‘That’s why we stopped at St. Vincent’s’
The man who built Dodger Stadium was also a believer in marriage, family and faith.
“The Dodgers have a new ball park in Los Angeles. It took a lot of patience for Walter F. O’Malley to complete his project. To say ‘complete it’ is an understatement because this is not just an ordinary ball park. Not only is it beautiful and practical but it is as modern as May, 1962.”
--- Jack Butler, The Catholic News, April 21, 1962
As the 2012 Dodgers’ season kicks into gear with new ownership on the horizon, the golden anniversary of Dodger Stadium offers the opportunity to look back on the legacy of an “old” ownership, the one which brought Los Angeles its first major league team and built what remains, to this day, the most uniquely located ballpark in the majors.
Fittingly, that ownership shared in the April 10 home opener when Terry O’Malley Seidler, escorted by brother Peter O’Malley, threw out the ceremonial first pitch. But Terry and Peter’s parents, Walter Francis O’Malley and Katherine Elizabeth (“Kay”) Hanson O’Malley, were more than owners of the Dodgers; they were also active Catholics and, above all, devoted to one another.
“The biggest decision that O’Malley encountered in his life did not involve baseball at all,” notes longtime former Dodger announcer Ross Porter on his website, “Real Sports Heroes with Ross Porter” (realsportsheroes.com).
“When the ‘girl next door’ and love of his life, Katherine (Kay) Hanson, developed cancer of the larynx and had an experimental operation, doctors considered it a success. However, in 1927, it left Kay with a voice box that was permanently impaired and she was unable to speak again above a barely audible whisper.
“In 1931, O’Malley made the decision to marry Kay, even as others expressed concern about the situation. He once told his father, ‘She’s the same girl I fell in love with.’ It was the continuation of a love story that grew from their initial days of swimming and boating in the Great South Bay near Amityville, Long Island, New York. The neighbors also enjoyed riding bikes, barbecues and dancing.
“O’Malley and his wife eventually had two children, Terry and Peter. Kay referred to both births as ‘miracles,’ because doctors had told her she could never have children after she had her surgery.”
The following excerpts from “Forever Blue,” an O’Malley biography by Michael D’Antonio, tell a bit more about the Catholic side of a man who, in his time, was widely admired, feared, criticized and praised for what he did in baseball and business --- but whose ties to his faith were seldom noted. (Portions in brackets have been added here.)
Sept. 5, 1931: Walter O’Malley marries childhood sweetheart Katherine “Kay” Hanson at St. Malachy’s Church, known as The Actors’ Chapel, at 239 W. 49th St. in New York City. Father Patrick Gallagher officiates the ceremony.
May 16, 1933: Kay and Walter O’Malley are the proud parents of daughter Therese (Terry) Ann, who is born at Polyclinic Hospital in New York City.
Dec. 12, 1937: Kay and Walter O’Malley’s son Peter is born in Brooklyn, New York.
Oct. 30, 1950: New Dodger president Walter O’Malley comments about the future for African-American players in his regime. “People are waking up ... prejudices have no place in our society — and certainly not in sports.”
Jan. 17, 1952: While being honored by the Cathedral Club in Brooklyn at the Grand Ballroom of the Hotel St. George, Walter O’Malley is named “Brooklyn’s Catholic Man of the Year” and presented a watch by the banquet’s guest speaker. The young politician from Boston who spoke that night was being tried on for size, as he was introduced to Brooklyn’s Democratic leaders. His name was John F. Kennedy.
Oct. 13, 1955: In celebrating the 1955 World Championship, Walter O’Malley sends this note to Archbishop Patrick A. O’Boyle in Washington, D.C.: “Under separate cover we are mailing you a ball autographed by Brooklyn’s First World Championship team. It was nice to talk to Msgr. O’Reilly and Father Gallagher the other evening and I was delighted to know that you were on our team. Best regards.”
April 25, 1956: Walter and Kay O’Malley, along with daughter Terry and son Peter, attend the 50th wedding anniversary celebration for Judge and Mrs. Peter B. Hanson. The dinner party is held at the home of Hanson’s son-in-law Henry J. Walsh [whose wife Helen, Kay’s sister, became a 1990 Cardinal’s Award recipient in Los Angeles]. Judge Hanson and his wife Elizabeth were Kay Hanson O’Malley’s parents. Walsh served as attorney and executive secretary for the Dodgers.
