Commentary

Postcards of Dodger Stadium's past

Updated: April 10, 2012, 5:23 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 1965 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. 25, 1964 to April 10, 1962.

Previous: Sept. 17, 1977 to Sept. 9, 1965 Start over: Present to July 18, 1994 »

Los Angeles DodgersAP PhotoSandy Koufax is the center of the mob as Dodgers celebrate their 2-1 victory over the Yankees to win the World Series.


10. A chance of a lifetime (Sept. 25, 1964)

At 23, Dean Chance throws 11 shutouts for the Angels in a single season. He wins five of them 1-0. For his 20th victory, Jim Kaat throws a five-hitter for Minnesota, but gives up a triple to Bob Perry and a wild pitch with Jimmy Piersall up for a 1-0 loss. Chance gets the Cy Young Award -- the only one then, not one for each league.

Dean Chance (pitched for Angels 1961-66): "At night in L.A., the air gets so heavy, you need a bazooka to hit one out. I go 3-and-2 on Harmon Killebrew and he goes deep. If Lou Clinton doesn't catch it, I don't win 1-0. Then the Twins brought up Don Mincher. I throw two sliders in the dirt but he won't bite. So I said, 'If he hits it out, he hits it out.' I throw him a fastball and he pops one. I say, 'If that thing comes down, I win.' It was a thrill to win 20. I gave the ball to Johnny Grant, the ol' mayor of Hollywood, remember him?"

9. A broom for the Bronx (Oct. 7, 1963)

World Series Game 4, it's Sandy Koufax vs. Whitey Ford, and it's scoreless 'til the fifth. Frank Howard homers. Mickey Mantle matches it. In the seventh, Jim Gilliam goes all the way to third on an error, scores on a Willie Davis sac fly. That's that. Dodgers win 2-1. They get just four hits in Game 3, two in Game 4, but the Series is theirs.

Vin Scully: (Hall of Famer, voice of Dodgers since 1950): "To this day, '63 is the only World Series that the Dodgers have clinched in Dodger Stadium, which is pretty remarkable. Who guessed they would sweep the Yankees?"

Tommy Davis (played for Dodgers 1959-66): "I heard some guy bet $1,000 in Vegas on a sweep and got back $100,000."

8. A score on ball four (Oct. 6, 1963)

The day before, World Series Game 3 is the stadium's first. Dodgers take two in Yankee Stadium and have Don Drysdale going next. New York starts Jim Bouton, who years later will author best-seller "Ball Four." A ball four to Jim Gilliam in the first inning leads to a run on a Tommy Davis hit that kicks off the pitching mound. It's the game's lone run. Drysdale gives up three hits, Bouton four.

Jim Bouton (pitched for Yankees 1962-66): "I'm still friends with Tommy Davis and every time I see him, I say, 'Line drive, my ass.' I posed with Drysdale for a photo before the game and thought, 'Boy, is he big.' We had men on base and the Yankees let me bat, which was brave of them. I struck out. Drysdale threw me one high and tight. I should have stuck my arm out there, took a glancing blow. Koufax beat us in New York 5-2. So if I'd pitched Game 1, we'd have won 2-1!"

7. A sitting-room-only crowd (Sept. 19, 1963)

The last Angels home date of '63. Bo Belinsky (record of 1-8) is back from the minors. Not so popular now. A Thursday matinee, Orioles in town. Paid attendance: 476. "We wouldn't have even drawn that many if half of 'em didn't come out to boo me," Belinsky jokes.

Chance: "You could have shot a cannon off and not hit anybody."

Albie Pearson (played for Angels 1961-66): "One day, we didn't even bother with batting practice. We walked in an hour before game time, which is crazy. A fan sees us and says, 'Aren't you the ballplayers? Why are you just coming in now?' One of us said, 'If you'll go sit down, we'll play at your convenience.'"

6. A horse's home run trot (aired Sept. 29, 1963)

"Mr. Ed" is a popular TV sitcom. A talking horse, he calls the Dodgers to give Moose Skowron a batting tip. It works. Mr. Ed is invited to Dodger Stadium, where, bat in mouth, he hits a pitch from Sandy Koufax, rounds the bases and slides into home plate, causing catcher John Roseboro to climb the screen.

Wally Moon (played for Dodgers 1959-65, Opening Day left fielder '62): "I didn't get to do that one. I did do a 'Wagon Train,' though. I played a sheriff and got shot. … We had a lot of fun doing those Hollywood things. I bet Sandy could have struck out that horse if he had a mind to."

5. A requiem for a featherweight (March 21, 1963)

The stadium's first (and last) boxing card. It includes Emile Griffith, who killed an opponent in the ring in '62. A 15-round featherweight fight between champ Davey Moore and undefeated Sugar Ramos is stopped after Round 10, in the challenger's favor. Moore seems OK. In the dressing room, he falls over. He dies in a hospital three days later.

Bill Caplan (publicist, World Boxing Hall of Fame member): "Davey is talking to the press about the fight. He suddenly turns to Willie Ketchum, his manager, and says, 'I don't feel so good. My head hurts.' He ends up in a coma and he's gone. That was a horrible night. I also found out a sports caster we all knew, Hank Weaver, got killed in a car crash after leaving the fight."

