In 1957 The Dodgers Became The First MLB Team To Buy A Plane

Major League Baseball teams have among the busiest schedules in sport, playing 162 games in the regular season. In the 1950s, this figure was lower, at 154, but teams typically relied on slower road and rail options to get to away series. As such, 65 years ago yesterday, on January 4th, 1957, the Brooklyn Dodgers became the first team to purchase a plane.

Brooklyn Dodgers Convair 440
The aircraft had space for 44 passengers. Photo: Getty Images

A Convair 440 for the Dodgers

The aircraft that the Brooklyn Dodgers chose to acquire was a 44-seat Convair 440. This was a variant of the Convair 240 family, and featured a pair of radial piston engines. The 440 itself was an improved version of the 340 variant, which was larger and had a wider wingspan than the original 40-seat 240 version. The 440 was also known as the ‘Metropolitan.’

The specific improvements that the 440 boasted over the 340 included a higher maximum takeoff weight (MTOW) and better soundproofing. It also featured optional extras, such as a weather radar and two extra rows of four-abreast seats. The latter brought the total capacity to 52 passengers, and was made possible by reducing the space for cabin baggage.

According to Dodger Blue, the team paid a sum of $700,000 to acquire the aircraft, which bore the short registration N1R. This fee is equivalent to just over $6.9 million today. As seen in the photograph above, the aircraft proudly bore the team’s name and logo.

Brooklyn Dodgers
1957 was the Dodgers’ final year at Ebbets Field. Photo: Bain News Service via Wikimedia Commons

Gifted a DC-3

While the Convair 440 was the first aircraft purchased by the Dodgers (and indeed any MLB team), the franchise did already have an aircraft at its disposal. Indeed, Dodgers director Bud Holman had gifted a 20-seat Douglas DC-3 to the club. He reportedly won it from Eastern Air Lines in a dice game when the carrier was looking to upgrade its fleet.

The team typically used the DC-3 to fly its executives. It saw most use during Spring training, when the Dodgers were based in Vero Beach, Florida. For the rest of the year, it was largely dormant. Indeed, according to the Museum of Flying, Holman stated that “after Spring training, they hardly used the airplane during the ‘off-season,’ maybe once or twice.”

Brooklyn Dodgers Aircraft Getty
The Dodgers previously did most of their flying during the Spring training period. Photo: Getty Images

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Time to experiment

Frustrated at the lack of use that the DC-3 was getting outside of Spring training, the Dodgers proposed an experiment in the mid-1950s. Walter O’Malley, the team’s owner, entrusted this task to Harry ‘Bump’ Holman, the Dodgers pilot and the son of the aforementioned Bud Holman. It involved the team’s minor league affiliates, with Holman explaining:

In 1954, Dodger executives came to me and said pick one of these (minor league) ballclubs and go see if you can fly one for a season.”

In 1957 The Dodgers Became The First MLB Team To Buy A Plane
The DC-3 was a dependable aircraft, as the Dodgers’ experiment found. Photo: Getty Images

Successful and reliable

The Dodgers were interested to know whether regularly flying would be a reliable means of getting themselves to and from away series. They wanted Holman to “see if the airplane is dependable enough, if we can overcome the weather problems and all the obstacles to see if we can fly a ballclub all year.” This proved a success, with Holman adding that:

We picked the St Paul (Minneapolis) ballclub in the American Association. I flew them all that summer. We made all the games, [and] didn’t have any problems. No breakdowns, no mechanicals, and no weather issues.”

In the years that followed, Holman split the DC-3’s flying time between the Dodgers’ affiliate teams in St Paul and Fort Worth, Texas. After three years, the franchise was satisfied with the reliability of flying regularly, resulting in the purchase of the Convair 440.

Eastern Air Lines Convair 440
The Dodgers’ 440 was similarly configured to Eastern’s. Photo: Jon Proctor via Wikimedia Commons

Close connections to Eastern Air Lines

As established in the way that the Dodgers received their DC-3, the team had close ties to Eastern Air Lines. With Bud Holman also being a representative at Eastern, the franchise’s brand-new Convair 440 had ‘the same interior’ as the 20 ordered by the carrier. However, it differed in its use of autopilot. Harry Holman, who flew the new plane, explains that:

The only thing we did to that airplane was put an automatic pilot in it. Eastern didn’t believe in autopilots. Of course, they flew short, 30-minute trips. We had long ones, so I finally talked them into letting me put an autopilot in it.”

The custom-painted aircraft, registered as N1R, exclusively flew the Dodgers from 1957 to 1960. This was a time of change for the franchise, which relocated to Los Angeles in 1958. The team remains in LA today, and has played at Dodger Stadium in Elysian Park since 1962.

LA Dodgers Stadium
2022 marks 60 years since Dodger Stadium opened. Photo: Carol Highsmith via Wikimedia Commons

Several other team planes since

The Dodgers’ Convair 440 ‘Metropolitan’ was far from the only aircraft to bear the team’s N1R registration. Indeed, this was also the designation under which the aforementioned experimental DC-3 flew under. After the team sold the 440 in favor of a larger, faster aircraft with four engines, it planned to replace it with a Lockheed L-188 Electra.

However, delays in obtaining such a plane meant that the team had to fill the gap with a Douglas DC-6. It was eventually able to get its hand on an Electra in 1961, and flew it until 1970. The Dodgers replaced this the following year with a jet-powered Boeing 720. They flew this short-fuselage Boeing 707 variant for 12 years, eventually letting it go in 1983.

LA Dodgers Lockheed Electra
The Dodgers switched aircraft, to a Lockheed Electra, in 1961. Photo: Robert Sullivan via Flickr

A quick look on ATDB.aero shows that the aircraft that have flown or the Dodgers have experienced various fates. Two even remain active, including, incredibly, the DC-3 on a private basis. Meanwhile, the Electra currently serves as a water bomber in Canada.

Meanwhile, the DC-6 is presently under airline ownership, namely at Buffalo Airways. However, it is currently sitting in storage in Hay River, Canada. At the less fortunate end of the scale, the team’s former Boeing 720 was scrapped after being unused by Great American Airways. Finally, the Convair 440 suffered a critically-damaging accident in Bolivia in 1978.

Were you aware that the Dodgers were the first MLB team to purchase an aircraft? Did you ever see the plane for yourself? Let us know your thoughts and experiences in the comments!

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