Written By: Ben Cosgrove

Few baseball franchises are as storied as the Dodgers—especially the incarnation that played at old Ebbets Field in Brooklyn until the club’s abrupt (and, for countless Brooklynites, unforgivable) move to L.A. in 1958.

Those Brooklyn teams from the 1940s and ’50s—with players such as Jackie Robinson, Pee Wee Reese, Roy Campanella and Duke Snider—hold a special place not only in the memories of millions of fans of a certain age, but also in the annals of the game itself. Dem Bums won eight pennants and a World Series during those years, and might have won a few more championships if they didn’t have to keep facing the powerhouse Yankees.

In these photos, most of the stars are notable by their absence. Instead the frame is occupied by the crowds of long-forgotten young hopefuls at spring training in 1948, the very first year the team trained at the “Dodgertown” complex in Vero Beach, Florida. (The Los Angeles Dodgers left Dodgertown  in 2008, one of many to trade in Florida’s Grapefruit League for Arizona’s Cactus League for spring training.) But what the pictures lack in star power, they make up in charm. To be sure, the players and coaches pictured here are all very, very white. Jackie Robinson had only debuted the previous year, and at the start of 1948 there were only three (that’s not a typo) black players in the National and American leagues. But the jarring racial uniformity aside, the gallery also capsules the aura of spring training, as athletes shook off their winter rust and concentrated on practicing the game’s fundamentals. In several photos general manager Branch Rickey studies the action with his grandson, and the game’s generational appeal is palpable.

Here is a brief excerpt from. the April 5, 1948, cover story LIFE, followed by a few photos that appeared in the issues, and some other memorable diamonds as well:

Branch Rickey himself did not succeed as a major-league field manager (with the St. Louis Cardinals from 1919 to 1925), but that was because he had too many scientific theories about how baseball should be played and too few good players to make the theories work. Dodgertown proved to be the ideal place to test all of Rickey’s ideas. At the outset he laid down the law to his 35 instructors on how he wanted Dodgertown run i.e., with metronomic precision. Everybody had to bounce out of bed at 6:45 a.m. After breakfast there was a classroom session on the intricacies of “inside baseball,” followed by mass calisthenics. Rickey wandered all over the camp, shaking hands briskly with the kid pitchers, not just to be friendly but to test their grip as well.

Fresco Thompson, a former National League infielder, talks to Dodger coaches and prospects, Dodgertown, Fla., 1948.

Fresco Thompson, a former National League infielder, spoke to Dodger coaches and prospects at Dodgertown, Vero Beach, Fla., 1948.

George Silk The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Dodger prospects, Dodgertown, Fla., 1948.

Prospects at Dodgertown, Vero Beach, Fla., 1948.

George Silk The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Batting practice in the cage, Dodgertown, Fla., 1948.

Batting practice in the cage, Dodgertown, Fla., 1948.

George Silk The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Top row, l-r: Pitchers Carl Erskine, Carroll Beringer, Edward Yasinski; bottom row, infielder Russ Rose, outfielder Bill Wolfe, outfielder Bernie Zender.

Top row, left to right: Pitchers Carl Erskine, Carroll Beringer, Edward Yasinski; bottom row, infielder Russ Rose, outfielder Bill Wolfe, outfielder Bernie Zender.

George Silk The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Brooklyn Dodger rookies and prospects do calisthenics as part of daily training routine, Vero Beach, Fla., 1948.

Brooklyn Dodger rookies and prospects did calisthenics as part of their daily training routine at Dodgertown, Vero Beach, Fla., 1948.

George Silk The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Players buy their own baseball mitts during spring training, Dodgertown, Vero Beach, Fla., 1948.

These prospects bought their own baseball mitts.

George Silk The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Dodgers players and coaches attend an instructional talk, Vero Beach, Fla., 1948.

Dodgers players and coaches attended an instructional talk.

George Silk The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Dodgers rookies and prospects listen to a hitting instructor, Vero Beach, Fla., 1948.

Dodgers rookies and prospects listened to a hitting instructor at Dodgertown, Vero Beach, Fla., 1948.

George Silk The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

The great Dodgers general manager Branch Rickey and his grandson watch a pitcher go through his wind-up, Vero Beach, Fla., 1948.

Dodgers general manager Branch Rickey and his grandson watched a pitcher go through his wind-up.

George Silk The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Timing Dodgers players' speed, Vero Beach, Fla., 1948.

Players were timed for speed.

George Silk The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Branch Rickey and catcher, Vero Beach, Fla., 1948.

General manager Branch Rickey and a catcher.

George Silk The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Practicing base-running and pick-off attempts at Dodgertown, Vero Beach, Fla., 1948.

Players practiced base-running and pick-off attempts.

George Silk The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Brooklyn coaches pose for a group portrait during spring training at Dodgertown, Vero Beach, Fla., 1948.

Brooklyn coaches posed for a group portrait.

George Silk The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Brooklyn Dodger rookies and prospects in a spring training scrimmage, Vero Beach, Fla., 1948.

Brooklyn Dodger rookies and prospects played a spring training scrimmage at Dodgertown, Vero Beach, Fla., 1948.

George Silk The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Branch Rickey watches practice with his grandson during spring training at Dodgertown, Vero Beach, Fla., 1948.

Branch Rickey watched practice with his grandson at Dodgertown, Vero Beach, Fla., 1948.

George Silk The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Brooklyn rookies and prospects practice hook slides, Vero Beach, Fla., 1948.

Brooklyn rookies and prospects practiced hook slides.

George Silk The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

With strings marking the strike zone, a pitcher practices during spring training at Dodgertown, Vero Beach, Fla., 1948.

Strings marked the strike zone as this pitcher delivered at Dodgertown, Vero Beach, Fla., 1948.

George Silk The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Batting practice during spring training, Vero Beach, Fla., 1948.

Batting practice.

George Silk The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Two coaches (including Pepper Martin, right) hold rope in the air to force players into proper slide technique during spring training at Dodgertown, Vero Beach, Fla., 1948.

Two coaches (including Pepper Martin, right) held rope at a level designed to force players into proper slide technique.

George Silk The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Top row, l-r: Outfielder Vic Marasco, catcher Dick Ballestrini, outfielder (and future Hall of Fame manager) Dick Williams; bottom, first baseman Dee Fondy, infielder Jim Baxes, catcher Mervin Dornburg.

Top row, left to right: Outfielder Vic Marasco, catcher Dick Ballestrini, outfielder (and future Hall of Fame manager) Dick Williams; bottom, first baseman Dee Fondy, infielder Jim Baxes, catcher Mervin Dornburg.

George Silk The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Players drink fresh orange juice during spring training at Dodgertown, Vero Beach, Fla., 1948.

Players drank fresh orange juice at Dodgertown, Vero Beach, Fla., 1948.

George Silk The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Players relaxing during spring training at Dodgertown, Vero Beach, Fla., 1948.

Players relaxing during spring training.

George Silk The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Players play horseshoes during spring training at Dodgertown, Vero Beach, Fla., 1948.

Players competed in horseshoes during spring training at Dodgertown, Vero Beach, Fla., 1948.

George Silk The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Brooklyn Dodgers and young women relax on the beach during spring training at Dodgertown, Vero Beach, Fla., 1948.

Brooklyn Dodgers and young women relaxed on the beach during spring training.

George Silk The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

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