Opinion of Kingman's Performance

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Joseph Julius "Babe" Hamberger - An All Time Great Brooklyn Dodger That You Won't Find in the Record Books

An unforgettable man from Dodger history was none other than Joseph Julius “Babe” Hamberger, a Dodger employee from age 14 in 1921 up until when the Dodgers left Brooklyn in 1958 and even beyond that.  Hamberger, though offered a position with the team out west in Los Angeles, elected to stay behind.  He served as the caretaker for Ebbets Field until its destruction in 1960. Few realize that Ebbets continued to host sporting events up until a few months before the wrecking ball took it down.  Hamberger was there until the very end.  
Babe Hamberger at Vero Beach in early 1950s (photo from www.walteromalley.com)

Long Island University and St. Johns played baseball there in '58 and '59.  Satchel Page pitched in an exhibition game in August of 1959 in a game between teams touted as the Havana Cubans and Kansas City Monarchs.  Additionally a number of American Soccer League matches took place there, including the final sporting event held in the Stadium on October 25, 1959, a few weeks after the L.A. Dodgers defeated the White Sox in the World Series.

Shortly into the 1958 season, the first year New York was without National League baseball, The Milwaukee Sentinel ran a piece on April 17, 1958 addressing the Dodgers move to L.A. and the affects on Brooklyn.  In the article, Hamberger was interviewed:

“At Ebbets Field, Babe Hamberger, an employee of the Dodgers for 37 years, mostly as clubhouse man, sorrowfully watched a few maintenance men manicuring the diamond.  Babe is now in charge of the ball park. ‘I’ll sure miss them,’ he added. ‘Oh, well.  I still have a job.  With five kids, I’m still getting paid.  And that puts meat on the table.’”

(Source: “Ex-Dodger, Giant Fans ‘Hoiting’ Real Bad,” The Milwaukee Sentinel, by James L. Kilgallen).
Brooklyn Hall of Famer Zack Wheat is credited with giving Hamberger his nickname.  "Babe" had great affection for the Dodger great.

Hamberger started as a batboy at age 14 with the club and he remained on hand until their Brooklyn days ended.  Dodger legend Zack Wheat pegged the nickname “Babe” on him due to his youthful looks.  It was Wheat that would be identified by Hamberger years later as the "best ballplayer and person I knew with the club, no contest."   He became the longest tenured Dodger employee by the 1940s and an extremely loyal one to the borough as well.  Hamberger had a key to everything at the ballpark.  If you needed something, he was the “go-to” guy.  He actually did time as the megaphone public address announcer back in the 1920s.  He got some publicity while working in that department when a newspaper ran a blurb about him making a megaphone announcment regarding a lost child at the ballpark.  Hamberger is reported to have announced “a young child has been found lost.”

During the days when Brooklyn sat in the basement of the National League, year after year, Hamberger would literally repair the torn Dodger uniforms with a needle and thread hours after the last out was recorded following laubdering and cleaning the pants and jerseys.  Other jobs besides the team seamster that he had included ticket taker, turnstyle boy, ticket department employee, janitor, concessions employee, scoreboard operator, groundskeeper, clubhouse attendant, and traveling secretary.  But one position that absolutely proved his absolute loyalty to the Dodgers was Babe’s willingness to serve as a sacrificial lamb helmet tester.

Joe Medwick had been beaned in the head in 1940 shortly after the Dodgers had paid $125,000 for him in a trade with the Cardinals.  Dodger Team President Larry MacPhail was livid about the loss of his star player and he had batting helmets designed for his players in order to avoid future injuries.  He had  a renowned surgeon design a helmet after dozens of prototypes were designed.  MacPhail couldn’t get a player willing to wear the helmet as they protested that they were bulky and unsafe.  Babe Hamberger stepped forward and volunteered.  Years later MacPhail claimed he told him the following: “If you can assure me I won’t get hurt boss, I’ll put one of the things on and let Kirby Higbie throw at my head, that ought to convince those dumbbells.”   MacPhail never took him up on the offer, probably because he didn’t think his fireballing right hander had the accuracy to hit the willing Dodger loyalist in the head and not his face.

Leo Durocher in his infamous book “Nice Guys Finish Last” credited Babe Hamberger with successfully smuggling Dodger pitcher Van Lingo Mungo out of Cuba when the police were attempting to throw him in jail over a spat with the husband of a woman he was carrying on an affair with.  Hamberger smuggled him out of the hotel in a vegetable bin and got him on a seaplane out of Havana that very night.

Babe Hamberger painting seats at Ebbets Field.
Babe was offered a job out on the left coast, but he turned to down.  He had just bought a house and with five children entrenched in the borough, he felt that uprooting his family would be too difficult.  He remained behind and tended to Ebbets until the end with the faint hope that it would somehow stay open.  When Branch Rickey's attempt at forming a new league failed, Ebbets Field was done and with it, Hamberger was out of a job.  To the end he kept Ebbets well manicured and ready for on-field action. 

Hamberger never complained about Walter O'Malley after his tenure with the Dodgers ended in 1960.  And sadly, he never collected a major league pension either.  He was 53 years old, the Dodgers were gone and he fended for himself with odd jobs the rest of his life.  He knew so many in baseball, and he was always welcome at Met games.  Old pals in baseball would look him up.  He was an icon.  Babe Hamberger was the last remnant of  Brooklyn Dodger baseball.

In 1978 Babe died from heart failure.  He was buried in the same cemetery as his friend Jackie Robinson.  In the movie "42," Hamberger is depicted as the man stitching up Jackie after an injury.  Though he was never recorded to have worked as a team trainer, the acknowledgment of this great Dodger was more than warranted in the movie.  His daughter summed up her father with these words: "All my years growing up, my father never showed any animosity."  

When interviewed in 1959 in an empty Ebbets Field, a melancholy Babe Hamberger could only speak of what could have been:

"Boy There would be bedlam right now if the boys were still in Brooklyn."  (Gay Talese, New York Times).


For an in-depth article on Babe Hamberger, where much of this information was received,  please read SABR's Rory Costello's article on this amazing man in Dodger history.  Costello reached out to Hamberger's daughter, Stella Hamberger O'Conner who provided valuable insight to his life story.


  1. What a great story Evan. I never knew of the man but I do now and it warms the heart. After 37 years of dedicated service you would think MLB and or the Dodgers would have taken care of him properly in his declining days !!

    1. Gary, It is disappointing that he wasn't taken care of with at least a pension. The fact that Babe never complained about the O'Malleys after the Dodgers left spoke volumes about his character. The Brooklyn faithful revere this man, and they should.

  2. Really enjoyed this story Evan. Must admit I had never heard of Babe. He definitely was quite a guy. Nice comment he had re: Zack Wheat. Also interesting with attempt to use batting helmets.

  3. Glad you enjoyed this, Evan, and thanks for the link.