Back in 1946, the men fighting in World War II returned to Bend and life was getting back to normal. So, the Brooklyn Dodgers decided to come to town.
But not those Brooklyn Dodgers.
“Not at all. Not even close,” said historian Jim Crowell. “The Dodgers that summer, baseball, were leading the league again. Even out here as far from New York as you could possibly get. Brooklyn Dodgers was very exciting, traditional baseball.”
There was a new professional football league emerging and the newly founded Brooklyn Dodgers football squad was headed to Portland for an exhibition game against the Chicago Rockets.
The choice of where to train came down to a two-way battle between Vancouver, Washington and Bend. The Bend Chamber rallied hard — and won.
“One of the main conditions of the Dodgers was when they looked at old Bruin Field, which was a great football field and a big one for a town of about 9,000, there was no place to dress. Both Lava Bear teams and visiting high schools had to dress and what is now the Boys and Girls Club and bus out there for practices and games,” Jim said.
The Brooklyn Dodgers said if you build it, we will come. So Bend did, and the Dodgers did.
“They flew over and to the Redmond airport, but it was going to be an early evening arrival, maybe. So about 50 Bend merchants got in their cars and drove down to what was then the really old Redmond airport and lined the cars up on the runway, turned their lights on so the plane could land,” Jim said.
Among the players that year was a young rising star named Glenn Dobbs who could run, throw and even kick. A skill that made him absolutely invaluable to the Dodgers
Well, maybe not completely invaluable.
“The next year, Los Angeles bought him away from Brooklyn for $100,000 and three additional players. And $100,000 was a lot of money in those days,” Jim said.
That’d be around $1.6 million in today’s currency. So … he could afford a house in Bend.
“It paid off because the first game in the L.A. Coliseum, the new Los Angeles Dons, as they were called. 83,000 people came to that game,” Jim said.
And considering Bend at the time had around 9,000 people, the turnout in Central Oregon was proportionally impressive.
“They figure about 2,200 at both games, which was a pretty good size for 9,000 population,” Jim said. “There were about 100 coaches from all over the Northwest, including the University of Oregon coach including Bill Bowerman, who was the coach at Medford which was the big powerhouse team in Oregon high school football back then.”
The governor even made a trip over the mountains to participate in a new twist on an old tradition.
“The governor threw out, like, you know, the first pitch for baseball ritual — he threw out the football from the grandstand,” Jim said.
Years later, Jim would go on to become a sportswriter for the Oregonian. He liked to play a little game at the local watering hole after work.
“And so, I would play with guys at the bar and tell them that I remember the time that I watched the Brooklyn Dodgers play in Bend July and August. And of course they would say ‘Yeah, sure. What do you mean? That they’re in the middle of the pennant race. Don’t give me that.’ “No, I tell you … Would you want to put a beer on that?’” Jim said.
Now this was before the internet, so often times people would call in to their local newspaper to verify facts.
“And of course I’d hand the phone to him and the sports department guy would tell him, ‘Yeah, they played two intrasquad games and Bend and then played in Portland’ and the guy would listen and say, ‘Yeah, you’re putting me on,’” Jim said.
So a couple of hot months in the summer of 1946 lived on in a couple of cold beers for ace reporter and prankster Jim Crowell.