Commentary

Postcards of Dodger Stadium's past

Updated: April 10, 2012, 5:23 PM ET
By Mike Downey | Special to ESPNLosAngeles.com

Willie Stargell Al Messerschmidt/Getty ImagesWillie Stargell's homer flew more than 500 feet -- quite likely the longest blast in the park's history, then or since.

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 1962-65 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 from Sept. 17, 1977 to Sept. 9, 1965.

« Previous: Aug. 7, 1984 to Oct. 2, 1977 Next: Sept. 25, 1964 to April 10, 1962 »


20. A comical coach (Sept. 17, 1977)

A more-or-less meaningless game in the standings. Tommy Lasorda invites comedian Don Rickles to suit up and be a coach. L.A. is up by four runs. On the mound is Elias Sosa. He does not recognize the coach who comes to the mound. Plate ump John McSherry does. He comes to the mound and asks Rickles: "Can you get me two tickets to Vegas to see Dean Martin?" Sosa stays in, Dodgers win.

Lasorda (Hall of Famer, managed Dodgers 1976-96): "Rickles was a big Dodger fan. I told him to go out there, talk to the guy, not ask for the ball. The kid just looked at him. He said something like, 'You're not the manager." I don't think the pitcher thought Rickles was too funny. I did. Even the umpire did."

19. A stars and stripes forever (April 25, 1976)

Bicentennial year, but not every American feels patriotic. A guy and a young boy run onto the field, set a U.S. flag on the grass and douse it with lighter fluid. Rick Monday, of the visiting Chicago Cubs, races to the flag and carries it off, just in time.

Monday (played for Dodgers 1977-84, broadcaster since 1985): "I knew what they were doing was wrong. I was reinforced in that by my six years with the U.S. Marine Corps reserves. I did not want one of my former drill instructors to say, 'Marine, why did you allow that to happen?' I think those guys got fined $80 each. I asked if I could have the flag and Al Campanis brought it to Wrigley Field when the Dodgers came to town. I've taken it since to the White House and my wife Barbara Lee has traveled with it many times to raise a lot of money for military veterans. I look at it and still get goose bumps."

18. A designated runner (Oct. 13, 1974)

1974 World Series, and the Oakland A's have won the opener. Dodgers need this one and Don Sutton's up 3-0 in ninth. Two A's get on, so Walter Alston brings in Mike Marshall from the bullpen. Joe Rudi's two-run double makes it 3-2. A pinch-runner, world-class sprinter Herb Washington, can't hit, can't field, but he can run. He runs for Rudi. He will try to steal. But in a blink, Marshall picks him off first base.

Steve Yeager (catcher played for Dodgers 1972-85): "A's boss Charlie Finley thought he had a miracle runner. I was behind the plate getting ready for whatever happened because the guys all knew, give me half a chance, I'll throw him out. Then I didn't need to because Marshall got him."

Doug Harvey (umpire 1962-92, Hall of Famer): "He limbers up, runs a couple of quick sprints, a very fast guy obviously, then, 'OK, let's go.' And then, bim, bam, you're out!"

17. A singer without a hit (July 20, 1970)

Only 12,454 see the stadium's first no-hitter by a right-hander. Bill Singer fans 10, walks none. A hit batter and an error account for the only Phillies to reach base.

[+] EnlargeThe Beatles
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty ImagesThe Beatles started a frenzy at the stadium in August 1966.

Jeff Torborg (played for Dodgers 1964-70): "I caught Koufax's [no-hitter] and Singer's both, and there's a connection. A guy named Byron Browne who made the last out, he also played in Sandy's in '65, for two different teams. He pops one foul by the Phils' dugout. I kind of trip over Don Money's leaded bat on deck. No one in the park thinks I'm going to catch it, except for one guy in the front row who can't take his eyes off me. I get to it somehow. My son sees a film of my catch and the first thing he says is, 'I thought no-hitters were supposed to end by striking a guy out.'"

16. An identified flying object (Aug. 5, 1969)

Pittsburgh is en route to an easy victory for pitcher Steve Blass. In the seventh inning against Alan Foster, a new relief pitcher, Roberto Clemente is on deck when Willie Stargell connects. All eyes follow the ball. Going, going, truly gone, 500 feet and beyond, over the roof -- quite likely the longest blast in the park's history, then or since.

Blass (pitched for Pirates 1964-74): "It was more impressive than any field goal I'd ever seen when it went through those two tall palm trees in the back of the visitors' bullpen. I felt sorry for those people who owned that Chevy out in Parking Lot 6."

