Dr. O’Malley’s awful bedside manner

Jack Newfield and Pete Hamill, were having dinner one night. The two famed reporters came up with an idea: How about working together on an article, “The Ten Worst Human Beings Who Ever Lived”? Newfield suggested they each write down their top three. “Each of us wrote down the same three names and the same order,” Newfield recalled. “Hitler, Stalin, Walter O’Malley.” It should come as no surprise, then, that Walter O’Malley would fit perfectly in a Branded episode, "The Bar Sinister.”

Bullets blaze on the main drag and our hero, Jason McCord (Chuck Connors), is shot. He heads to the nearest lovable old country doctor, giant cheroot dangling from his lips, who bandages McCord’s damaged right arm. The bespectacled, vest-wearing physician isn’t Hitler. Or Stalin. It’s Walter O’Malley, the man who cut out the hearts of the Brooklyn faithful. (At the end, he’s credited “Introducing Walter O’Malley,” as if he’s some young star on the rise). Walter seems lovable until he opens his mouth. Once he talks, it’s impossible to hide his venomous nature.

McCord, who’s killed a man (in self-defense) in the opening scene, explains that he doesn’t intend to stick around for long. Unjustly accused of cowardice, McCord had been kicked out of the cavalry, and on a lonely sojourn ever since. O’Malley lashes out, “Take it easy! I told you this was a bad wound. You almost severed a tendon. I don’t want you to use this for at least two weeks!” It’s delightful bedside manner, the same care for an injured man that O’Malley showed when Dodger management gave Carl Furillo his unconditional release in May 1960, while he was suffering from a calf injury (which violated his contract and resulted in a lawsuit).

There is a storyline here. The Mayor of Sandy Creek seized his cousin’s son, Jimmy Whitlaw, ripping him from Neela, the “squaw” who had always taken care of him. The white community is outraged that Jimmy prefers this housekeeper, whom they want shipped to the reservation. Compared to the other palefaces, McCord shows Neela basic decency, insisting she sit in the front of the stagecoach with him.  Neela is shocked. McCord goes on to tell Neela that Sam Whitlow, Mayor Reymer’s cousin, died a very rich man with vast property holdings. The Mayor knows this and wants Jimmy for one reason — if he becomes the boy’s guardian, then he’ll get the property — but Jimmy knows where he belongs. “This is my home,” he tells the Mayor, and it’s where he wants to stay.     

Hold on — it’s a friggin’ allegory! “The Bar Sinister” is the story of the Brooklyn Dodgers! O’Malley — read: the Mayor — is intent on ripping the beloved boy — read: the Dodgers — from his rightful guardian, in this case Neela; in the Dodgers case, the borough of Brooklyn. Why? For the basest of reasons: to acquire land and riches. Sounds like Chavez Ravine and the land around it that Los Angeles willingly gave to entice O’Malley to sunny California. The parallels are obvious. Perhaps it’s by design, perhaps it’s by accident, but it’s enough to make the casting of Walter O’Malley a work of genius.

Jimmy turns on Neela. She thinks he’s ashamed of her and it hurts her, more than anyone would know, until she reveals she is Jimmy’s mother. It’s the way the glamorous Los Angeles Dodgers would always look back on their maternal borough with a mix of love and embarrassment. But Jimmy doesn’t know the truth. Whitlaw and Neela arranged it so that Jimmy would think his mother had died (this is the preferred option?), but Neela has proof of her parentage. The kids start to call Jimmy names, like “papoose.” At least they don’t call him a “bum.” Much anti-Indian sentiment ensues, and when McCord shows the townspeople that Mayor Reymer’s reasons are venal, things heat up. Jimmy does the right thing and sticks up for his mom.

In the perfect world of television, Neela, the rightful “owner” of Jimmy, gets to keep him and the land at episode’s end. In real life, Brooklyn lost their team and Ebbetts Field was torn down for apartment buildings. Brooklynites were unable to stop their family from being seized by their own Mayor figure, O’Malley. It was even more of an insult that earlier in the day the show was broadcast, Game 4 of the 1965 World Series, a complete game masterpiece tossed by Don Drysdale at Dodger Stadium, pulled the Dodgers into a 2-2 tie with the Minnesota Twins. On their way to their third World Championship in southern California, the Dodgers were settling nicely into their new home, life in Brooklyn receding that much farther into the past.

Jeff Katz’ upcoming book, Split Season 1981: Fernandomania, The Bronx Zoo and The Strike That Saved Baseball (Thomas Dunne Books) is available for pre-order and will be released on May 19. He’s also the Mayor of Cooperstown. You can find him at Jeff-Katz.com and @splitseason1981.