Al Ferrara, who played in eight seasons of Major League Baseball as an outfielder in the 1960s and 1970s, served as a guest lecturer in professor Judy Battaglia’s Intercultural Communications class on Thursday, Feb. 28.
Ferrara’s lecture covered a wide variety of topics, including his life and longtime connection to the Dodgers. He was born and raised in Brooklyn and rooted for the team as a child, when the franchise was still located there. During Ferrara’s formative years, the Dodgers were far more than just a team for Brooklyn.
“Baseball was a religion,” Ferrara recalled. “The nuns prayed for Gil Hodges and Jackie Robinson.”
He discussed the team’s history and the unwavering support of Brooklyn fans, even as the Dodgers repeatedly tried and failed to win the World Series. When the team finally broke through in 1955 to win the first championship in franchise history, the borough was ready to celebrate.
“You came over the bridge and it was the biggest party you ever saw in Brooklyn,” Ferrara said.
This transitioned into a discussion of the team’s relocation to Los Angeles in 1958, and Ferrara’s signing with the team that same year. As Ferrara made his way through the minor leagues and earned limited playing time in the majors, the Dodgers did something that would endear them to their new city — they won, earning World Series titles in 1959, 1963 and 1965.
“You know L.A.,” Ferrara explained. “If you’re a winner, [you’ve] got everything.”
As Ferrara’s playing career continued, it became intertwined with issues of segregation that the game of baseball and the country as a whole faced at that time. Ferrara’s baseball life, however, had always been connected to race. The first game he ever attended was on April 15, 1947, the day Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball. But it was when he became a player that these subjects came to the forefront for him. He recalled attending spring training in Florida and noticing that African-American fans were not allowed to sit in the same places in the stands as white fans. Instead, they were relegated to standing-room spots down the foul lines.
The most powerful story that Ferrara, who is white, told regarding race was also a story from spring training. After a day game, he and a black teammate tried to eat at one of Ferrara’s favorite restaurants, only to be told that the restaurant would not serve a black man. The teammate took Ferrara to a different restaurant instead, where they ate dinner and had a great time. After this night, Ferrara began questioning the systemic issues in society that allowed these events to take place.
“How come he can’t eat at a restaurant I want to take him to, but I can eat at a restaurant that he wants to take me to?” Ferrara recalled thinking.
Ferrara concluded this portion of his lecture by encouraging the students in the class to vote in their efforts to make change in the world.
The event came about through Battaglia’s love of sports and interest in the impact culture has on them. In addition to the Intercultural Communications course, she teaches a course called For the Love of the Game: Gender, Sport and Communication. Battaglia says that the course “examines race, gender, economics, class, sexuality, disability [and] all these different intersectionalities, and how they relate to sport.”
Battaglia came to know Ferrara largely through his community outreach work with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Ferrara played for the Dodgers in 1963 and again from 1965 to 1968. However, Battaglia’s primary connection to Ferrara is via his friendship with her father, Tom, who introduced Ferrara at the talk.
Charlye Sweeney, a junior communication studies major in the class, said that she appreciated the opportunity to learn more about the historical interconnectedness of baseball and race.
“Hearing the stories about [Ferrara] just living in that era, where [discrimination] was in its prime ... was just very interesting,” she said. “I think a lot of people don’t take time to learn about the history.”
After the talk, Battaglia expressed an optimistic sentiment when discussing her hopes for her students’ takeaways.
“I hope they take away that they really will be the change agents,” Battaglia said. “[Ferrara] mentioned some ways to do it—through activism, through voting—because I think it seems bleak a lot of times but ... they really can see that it is up to them.”