonte get to live the Brooklyn kid’s dream of playing for his hometown team, but his relatives got to see him play for an organization that in everything but the law was a part of their family. “When I took that field in Brooklyn, an 18-year-old kid among icons, right alongside the dugout was my family,” Aspromonte recalled. “My father, he just teared up unbelievably … What a feeling that was.”