Shades of Dodger Blue
Catching up with Peter O’Malley
By Tommy Hawkins
“It’s t-i-m-e for Dodger baseball.” Who hasn’t heard Vin Scully’s inviting call for us to join the throngs of Major League Baseball fans who bleed ‘Dodger Blue’ – to come out and support the home team. It is an annual opportunity for us to wake up the echoes cheering the past and present of an historic franchise that dates back to 1890. The Dodger organization is a vital part of our nation’s landscape.
From Ebbets Field in Brooklyn to Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, from training in Vero Beach, Florida, to Glendale, Arizona, from Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier to Yasiel Puig, from Sandy Koufax winning the Cy Young Award to Clayton Kershaw’s dominance, from Fernandomania to Nomomania, from stoic manager Walter Alston to the flamboyant Tommy Lasorda. Dodger fans will never forget Brooklyn’s first World Series win over the New York Yankees in 1955 or the team’s first Los Angeles World Series victory over the Chicago White Sox in 1959. Who can ever forget Kirk Gibson’s dramatic Game One-winning home run against the storied Oakland A’s that led to the 1988 world title.
We have bathed in ‘Blue Waters’ and have enjoyed the thrilling roller coaster rides; the experiences are indelible. Inherent in this great history is the ownership role played by the O’Malley family from 1950 – 1998. Father Walter gained controlling interest of the team in 1950. He had previously served as the organization’s legal counsel advising the pioneering Dodger President and GM, Branch Rickey. With strong legal, business and engineering skills, Walter became a prime mover in Major League Baseball. He continued the development of segregation-free Dodgertown in Vero Beach and aided in increasing black player representation on the Dodger roster by including Don Newcombe, Roy Campanella, Joe Black, Jim Gilliam, Maury Wills, and John Roseboro. Keep in mind this was years before Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr’s Montgomery bus boycott and more than a decade before the United States passed its first civil rights legislation. Walter made an unprecedented ten-year effort to remain in Brookyn and privately build a stadium to replace aging Ebbets Field. He then pioneered Major League Baseball’s expansion to the West Coast; moving the Dodgers from Brooklyn to Los Angeles and privately building the revered Dodger Stadium. In 1970, his son, Peter, was named President of the Dodgers and Walter became Chairman of the Board. In 1979, upon the passing of the senior O’Malley, Peter and his sister, Terry O’Malley Seidler, inherited ownership of the organization. In 2008, Walter O’Malley was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
With a life-long knowledge of the game and its complexity, the succeeding O’Malleys successfully guided the fortunes of the organization. In 1998, when family ownership was no longer viable, they sold the team to the Fox Group. On Peter’s watch, the community-minded Dodgers won two World Series Championships (1981 and 1988), five National League Pennants, had the best National League team won/loss record, and set Major League Baseball attendance records. Additionally, three times (1984, 1993 and 1997) the franchise was named one of the “100 Best Companies to Work for in America;” the only sports organization to be so honored. I spent 15 productive years with Peter and Terry as the Dodgers Vice President, Communications.
So, whatever happened to Peter O’Malley? Well, he is alive and well in greater Los Angeles. After a lifetime of devotion to Major League Baseball, he continues his global involvement in national and international baseball projects. On the international front, the government of Japan has just awarded him the Order of the Rising Sun, Gold Rays with Neck Ribbon. It is the highest honor bestowed on a non-Japanese citizen. The award is in recognition of O’Malley’s 60 years of contributions promoting
friendly relations through baseball between the United States and Japan. Dating back to 1956, Peter has made approximately 85 trips to Japan fostering International relationships and cultural exchanges. The Dodger team has made three goodwill trips to Japan. In 1995, Peter signed Hideo Nomo, who became the first Japanese-born player to appear in the Major Leagues from Japan since Masanori Murakami pitched for the San Francisco Giants in 1964-65. Nomo won the National League Rookie of the Year Award as Nomomania ensued. His historic signing and success opened the door for more than 50 players from Japan to play Major League Baseball in the United States through 2014. Some of O’Malley’s other international involvements include China, South Korea, Ireland, Nicaragua, Mexico, the Dominican Republic, and the Olympic Games.
Nationally, Peter is involved in baseball development on Little League, high school, college and professional levels. Of special note are his efforts to preserve and enhance Dodgertown in Vero Beach, Florida. It was originally a Naval Air Training Station during World War II that the Dodgers converted into the first baseball training site to integrate in the South, where major and minor league Dodger teams stayed, dined and trained together. From 1948-2008, it remained an East Coast, must visit, baseball Spring Training venue. Succeeding team owner, Frank McCourt, moved the Dodgers training facility from Vero Beach to Glendale, Arizona, resulting in Dodgertown’s closing. In 2011, Peter and his sister, Terry, feared that the complex would be shuttered for a second time, and stepped in to revitalize the 80 acre facility. They partnered with former Dodger star pitchers Chan Ho Park and Hideo Nomo. The four collaborated with Indian River County to save Dodgertown and create a year-round, multisport training and conference center that has been renamed Historic Dodgertown. On November 10, 2014, the campus was recognized as a Florida Heritage Landmark. Peter is chairman of the all-inclusive facility featuring 10 playing fields for baseball, softball, football, soccer and lacrosse. Other amenities include 90 on-site villas, clubhouses, two full-size weight rooms, dining room, Stadium Club Lounge, competition-size swimming pool, conference rooms and the 6,500 seat Holman Stadium. Historic Dodgertown is the perfect location for tournaments, camps, schools, business conferences and seminars, of which the O’Malleys are justifiably proud. You, too, can walk the paths of Dodger and other baseball greats; we’ll meet at the corner of Jackie Robinson Avenue and Tommy Lasorda Lane.
Visit www.historicdodgertown.com or call 772-257-8557.