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January in Aviation History

An aviation connection to baseball history

On January 4, 1957 aviation played a prominent role in baseball history when the Brooklyn Dodgers became the first major league team to buy its own airliner. Dodger owner Walter O’Malley’s friendship with Eastern Airlines owner Capt. Eddie Rickenbacker facilitated a deal for the Dodgers to piggyback an order of a Convair 440 Metropolitan to an order of 20 of the planes that Eastern was purchasing from the Convair factory. The price was $775,000, and the ball club took delivery in April of 1957. The “rest of the story” in baseball history is that O’Malley moved the club to Los Angeles after the 1957 season (accompanied by the New York Giants moving to San Francisco).

A Dodger owner from 1950 until his death in 1979, O’Malley was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2008 and is considered to be one of the most influential sports executives in the 20th century (except maybe by Brooklyn fans). Although various factors influenced O’Malley’s desire to move the club, such as failure to get a new ballpark in New York, having a team owned airliner made the move to the West Coast a practical alternative.

For Capt. Eddie Rickenbacker, this baseball connection adds just one more story to his list of accomplishments. Besides his longtime leadership at Eastern Airlines and many contributions to commercial aviation, he is a legend as a WWI flying ace with the famous 94th Aero Squadron (26 air victories), receiving seven Distinguished Service Cross citations, a Medal of Honor, and the French Croix de Guerre and Legion of Honor, among other awards. He was also an accomplished auto racer, an automobile entrepreneur in the 20’s (Rickenbacker Motor Co.), wrote for an aviation comic strip in the late 30’s and owned the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in the 30’s. He is in various halls of fame including the National Aviation Hall of Fame and the International Motorsports Hall of Fame.

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