15. An almost hit-and-run (May 31, 1968)

Don Drysdale guns for a fifth-straight shutout. San Francisco fills the bases in the ninth. A pitch plunks Dick Dietz on the arm, so Big D's streak is at an end. Or is it? An ump invokes a rule that a batter must try to get out of the way. Giants scream bloody murder. Drysdale gets another chance, gets Dietz to fly out, extends his scoreless-inning span to 45. It would reach a record 58 2/3.

Vin Scully (Hall of Famer, voice of Dodgers since 1950): "You're sure Drysdale's streak is over, then Harry Wendelstedt refuses to allow Dietz to take first base. Now that was quite a sight."

14. O-ver and done, swept by Orioles (Oct. 6, 1966)

He is only 20, but Jim Palmer gets the ball for World Series Game 2. He twirls a four-hitter and becomes the youngest pitcher in a World Series to throw a complete-game shutout. Baltimore wins in a sweep, L.A. managing a meager four-game total of two runs and 17 hits.

Palmer (Hall of Famer, pitched for Orioles 1965-84): "I lived in Beverly Hills part of my childhood. So naturally the Dodgers were very familiar to me. At 20, you're just kind of floating anyway. Now I have to pitch against Sandy Koufax. My mission was not to embarrass myself. Fear is a great motivator. Who knew this would turn out to be the last game Koufax ever pitched at Dodger Stadium? There was a TV show with a catch phrase, 'Would you believe …?' By our team's hotel on Sunset that first day in L.A., we passed a sign: 'Would You Believe … Dodgers in 4 Straight!' By the time we got back after my game, somebody had changed it to: 'Would You Believe … Orioles in 4 Straight?' It turned out to be true. Hard to believe."

13. A band on the run (Aug. 28, 1966)

It's $4.50 a ticket. The Ronettes, the Remains, the Cyrkle and Bobby Hebb sing first. Out come John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr to a stage by second base. They do 11 songs, concluding with "Long Tall Sally." Then they try to leave, but fans storm their vehicle. It is scary. Ringo says, "Can I please go home to my mummy now?" It takes the Beatles two hours to escape.

Chris Carter (host of KLOS 95.5 radio's nationally syndicated "Breakfast with the Beatles"): "I've interviewed all of them except John. We always try to honor that concert on its anniversary. They were a little more excited about playing the Hollywood Bowl, because it's such an iconic place for music. But they definitely had a wild time at Dodger Stadium that night."

12. A win over the Twins (Oct. 9, 1965)

Yom Kippur, so no Koufax as the 1965 World Series begins. Dodgers drop a pair in Minnesota, so Game 3 is a must. They win it, then ultimately take Game 7 back in Minnesota thanks to a shutout by Koufax and a homer off the foul pole by "Sweet Lou" Johnson, who gets eight hits in the Series.

Johnson: "It was a kind of payback for Sandy after missing that first game due to his religious beliefs. It was a sad way for some to realize the lack of knowledge they had of someone else's faith. In my religion, Sunday is the day we honor, yet I worked on Sundays. … I played. A lot of folks looked at life differently after what Sandy did, seeing other people from the inside-out. A perfect game and then a World Series, I had a whole career in a month!"

11. A pitcher of perfection (Sept. 9, 1965)

The pitching duel of all time? A perfect game by Koufax. A one-hitter by Chicago's less-famous Bob Hendley. No-hitters for both till the seventh. L.A.'s run is unearned: Lou Johnson walks, moves up on a bunt, steals third and the throw sails over Ron Santo's head. Koufax, practically playing catch with catcher Jeff Torborg, whiffs eight of the last 10 Cubs.

Ernie Banks (Hall of Famer, played for Cubs 1953-71): "Glenn Beckert was the second hitter in our lineup and he struck out. Glenn came back to the dugout and made a comment like, 'Sandy's got it tonight.' I was our oldest player so I said, 'That's OK, we can get him.' Then I struck out three times on nine pitches. So, Glenn was right. A week later, we played in Chicago and I hit three home runs, two of them off Koufax. But not that day in L.A."

Torborg: "I call Sandy at the anniversary of this game every year, just as an excuse to talk to him. I say, 'Sanford, do you know how long it's been?' He threw Santo three straight curves, then Santo walked back to the Cub dugout and said, 'Forget it.' There was no TV that day. They found a little 8-millimeter or Super 8 film, no audio, no zoom, just the catcher's big rear end, which is me. I've heard Vin Scully's radio description of the ninth, and of course he made baseball sound like poetry."

« Previous: Aug. 7, 1984 to Oct. 2, 1977 Next: Sept. 25, 1964 to April 10, 1962 »

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

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