Clem Labine Not Forgotten in Vero Beach

On a bright, sunny day in Vero Beach Florida, with the temperature just about where the Florida Chamber of Commerce had set it for maximum comfort, they held the final services for former Dodger pitcher Clem Labine.

Labine, probably the best relief pitcher in Brooklyn history, and not a bad starter, either, was obscured by the array of stars assembled in Ebbets Field during the late 1940s and 1950s.

Competition was tough for consistent front page coverage when the squad included Hall of Famers Jackie Robinson, PeeWee Reese, Roy Campanella and should-be famers Gil Hodges and Don Newcombe with a supporting cast of Carl Erskine, Preacher Roe, Carl Furillo and Billy Cox.

Hall of Famers to come Sandy Koufax and Tommy Lasorda were on the squad and one of the most influential owners in the history of the sport, Walter O'Malley was the owner after he bought out Hall of Famer Branch Rickey who was previously been the club president.

The team tied for the pennant in 1946 and 1951, only to lose in playoffs. They won pennants in 1947, 1949, 1952, 1953, 1955 and 1956 and took the Woild Champeenship in '55.

During this glorious time to be a Dodger fan, many people overlooked the important part Labine played in the eleven dominating years that the Dodgers ruled, if not baseball, certainly the National League.

But all that glory was 50 or more years ago.

About that same time the Dodgers opened Vero Beach and Brooklyn fans, not from just the New York area but from all over America, flocked to Florida to get a jump on the season and be near their beloved "Bums."

For the Brooklyn Dodgers were America's Team, long before a television station thought they had coined the slogan.

And so year after year, even after the Dodgers moved to Los Angeles, the fans continued to stream in and, in many cases, move to Vero Beach permanently to be close to Roger Kahn's "Boys of Summer."

But when the "Boys" were playing, the fans were in their 30s, 40s and 50s or more. Quick addition shows that many of them -- along with most the team they loved -- have moved on to the Great Ballpark in the Sky.

Mention Snider, Reese or Labine to a young fan now and they look at you as if you are speaking Hungarian.

And even the Veteran's Committee can't seem to remember the quiet man, Gil Hodges, who collected home runs as effortlessly as he picked errant throws out of the dirt at first.

At the funeral Thursday was a few of the embers -- both players and fans -- from the glorious fire that consumed the National League way back then.

Those who enjoyed the remarkable closeness of Ebbets Field are disappearing like autumn leaves in a cold wind.

So it won't be all that long that the most delightful team in the long history of delightful Dodger teams will be mostly forgotten like Bill Dahlen, Zach Wheat, Dazzy Vance and Babe Herman.

Oh, those historians in SABR will keep their names alive among themselves but for the most part, the average fan will forget about them, even Clem Labine.

But wait a moment.

Mourners nearly filled St. Helen Catholic Church in Vero Beach.

And among those in attendance were former owner Peter O'Malley and his sister, Terry Sidler who flew in on the redeye from California just for the funeral.

And Tommy Lasorda was there. And Ralph Avila. And Sandy Koufax sat with Carl Erskine. Danny Ozark attended as did umpires Bruce Froemming and Dutch Renert.

Rick Monday read the eulogy written by Clem's wife Barbara. Most of the Dodger minor league staff from the Adult Baseball Camp the Dodgers sponsor twice a year -- one of the highlights of Labine's life -- and who worked with Clem were in attendance as were many, many other people, in baseball and out, whose life Clem touched in his own unique way.

Forget Clem? Nope, not a chance!

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