May 2, 1958: Writing in The Tidings, Charles G. Johnson states, “Chief Meyers, famous old Indian catcher for the N.Y. Giants under John McGraw, made a spiritual retreat at Manresa last weekend. At Sunday’s closing session, Father John Connolly, S.J., asked the Chief if he had any observations. The Chief arose solemnly, rubbed a hand across his wrinkled brow, philosophized: ‘I sure missed a lot of good baseball at the (Los Angeles Memorial) Coliseum this weekend.’ Walter O’Malley would like this old fellow, Giant or not.”
Oct. 4, 1958: A joyous occasion for Kay and Walter O’Malley, as daughter Terry is married to Roland Seidler of Los Angeles at St. Therese Church in Alhambra, California. Cardinal (James) McIntyre officiated at the service, assisted by the Rev. Patrick A. Gallagher of New York. News reports noted that a group of uninvited guests — small boys — huddled outside the church with baseballs waiting for proud father Walter to sign autographs. He gladly obliged after he kissed Terry and shook hands with his son-in-law Rollie.
August 5, 1959: Walter O’Malley gives a speech to the Catholic Maritime Club at the Mary Star of the Sea School. O’Malley discussed how he had hoped to build a new stadium in Brooklyn and reasons for bringing the Dodgers to Los Angeles. “If it’s greed that we want to build a ball park where people can park their cars, where people my age don’t have to walk up 200 feet to their seats, then I guess we’re greedy.”
Sept. 29 1959: Gil Hodges scores the winning run in the 12th inning to give the Dodgers a 6-5 playoff victory over the Milwaukee Braves and their first National League Pennant in Los Angeles…. Following the victory, O’Malley and his wife Kay went to give thanks at St. Vincent’s Catholic Church, a short distance from the Coliseum. “The team was battered and bruised, but our boys had their chins out today. They earned — really earned — the right for Los Angeles to fly the National League pennant flag,” said O’Malley. “That’s why we stopped at St. Vincent’s. Many people have their own way of giving thanks — at the table before meals. Many once a week. It’s largely a matter of personal training and belief.”
Oct. 9, 1959: As the newly-crowned World Champion Los Angeles Dodgers arrive home from Chicago, an estimated crowd of 5,000 fans greet them at the Los Angeles International Airport. “Biggest single feminine contingent was the St. Michael’s High group, 150 strong, who arrived early in the afternoon with a huge sign and led the crowd in singing happy birthday to Walter O’Malley (celebrating his 56th birthday) when the plane landed.
Sept. 9, 1960: Rev. Charles S. Casassa, S.J., president of Loyola University of Los Angeles, sends a thank you letter to Walter O’Malley, who agreed to serve on the President’s Council at Loyola. “I was delighted to learn that you would be willing to serve,” said Casassa. “I certainly appreciate this action on your part. We shall look forward to seeing you at future meetings, and I hope you won’t be too worn out by all the problems attendant upon constructing a new stadium.”
Feb. 22, 1961: Harold S. Faust of the First Presbyterian Church in Vero Beach, Florida, writes to Walter O’Malley about the planning process for a Billy Graham Rally to be held at Dodgertown’s Holman Stadium on March 31, 1961. “Thank you again for allowing us to use your facilities for the Billy Graham Meeting,” said Faust. “I shall never forget the fine talk you gave at the Memorial Service in our Church. It was magnificent.”
Sept. 29, 1961: In his response to Rev. Ed Boyle of St. Margaret Mary Church Rectory in Lomita, Walter O’Malley thanks him for his letter regarding the idea of hiring Casey Stengel as Dodger manager. O’Malley, though, speaks highly of his longtime Dodger manager as he responds, “Walter Alston is not colorful but he is sound and a person of excellent character. From time to time we surround him with coaches who might add a little excitement, but when it comes to solid decisions Alston is our man.”
Nov. 1, 1961: Peter O’Malley, the 23-year-old son of Kay and Walter O’Malley, is named Director of Dodgertown, the club’s Spring Training headquarters in Vero Beach, Florida, becoming the fifth camp supervisor since 1948.
