Commentary

Postcards of Dodger Stadium's past

Updated: April 10, 2012, 5:25 PM ET
By Mike Downey | Special to ESPNLosAngeles.com

So, what do Willie, Mickey, the Duke, John, Paul, George, Ringo, the Pope, Yom Kippur, a naked gun, opera singers, Marilyn Monroe, a Mexican pitcher, a Canadian pitcher, a Nicaraguan pitcher, a Japanese pitcher, Don Rickles, John Elway, Larry David and a talking horse have in common? Los Angeles 90012.

It's the 50th anniversary of Dodger Stadium (or "Chavez Ravine," as the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim called home from 1962 to '65 when they were the Los Angeles Angels of Los Angeles). Each day until the Los Angeles Dodgers' home opener, Mike Downey counts down his 50 favorite moments -- chronologically, counting backward to 1962 -- while calling on a few eyewitnesses along the way. Here are moments moments from July 22, 2009 to July 18, 1994.

Next: July 28, 1991 to Oct. 16, 1985 »


Manny RamirezKirby Lee/US PresswireManny Ramirez sending a pinch-hit grand slam into Mannywood -- on his bobblehead night -- is one of Dodger Stadium's greatest moments.

50. A dreaded bobblehead (July 22, 2009)

"Mannywood" is the left-field pavilion's new nickname. Ned Colletti's 2008 acquisition, Manny Ramirez, can do no wrong. (Or so it seems.) A huge crowd's on hand, but No. 99 has a bruised hand. Can't take BP. Can't play. Bases full in the sixth, Cincinnati's Dusty Baker brings in Nick Masset, so Joe Torre counters. Out comes Ramirez, who hits the first pitch for a grand slam. "Loudest roar I've heard here for 20 years," says Vin Scully, going quiet on the air for a minute until the noise subsides.

Ned Colletti (general manager since 2006): "It wasn't a World Series, but it had a lot of drama. It was Manny Ramirez bobblehead night, so it disappointed a lot of people when he wasn't in the lineup. Then he pinch-hits and it's the perfect scenario. He hits a grand slam into the Mannywood section in left. Then he gets back to the dugout and does a bobblehead imitation that they catch on TV."

49. A back-to-back-to-back-to-back (Sept. 18, 2006)

Fleece-blanket giveaway night, a heated pennant race. San Diego's up 9-5 in the ninth. Fans have bailed. Jeff Kent homers. J.D. Drew, too. Ace closer Trevor Hoffman is summoned. Russell Martin homers on his first pitch. No way a team can hit four in a row, right? Marlon Anderson, who goes 5-for-5 and later calls it "the most wonderful game I have seen in my life," ties it at 9-all. Padres retake the lead in the 10th, only to have Nomar Garciaparra's walk-off end it.

Charley Steiner (Dodgers broadcaster since 2005): "So the game's obviously over. Fans are gone. Kent and Drew go back-to-back and I can tell fans in their cars have the radio on. But it's still 9-7 and now Hoffman's in, so game over. And then Martin hits one. I see taillights turning into headlights. Fans are turning around, just in case. But who's going to hit one next? Marlon Anderson? No! Marlon Anderson, yes! Now we've got ourselves a game. So the fans get back to their seat and what happens? Padres score. 'Damn! We came all the way back for nothing!' And then Nomar wins it. What a night that was. Home run derby."

48. A time in Lima's life (Oct. 9, 2004)

L.A. hasn't won a postseason game in 16 years. Fun-loving Jose Lima, who liked to say "it's Lima time," pitches Game 3 of a division series versus St. Louis, which has won the first two games. Lima throws a five-hit shutout. Teammates are happy for him, then saddened a few years later when Lima dies of cardiac arrest at 37.

Dan Evans (general manager 2001-04): "He was such a good guy and a great friend. It was pretty funny at the time -- I got grilled for signing him to a non-roster deal, but then everyone saw what he could do. I really miss him."

47. A Finley discussion (Oct. 2, 2004)

[+] EnlargeSteve Finley
Stephen Dunn/Getty ImagesSteve Finley drops his bat after hitting his walk-off grand slam.

Dodgers down 3-0 to Giants, National League West up for grabs. A ninth-inning rally: Robin Ventura scores on an error, then a Jayson Werth hit ties it 3-3. A crowd of 54,594 is on its feet for 39-year-old Steve Finley's grand slam, which wins the West.

Robin Ventura (played for Dodgers 2003-04): "Nothing was going on. Shawn Green hit a flare down the line. Jayson Werth had a great at-bat to tie it up. Steve Finley's up next. He had talked during the week about visualizing being the guy at the end of a game with the last at-bat. Sure enough, he's the guy. Everyone went crazy. We were running all over the field. Growing up a Dodger fan, it was even better that you could win the NL West and beat the Giants at the same time."

46. A big fan of Larry David (aired Feb. 8, 2004)

"The Car Pool Lane," an episode of HBO's comedy "Curb Your Enthusiasm," shows star Larry David at a Dodgers game. So do the outtakes that clear Juan Catalan, a man who spent five months in jail, charged with a 2003 murder. Found in the crowd of the TV show's game, Catalan is set free. He wins a $320,000 legal judgment against the city in 2007.

