Ruth, Koufax, Aaron ... O'Malley
Long-time Dodgers owner becomes first Penn alum to get Cooperstown invite
January 17, 2008, 5:00 am·
In the first 71 years of the Baseball Hall of Fame's existence, zero Penn alumni were inducted into it. But now the Quakers are finally represented in Cooperstown.
Walter O'Malley (C '26) was voted in by the Veterans Committee in early December for his work as owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers from 1944 to his death in 1979.
While at Penn, O'Malley was very involved in the undergraduate community. He was elected class president in both his junior and senior years. He served on the council of athletics and was president of the Theta Delta Chi fraternity. As a senior, he received the Spoon Award while serving as class salutatorian at graduation.
"He believed you got as much out as you put in," Walter's son Peter O'Malley said of his father. "Thus he enjoyed being active and benefited tremendously. He was always grateful of Penn, and he set a good example for me to follow. All our memories that we had are good, without any questions."
In fact, the O'Malley family has three generations of Penn graduates. Peter graduated from Wharton in 1960. Walter's grandson, Kevin, graduated from the College in 1997 and received his MBA at Wharton in 2004. Kevin was also a baseball letterwinner in 1996.
Although Peter was not born until 11 years after Walter graduated from Penn, he still remembers stories his father told him about his undergrad days at Penn.
"I remember him telling me about Penn football games at Franklin Field," Peter said. "Back then there was a big tradition of football games. I also remember him telling me about being active in the fraternity system, which was a great strength of Penn in those days."
Kevin O'Malley, who was only four years old when Walter died, barely remembers his grandfather, especially when it comes to his baseball leadership.
"I saw him more as a grandfather instead of someone involved in baseball," he said.
Walter O'Malley presided over significant changes in baseball history throughout his 35-year tenure atop the Dodgers' helm. Three years into his ownership, the Dodgers were the first team to integrate baseball, with the signing of Jackie Robinson. After the 1957 season, the Dodgers moved from Brooklyn to Los Angeles, becoming the first team to move west. From 1944 to 1979 - the O'Malley years - the Dodgers won four World Series and 11 National League pennants, including the 1955 World Series, the only title while the team was in Brooklyn.
But it is the move to Los Angeles of which the O'Malley family members are most proud, and it is one of the main reasons they believe Walter deserves a spot in Cooperstown.
"I think people now recognize my grandfather as a pioneer of the sport - they admired his vision to move west," Kevin said. "That vision helped expand the game nationally."
Walter was also always proud of Dodgers Stadium, the baseball landmark that he created.
"The design of the stadium gave him pleasure," Peter said. "Building Dodger Stadium was great, and the end result was a beautiful stadium. Every time he left his office at the stadium he was very proud. He also was proud of Vero Beach," where the Dodgers opened one of the first baseball spring training sites in 1948.
Although the signing of Jackie Robinson was a pivotal moment in baseball history, Walter O'Malley is most remembered for moving the Dodgers out of Brooklyn.
"We took a lot of heat for moving the team," Kevin said. "That's how I look at it. The signing of Jackie Robinson is something I'm very proud of. It was visionary and looking to the future of the game and society. But growing up, I always heard of the move, not Jackie Robinson."
The initial outcry over the move prevented O'Malley from earning a Hall of Fame induction for so many years.
"More and more people now recognize the complete picture of my dad," said Peter, who served as Dodgers' owner from his father's death in 1979 through 1998.
"He didn't want to leave New York, but after 10 years of dealing with aging Ebbets Field, he began to consider a move elsewhere. He didn't want the tax payers to pay for a new stadium, but instead, designed, built and maintained Dodger Stadium himself. These things take time; you can't write history in first few years after an event."
Despite the nearly 30-year wait for the induction, the O'Malley family can now proudly call one of its own a Baseball Hall of Famer. And, after 70 years of waiting, the Penn family can do the same.