June 10, 1963: Coleman Carroll, Bishop of the Diocese of Miami, acknowledges a contribution by Walter O’Malley to the 1963 Diocesan Development Fund. “The Development Fund will be used this year, primarily, for the building of a Home for Exceptional Children that will provide for the education and treatment of the emotionally disturbed child. Your support of the Fund helps to make possible the continued development of the educational and charitable institutions so needed.”
July 6, 1963: Some 2,500 Sisters of the Archdiocese were hosted by the Dodgers and Walter O’Malley at Dodger Stadium. The hospitality included tickets, parking, a scorecard, Dodger yearbook, hot dogs, soda, peanuts, popcorn and ice cream bar.
May 12, 1964: Chuck Johnson of The Tidings writes a lengthy feature about Walter O’Malley and his background for the May, 1964 Extension Magazine. “I was amazed at the spade work you must have done to get your Extension article,” says O’Malley in a letter to Johnson. “It is quite interesting. Its warmth is much appreciated by Mrs. O’Malley and myself. After I return from my vacation trip in July we will get together and I will give you a few footnotes to update your article as you are now the leading candidate to be my Boswell. Thank you, Chuck.”
July 2, 1964: Walter O’Malley meets with Cardinal James McIntyre, Roman Catholic Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. In 1952, Pope Pius XII appointed Archbishop McIntyre as the first cardinal in the Western United States. Also with Cardinal McIntyre was Archbishop Patrick A. O’Boyle of Washington, D.C., who was appointed cardinal three years later.
Nov. 13, 1964: Walter O’Malley returns from baseball meetings in Phoenix to attend a Daniel Freeman Hospital Foundation Dinner in Inglewood. O’Malley serves on the Hospital Development Committee to raise funds for the East Wing Program.
August 13, 1966: Walter O’Malley attends a memorial service for former Dodger Manager Charlie Dressen at St. Paul the Apostle Church in Los Angeles. Dressen managed the Dodgers to World Series in 1952 and 1953 and was a coach for the 1959 World Champions.
Sept. 27, 1966: Walter O’Malley writes a letter to Archbishop Patrick O’Boyle of Washington, D.C., and relates this story: “I am reminded of our conversation in the (president’s) box and I must tell you that Rabbi Edgar Magnin of Wilshire Boulevard Temple did come to a game with me. He brought his wife and that is something you cannot top. We ran the following copy on our Message Board: ‘With us tonight Rabbi Edgar Magnin of Wilshire Blvd. Temple,’ and at the foot of the message we added the line, ‘He prays for the Dodgers.’ At a luncheon recently which I attended, and also Bob Reynolds, president of the Los Angeles Angels, each guest was asked to stand up and identify himself. When it came to Rabbi Magnin he gave his name and affiliation and added, ‘I pray for the Dodgers.’ With that Bob Reynolds arose and said, ‘What about our Angels?’ The Rabbi quickly responded, ‘They are closer to Heaven than my Dodgers and do not need my prayers.’ Incidentally, at the game I told him of our teasing conversation and he guaranteed a win. There immediately followed two Dodger home runs and later another one, a luxury I had not previously experienced this season so you see, one could conclude that he has excellent communications.”
June 3, 1967: Walter O’Malley is the keynote speaker for commencement exercises at St. Francis High School, where his nephew Walter Walsh is student body president and a member of the graduating class. Under the auspices of the Capuchin Franciscans, St. Francis High in La Cañada opened in 1946 with 25 seminarian students and has since grown to 600 boys.
April 19, 1969: Julia Stearns Dockweiler, president of the Los Angeles Orphanage Guild, writes a letter to Walter O’Malley to thank him for his “generous gift of five hundred tickets...The Sisters and children join the Guild in appreciation and best wishes to the Dodgers for a successful season.”
July 10, 1971: Walter and Kay O’Malley celebrate the marriage of their son Peter to Annette Zacho at St. Ansgar’s Catholic Church in Copenhagen, Denmark. In his personal appointment book, O’Malley writes, “Peter Gets Married! Wedding & Reception.”
Sept. 5, 1971: On the occasion of their 40th wedding anniversary, Kay and Walter O’Malley were special guests at a party hosted by son Peter and his new bride Annette in their Hancock Park home. More than 150 family members and guests celebrated Walter and Kay’s anniversary. Msgr. Patrick Gallagher, the priest who performed his first wedding at their marriage, was in attendance.