Jeff Garlin ("Curb" co-star and executive producer): "We had a ball filming there. Then here we are, the show's being cut, we're in post-production, and suddenly an attorney wants to see our footage because his client claimed to be at Dodger Stadium in the crowd. And we're like, 'No f------ way. Really?' So we turn over the tape. Lo and behold, there's the guy! That's when we began telling everybody that at 'Curb Your Enthusiasm,' we don't just make people laugh, we save lives!'"

45. An endgame for Eric Gagne (Sept. 21, 2003)

A converted starting pitcher, Eric Gagne, a husky French-Canadian, becomes a closer who never fails to close. "Game Over" reads the scoreboard's matrix on his every entrance. Gagne breaks his own club record on this night for his 53rd save of the season (and 61st in a row). He will add two more on the road.

Dave Wallace (former pitching coach and interim GM): "I spent a year with Gagne in 2001 when he was in and out of the rotation. He'd be dominating for nine or 10 outs. That seemed to be it. We'd had John Wetteland for a while and his situation was similar. He went off to Montreal and became a top closer. Eric was a hockey player, he had that mentality, he was tough. Jim Tracy and Jim Colborn and myself, we put him in the bullpen. I wish we'd thought of it sooner. We weren't that smart."

44. A pair of four-run homers (April 23, 1999)

An 11-run inning, you see those. A guy who hits grand slams twice in one inning ... that, you don't. Fernando Tatis hits one in the third inning off Chan Ho Park. A big inning rolls on, Dodgers manager Davey Johnson gets tossed and doesn't need to watch any more, but GM Kevin Malone keeps watching. He can't believe his eyes as Tatis comes up again and connects for a second slam.

Kevin Malone (general manager 1998-2001): "He gets the first one but it's still early, plenty of time for us to catch up. After the second one, I said, 'OK, everybody relax. This one isn't our night.' Not only for Tatis to do it but just getting an opportunity to do it, that was amazing. Being a GM, being a scout, etc., I have been to more games than most people, but I'd never seen anything like that, at the Major League level, at the high school level, anywhere."

43. A game that had no end (Aug. 10, 1995)

A nice crowd, 53,361, but not so nice after Raul Mondesi disputes a ninth-inning call and gets ejected, as does Tommy Lasorda thereafter. Free souvenir baseballs fly from the stands. The umpires award St. Louis a victory by forfeit and leave the field.

Ross Porter (Dodgers broadcaster 1977-2004): "There were several close calls and all went the Cardinals' way. In the seventh inning, the souvenir balls were thrown for the first time. The game was delayed six minutes. Mondesi led off the ninth. He was angry at calls by plate ump Jim Quick and was ejected. Lasorda was chased when he came out to argue. That's when the second stream of balls hit the field. Bob Davidson was umpiring at first base and he threw his hands up, calling the forfeit. ... It was the last time the Dodgers handed out baseballs to fans. After that, they were given coupons on Ball Night and had to go to Target."

42. A new home for Nomo (May 12, 1995)

Japanese players in MLB are a rarity when Hideo Nomo arrives. Derrick Hall and others from the Dodgers media office meet hundreds of requests. Nomo's home debut versus St. Louis is forgettable: no decision for him, a combined 12 errors by the teams. But he ultimately will lead the league in strikeouts, start the All-Star Game and be voted NL Rookie of the Year.

Derrick Hall (president of the Arizona Diamondbacks since 2006): "Hideo Nomo brought the largest international following since Fernandomania. His first years brought 100 to 200 credentialed Japanese media per start at home. I will never forget his first-day arrival at Dodgertown in spring training. There were easily 50 cameras and reporters by the entrance when he pulled up in a minivan. They began chasing him, so he had the driver just circle the dorms until all of them got tired. He was a true rock star throughout Japan."

41. A night at the opera (July 18, 1994)

World Cup soccer comes to the U.S., so the so-called "Three Tenors" stage an encore of their acclaimed 1990 Italy show. A huge crowd welcomes Luciano Pavarotti, Placido Domingo and Jose Carreras, produced by Tibor Rudas, conducted by Zubin Mehta. In the audience: former President George H.W. Bush plus Hollywood notables like Gregory Peck, Sidney Poitier, Charlton Heston, Walter Matthau and Dustin Hoffman. The tenors serenade Frank Sinatra and Gene Kelly with "My Way" and "Singin' in the Rain." A scheduled 2 1/2-hour show ends, but Pavarotti asks, "You want more?"

Peter O'Malley (team president 1970-98, owner 1979-98): "When we saw the Caracalla, Italy, concert, it just knocked us over. Tibor said, 'Peter, we'd love to do the next one in Dodger Stadium.' Well, I'd have let him use the stadium for a dollar for that experience. He invited us to sit up front. I said, 'No, I'd much rather be in back, taking in the whole scene.' He insisted, though, and naturally it was wonderful. We sat with President Bush and his wife, with Sinatra and Kelly right behind us. A magical night, truly magical."

Next: July 28, 1991 to Oct. 16, 1985 »

Mike Downey is a former Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune sports columnist.

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