Johnny Rosenblatt

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College World Series, Part 2: Rosenblatt Stadium, 1964-2010

Last week, we looked into the earliest days of the College World Series in Omaha – the first years from 1950-1963 during which the games where held at Omaha’s Municipal Stadium. These were formative years during which Omaha secured a national reputation as the host for the CWS.

But for most of the CWS’s 70-year history, the event as a whole, as well as the experience of attending a series game, has been associated with the iconic Rosenblatt Stadium. The Series was held at Muny Stadium until 1964, when it was renamed to pay homage to the man who had spearheaded its construction – and who was one of Omaha’s own top ball players himself.

Johnny Rosenblatt was born in Omaha on Christmas Day, 1907. He was a star baseball player at Tech High and went on to play under scholarship for the University of Iowa. He wasn’t able to finish his degree, but continued to play as a semi-professional outfielder under the name Johnny Ross. In the 1930’s, he worked as a salesman for Omaha’s Roberts Dairy while also playing on their company team.

Rosenblatt was certainly instrumental in bringing the construction Municipal Stadium to completion. He began his political career on a platform of finishing the project well, which evolved from serving as property commissioner, then street commissioner starting in 1948 to serving as mayor from 1954-1961. He was also a great advocate for Omaha baseball on a national level. In the 1950’s and 60’s, he secured contracts for Muny Stadium to house the St. Louis Cardinal’s AAA Omaha Cardinals team and the Los Angeles Dodgers’ farm team, the Omaha Dodgers.

In 1964, the city council voted unanimously to change the name of Municipal Stadium to Johnny Rosenblatt Stadium. The dedication took place on June 28th of the same year, toward the end of the CWS festivities. Rosenblatt also threw the ceremonial first pitch of the series that year.

Rosenblatt at the stadium dedication dinner. Photo credit: Omaha World Herald

After looking at Omaha World Herald clippings from both the 1950 and 1964 coverage of the tournament, it’s interesting to observe the differences – in 1950, everything was new and no one had any precedent or idea what the CWS would become. There were even talks in the early 1950’s of moving the Series to another city. But as the tradition was built, each year’s sales and attendance numbers hit the previous year’s records out of the park. Last week it was mentioned that there were about 2,200 people at the opening game in 1950 – by 1963 the single-session record had climbed to 10,458 and the year’s total series attendance had topped out at 52,757.[1] Advance ticket sales in 1964 saw a 15% increase from the year before. Prices rose a bit too, but only to $1.50 for box seats. Children’s general admission stayed at a fairly accessible 50 cents.[2]

The 1964 series was one for the books in more ways than one – the Omaha World Herald reported that it was the “gol-dampest College World Series ever held.”[3] The whole segment, which appeared about a week after the Series opened, is a journalistic gem:

Omaha World Herald, June 18, 1964

In fact, there were so many rainouts that year that the teams spent much of the first week of the Series playing cards in their hotels, going to the movies, and having daily practice sessions in the Boys Town Field House.[4]

Headline: “Series to Resume When Players Grow Web Feet” Photo Credit: OWH S.J. Melingagio

Next week, we’ll focus more on what Rosenblatt Stadium meant to Omaha and CWS-goers from around the country, and the mutual impact produced by the close and long association between Omaha and the CWS.

[1] Williams, Robert. “Despite Rain Problems, CWS Officials Still Hope to Top Crowd Mark of 52,757.” Omaha World Herald, June 12, 1964.

[2] “CWS Ticket Sales Show Increase.” Ibid, June 8, 1964.

[3] Ibid, June 18, 1964.

[4] Frisbie, Al. “Series to Resume When Players Grow Web Feet.” Ibid, June 11, 1964.

College World Series, Part I: Omaha Municipal Stadium, 1950-1963

June is just around the corner, and for the past 70 years, Omahans have expected the month to bring hordes of baseball fans flocking to town. This year’s cancellation of the College World Series has left thousands, both in Omaha and across the country, missing baseball in general and the CWS in particular. Over the next few weeks, we are going to look back on the history of the CWS in Omaha to see how the Series has evolved over the years and how it has shaped our city in turn.

For a handful of years between 1936 and 1948, Omaha had no baseball on any kind of scale. A fire destroyed the city’s League Park on 13th and Vinton, and World War II put a hold on any kind of replacement. Then the mid-1940’s saw an initiative to build a new ball park in Omaha – future mayor Johnny Rosenblatt and some of his friends spearheaded a movement to bring a AAA franchise to Omaha, but were at first turned down because Omaha didn’t have a good enough stadium. In the following years, Rosenblatt worked with the city to finance the construction of Municipal “Muny” Stadium. A 40-acre parcel at 13th and Deer Park Blvd was purchased for $17.00 and ground was broken in 1945.[1] Construction would continue until 1948.

The men in this photograph served on the Municipal Stadium construction crew.

The Omaha Cardinals began their season in Muny Stadium in 1949. That same year, the park was also selected to host the American Legion World Series for 1949 and 1950. The next year, it was also selected to host the 1950 collegiate tournament, then called the National College Baseball Finals. The series had begun three years earlier in 1947, and in those first years, games had been played in Kalamazoo, Michigan and Wichita, Kansas.

When the athletic director for the University of Minnesota scouted the stadium in February of that year, he came away impressed and ready to recommend that it be used that summer. “This is the finest baseball park in America…Your Omaha civic leaders make it plain they want this meet to come here, and I will be frank in saying that I am ready to recommend that the meet be held in Omaha.”[2]

Its first year in Omaha, the opening of the National College Baseball Finals generated quite a buzz. They reported about 2,200 spectators at the opening game on June 15 (for a bit of context, Rosenblatt’s final capacity was 23,145 seats, and TDA Park holds 24,000)! Box-seat tickets were sold in advance for $1.25 and bleacher seats were available on game day for 75 cents.[3] The Omaha World Herald described the players as “hell-for-leather holler guys,” and both games on the opening day—Texas vs. Rutgers and University of Wisconsin vs. Colorado A&M—ended in upsets. Texas lost their first game, but went on to become the first champions of the Omaha tournament.

Texas star pitcher and 1950 National College Baseball Champion Jim Ehrler in action. Photo credit: Omaha World Herald, June 20, 1950.

A rainy weekend during the tournament raised questions of whether enough Omahans would come out to support the event,[4] and there were rumors that the tournament might transfer to Los Angeles the following year.[5] Fortunately, the coaches and NCAA officials agreed that bad weather and only one year’s precedent wasn’t enough to break with plans to return to Omaha the following year. The contract was renewed, and the College World Series would continue to be held at Omaha Stadium until 1964.

CWS Program and scorebook.

College World Series advertising, ca. 1960.

More next week on the stadium so many college baseball fans came to know and love from 1964 to 2010!

Natalie Kammerer

[1] Esser, Bruce. “Nebraska Minor League Baseball: Omaha Municipal Stadium, Rosenblatt Stadium” 2009.

[2] “Omaha Is Favored For Meet.” Omaha World Herald, February 10, 1950.

[3] “Meet Tickets To Go On Sale.” Ibid, June 2, 1950.

[4] “Schools Take The Loss.” Ibid, June 20, 1950.

[5] “Los Angeles To Seek Tourney If Omaha Doesn’t Want It.” Ibid, June 17, 1950.



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