Dec. 6, 1971: Kay O’Malley, wife of Dodger Chairman of the Board, is honored as one of 10 Times Women of the Year in 1971 by the Los Angeles Times in a ceremony at The Times Building attended by more than 500 civic leaders, former Women of the Year, friends and relatives of the recipients. The next day’s Los Angeles Times shows a large photograph of Walter O’Malley giving Kay a congratulatory kiss…. She described her life as “my church, my family, my friends and baseball ... and they have all been good to me.”
Dec. 20, 1971: As one of 10 honorees of the 1971 Times Women of the Year, Kay O’Malley is profiled in the Los Angeles Times with a lengthy feature. The daughter of Judge Peter B. Hanson and Elizabeth Hanson, Kay was born in Brooklyn in 1907. The article notes, “Kay and Walter O’Malley live in Hancock Park and have been Angelenos since coming here from their native Brooklyn. Can you believe it has been 13 years? Locally she is on the board of directors of the Los Angeles Orphanage Guild and is a life member of the Mary and Joseph League. She is a founder member of the Music Center and a sponsor of the Civic Light Opera. ‘God has been very good to me,’ she smiles. ‘I have lived a full life.’”
Oct. 11, 1972: Timothy Manning, Archbishop of Los Angeles, writes a letter to Mr. and Mrs. Walter O’Malley: “The courtesy of your sponsorship for the Archbishop’s Christmas Party for Children brings us much comfort. May it return upon you and yours in a benediction. Whatever is done for the least of Christ’s little ones, is done to Him. This Christmas Party and its benefits is eminently a fulfillment of that invitation.”
May 7, 1974: Walter O’Malley writes a letter to his friend Ed Bunker in Florida and describes an unusually tough day on the golf course. “Yesterday I played Bel Air (Country Club) in the Catholic Youth Organization (CYO) Tournament and in one hole I hit the concrete 4 times to wind up with a gross 15 which meant I might just as well have quit and gone home.”
June 7, 1974: The June 7th issue of The Tidings carries an article about the recent Papal honor of Knight Commander of St. Gregory conferred upon Walter O’Malley by the Holy Father (Pope Paul VI).
June 22, 1974: Kay and Walter O’Malley attend an intimate dinner party honoring Cardinal James McIntyre of Los Angeles on the occasion of his 88th birthday. The party, hosted by Monsignor Benjamin G. Hawkes of St. Basil Church, is held at the Los Angeles Club, Top of the Union Bank Building in downtown L.A.
July 12, 1979: The “First Lady of the Dodgers,” Kay Hanson O’Malley, 72, passes away in Los Angeles. Kay initiated the annual Memorial Mass at Dodgertown in Vero Beach, Florida, to commemorate those individuals who worked, or were guests, there through the years and are remembered by name each spring. Two of the Dodger-owned airplanes were named in her honor, the “Kay O,” a 1962 Lockheed Electra, and the “Kay O’II,” a 1971 Boeing 720-B Fan Jet. As a dedicated wife, mother, grandmother of 12 (at the time) and community volunteer, Kay was a leader in her own right.
August 9, 1979: Walter O’Malley, Chairman of the Board of the Los Angeles Dodgers, passes away at the age of 75. He is buried at the family grave site next to his wife of 47 years, Kay, at Holy Cross Cemetery in Culver City. A moment of silence for O’Malley is held before the Dodgers’ day game with the Astros at Dodger Stadium.
July 27, 2008: The National Baseball Hall of Fame holds its Induction Ceremonies in Cooperstown, New York, as Dodger owner Walter O’Malley is one of the inductees in the “Class of 2008.” Elected to the Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee on December 3, 2007, O’Malley was the full-time owner of the Dodgers, the most accomplished franchise in the modern era, from 1950-79…. O’Malley is widely-recognized for the westward expansion of baseball in 1958 and for helping to design, build and privately finance Dodger Stadium, which opened on April 10, 1962. Under his leadership, the Dodgers became the “gold standard” of baseball franchises, winning four World Championships (1955, 1959, 1963 and 1965) and 11 National League pennants.