4. A giant pain in the end (Oct. 3, 1962)

A three-game tie-breaker for the pennant. Stats count, so Tommy Davis takes the NL batting crown with a .346 average to Frank Robinson's .342. Maury Wills steals three bases in Game 165 to up his record-breaking total to 104. L.A. leads 4-2 going to the ninth. Willie Mays, Willie McCovey and friends score four, so to use a phrase the Dodgers have heard before, the Giants win the pennant.

Wally Moon: "We had a strong team. We won 102 games. That third one with the Giants, we thought sure we had it won. I ended up like Tony Bennett with my heart in San Francisco."

Davis: "I'm glad nobody told me about the hits affecting my batting title. I'd have froze."

[+] EnlargeMarilyn Monroe
Getty ImagesMarilyn Monroe made a charity presentation at Dodger Stadium just weeks before her death.

3. A true Hollywood star (June 1, 1962)

On her 36th (and last) birthday, Marilyn Monroe goes to Beverly Hills to pick up "Something's Gotta Give" co-star Dean Martin's 10-year-old son, Dean Paul, to take him to a baseball game, as promised. At the park, Angels outfielder Albie Pearson is chosen to escort Monroe to home plate for a charity presentation. A week later, Monroe is fired from her film. A few weeks after that, she is found dead at her L.A. home.

Pearson (played for Angels 1961-66): "When she took her life, or whatever happened, it really devastated me. I looked into her eyes and she looked so lonely. I remembered every Bible verse I ever learned while I was staring at her. She asked me, 'What? What is it you want to tell me?' I didn't want her to think I was some kind of a religious nut, so I held it in. It put my life on a different path from that day on. I saw past that woman's beauty. I saw a lonesome, searching person. Her sadness had a profound effect on me."

2. A new Hollywood star (May 5, 1962)

A brand new Angel, handsome devil Bo Belinsky no-hits Baltimore in two hours flat. He paints the town in a red Cadillac convertible, a gift. He is soon seen with Hollywood starlets like Ann-Margret, Tina Louise and Mamie Van Doren. He will not win many more games, but for a year or so, Bo's always got a lady and teammates are gaga.

Dean Chance (pitched for Angels 1961-66): "Bo was as cool as cool could be. The last hitter was Dave Nicholson, a big slugger. He popped up and Felix Torres caught it. The park's a month old and our rookie's already got himself a no-hitter. Walter Winchell was at the game and gave Bo a ton of publicity. Oh, did Hollywood love ol' Bo. He started showing up with these hot actresses he was having so much fun with, and I do mean fun. He wasn't close to being the best left-hander in L.A. because of a certain Mr. Sandy Koufax, but for a little while, Bo had that town in the palm of his left hand."

1. A grand opening day (April 10, 1962)

Palm trees and a breeze. A short-sleeved 52,564 in the seats. Alma Pedroza sings the anthem. (As she did at the 1960 Democratic Convention.) Kay O'Malley, wife of owner Walter, tosses the ceremonial first pitch. Dodgers in white and blue. Cincinnati Reds in gray and red. Green dye on yellowing grass. "Loge" on the wall spelled "Lounge" by mistake. No batting cage provided, so no BP. Podres (Johnny, not San Diego) on the mound. First hit: Cincy's Eddie Kasko, a double. First home run: Wally Post. First hit for the home team: Duke Snider. (Despite a hand he burned on a car tailpipe.) Last out: Frank Howard, two on, grounds out. Final score: Reds 6, L.A. 3.

Peter O'Malley (team president 1970-98, owner 1979-98): "The night before Opening Day, my mom and dad hosted a dinner party in the Stadium Club, the first one ever held there. The fence in the park was still being painted. My dad and Dick Walsh, who was vice president of stadium operations, still hadn't decided which shade of blue it should be. I couldn't wait to see how it looked for the game. My dad was very hands-on that way. He talked my mom into throwing out the first ball. She stood behind the dugout and tossed it from there, not from the mound the way they usually do now."

Tommy Davis (played for Dodgers 1959-66): "We watched it being built. That first day was overwhelming. It was the best thing I'd ever seen in my life. I didn't start that first game -- that was the only disappointing thing about it."

Doug Harvey (umpire 1962-92, Hall of Famer): "It was my very first game. What a marvelous edifice. But … no dressing room for the umpires! They forgot to build one, I guess. Al Barlick was my crew chief. His umpire bag was lost. Al worked home plate in Ed Vargo's chest protector, Shag Crawford's shoes and my shin guards."

Moon: "I think it's still the prettiest of all the stadiums. The only downside to a 50th anniversary is that it reminds me how long I've been around."

Scully: "Koufax's perfecto, the World Series sweep of the Yanks, Gibby's homer, R.J. Reynolds' squeeze, Drysdale's string of pearls, Dusty's 30th … as the song goes, 'If they asked me, I could write a book.'"

Previous: Sept. 17, 1977 to Sept. 9, 1965 Start over: Present to July 18, 1994 »

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

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