Dodger Fans Have Always Been Passionate

Dodger Fans are divided about the signing or not signing of Manny Ramirez. Some are tearing their hair predicting complete disaster if the outfielder is not brought under contract. Others, miffed at Manny's (or Boras') attitude, are advocating going it without him rather than be held hostage, as it seems.

Dodger fans have been known for over a century as passionate about their club. When Wilbert Robinson managed in Brooklyn (1914-1931) fans would wait around after the game to argue strategy with him when he came out of the dressing room.

In 1938, Robert Joyce walked into a Brooklyn bar after the Dodgers had lost to the Giants. The bartender ragged on him as did a Giant fan who was visiting relatives in the neighborhood. Joyce took it for a little while, then walked home, got his gun and came back. He shot the bartender and the Giant fan. The bartender survived but the Giant fan died.

Many Brooklyn residents were sorry for the bartender but didn't see how more than a misdemeanor could be charged for plugging a Giant fan.

When third baseman Cookie Lavagetto was traded to the Dodgers, a fan attended every home game with a box filled with balloons and a tank of helium. He would blow up the balloons and shout "Cookie, Cookie, Cookie" releasing the balloons one at a time until they ran out and then he would leave the park.

And then there was the fan that rushed out of seats and decked the home plate umpire after a losing game. He had to be pulled off by the park police and it was found later he was a parole violator and was quickly ushered back into jail.

But perhaps the biggest fan in Brooklyn, Hilda Chester, who was called The First Lady of Flatbush. She was and elderly lady with a voice that could be heard all over Ebbets Field.

She sat in the first row of the upperdeck with a four-pound cowbell, ringing it a opportune times when the Dodgers scored or after an important strikeout after which she would shout at the opposing ball player, "Eat Your Heart Out, You Bum!"

She had a sign, courtesy of Schaefer Beer, that stated "Hilda is Here" as if most of Brooklyn could hear her when she was in attendance. From her lofty seat, she would call, "Pee Wee I Love You" and the Dodgers Hall of Fame shortstop would turn and smile at her.

Her other favorites were Leo Durocher and Cookie Lavagetto.

Born in Dexter Park, Brooklyn, on September 1, 1898, she was a star athlete at a local girls school and had a dream of starting a professional girls softball league. When that didn't work out, she devoted herself to the Dodgers.

She worked for the Harry Stevens company, having started in the job in 1919 at the age of 20. She would break down the 50 lb. sacks of peanuts into 5¢ packages, a job that had to be done before each game. Then she would take her place in the bleachers.

When Larry MacPhail became the club president in 1938, he ended the peanut packing operation and Hilda had to buy a seat. The Dodgers management, on the urging of many fans, quickly gave her a lifetime pass. In fact, they gave her a box seat but after a couple games, she moved back into the bleachers "where her friends were."

In 1941, when the Dodgers and Cardinals were locked in a bitter battle for the pennant, center fielder Pete Reiser stopped by MacPhail's box on the way into the dugout, then handed a note to Leo.

It read, "Wyatt's losing it. Warm up Casey."

Durocher, seeing Reiser stop and talk to MacPhail, assumed it was from him and when starter Whitlow Wyatt allowed a couple hits, quickly called in Casey to relieve. He was battered around, but held on to save the game.

Afterwards, Leo said to Reiser, "Don't stop and talk to MacPhail any more. He keeps sending me notes." Pete quickly corrected him, "That wasn't from MacPhail. Hilda sent it to you."

"From Hilda?" he screamed. "You mean to say that wasn't from MacPhail?"

Fans in attendance at the game were puzzled to see blue smoke pouring out of the Dodgers dugout as Durocher exploded.

She had a consecutive game home-game streak that rivaled Lou Gehrig until felled by a heart attack, one in 1939 and another in the 1950s. She also made a few short road trips with the team as a mascot.

She bounced back from the heart problem and lived another 50 years, although something went out of her when Durocher moved to the Giants and then when the Dodgers moved to Los Angeles, she deserted and went over to the Yankees.

A non-profit institution called the Baseball reliquary established a new trophy -- the Hilda Award -- to be presented annually for distinguished service to the game by a baseball fan.

The trophy, with a carved wooden base inside a plexiglass, has the image of a brass cowbell.

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