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This column is about baseball and the Los Angeles Dodgers. If you are not a baseball fan or hate the Dodgers, you can stop now and read another column.
What you will read here are my remembrances of the early days of the Dodgers move from Brooklyn to Chavez Ravine.
It was 1950 when Walter O’Malley, the Dodger’s attorney, bought 25 per cent of the club from Branch Rickey and was named president. He wanted to build a new baseball stadium in the Brooklyn but the New York officials couldn’t find a suitable site.
Walter began secret talks with Horace Stoneham, owner of the Giants, about moving both teams to the West Coast. They decided the Giants would move to San Francisco’s Seals Stadium in advance of the Dodgers’ move to the Los Angeles Coliseum.
The Dodgers played their first L.A. game in the Coliseum defeating the Giants on April 18, 1958 before 78,672 fans.
I was attending USC at the time and would park my unlocked car between the stadium and the campus. In my senior year at SC I worked part time at the Young & Rubicon Advertising Agency. This job eventually would bring me very close to the Dodgers’ organization.
The Coliseum was built for the 1932 Olympics and accommodated track and field and football. It was not a place for baseball but the Dodgers would play there for four seasons.
The property the Los Angeles officials picked for a new baseball stadium was perfect for fans because it was just a few minutes from downtown L.A. and surrounded by freeways. Chavez Ravine was controversial. The City offered a referendum (Taxpayers Committee for Yes on Baseball) The Dodgers were then able to buy the land and start building a stadium.
Y&R had the Dodgers as a client so we handled the advertising to vote Yes on the referendum. It passed easily.
Quite a few Latinos lived in the ravine. Some of the area was a shantytown and some was rental apartments. Opposition grew about evicting the people who lived in the ravine. There were protest marches and a great deal of anxiety. Finally, the last landowner who was by that time living in a tent with a shotgun to protect his lot, gave up and the site was cleared for construction.
Y&R also had The Union Oil Company of California as a client. The agency found they had a conflict when Y&R’s national client, Mobile Oil decided to expend to California. So seventeen of us moved across Wilshire Boulevard to the Statler Hotel and opened a new ad agency with Union Oil and the Dodgers as our first clients.
While Dodger Stadium was being built, Walter O’Malley occupied offices in downtown L.A. He was quite a practical joker. I didn’t attend many of the meetings with him but those in the agency who did came back with many stories.
My favorite was when Walter called a meeting of the advertisers who sponsored the team on radio and TV. He had a big scale model of Dodger Stadium in his office. There was no advertising in the stadium except for a few Union Oil orange logos above the big screen scoreboards. Union Oil had loaned Walter enough money to build the stadium. In return, they were the only visual ads inside the park. Well, Walter took all the advertisers including the man from Budweiser Beer over to his scale model. On the model was a very tall pole with a sign on top. The Budweiser man asked what the pole was for. “Oh, said Walt, that’s my new ad sign. I made a contract with Schlitz. When a home run is hit it lights up with the Schlitz logo and it will be seen for miles around the stadium”. The guy from Bud almost did it in his pants until Walter stopped laughing and took the pole away.
At another meeting, the entire group was sitting around his conference table. Before the meeting started, Walt handed each person a piece of paper. He asked everyone to study the piece before the meeting would start. As they looked down at the paper, one found that he had Mrs. O’Malley’s shopping list. Another saw a note to pick up the dry cleaning on his way home. Another had a receipt from a grocery store. They all looked up dumbfounded while Mr. O’Malley roared with laughter.
My job at the ad agency was to make sure all the radio and TV stations had the correct Union Oil commercial and rotation schedules. I was also required to go to the Coliseum to make sure Vin Scully and Jerry Doggett had the correct commercials to read. Because the press boxes were so far away from the field, a wooden broadcast booth was build behind home plate. After I delivered the scripts and went over the rotation, my assignment was to sit on the wooden stairs and keep people from making noise as they went up and down. The microphones in the broadcast booth could pick up their heavy foot treads. I got to know the new and sometimes belligerent fans. I remember Wally Moon hitting “Moon” balls over the short left field fence. And what a team that was.; Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale and Maury Wills and Johnny Padres and John Roseboro and Willie Davis to name a few.
Finally Dodger Stadium opened on April 10, 1962. Immediately it was names the best baseball park in the country and immediately people complained that there weren’t enough water fountains and ladies restrooms. Walter said he was selling beer, not water.
I was regular in the broadcast booth. I has a press pass and stood behind Vin and Jerry. We talked about their golf and travels between innings. Vinny finally got tired of reading the commercials live. Every week or so we would go to a recording studio and tape the spots for Union Oil. Scully was a quick study. I would hand him about ten scripts. He read them over once and proceeded to record each one with one take. An amazing man. Transistor radios came into use about then and the fans took them to the ballpark to listen to Scully and Doggett call the game. Once in a while Vin would say something over the air and the fans in the seats would all cheer. The people who didn’t have radios couldn’t understand the noise.
One day the unusual happened; it rained in Los Angeles. The game was delayed for about an hour and a half. Vin was on the air for all that time telling baseball stories and antidotes about the Dodgers.
Dodger management knew the power of the press. They had a large pressroom. Before the games they had a buffet set up to feed the hungry reporters. No alcohol was served until after the game. When the game was over the press would arrive in the pressroom for more food and a beer and to listen to Vin relate stories of the Dodgers in Brooklyn. He had them mesmerized.
I occasionally went to a meeting in Mr. O’Malley’s office. After one such meeting he asked if anyone was going downtown and could give Mrs. O’Malley a ride to her doctor’s office. She had some sort of lung problem and couldn’t speak very well. I said I would be glad to take her and you would think I had agreed to the most important task of the year the way they both thanked me. Walter, I learned, was a very gentle and polite man when he wasn’t doing business. Then he was someone else.
There are more Dodger stories to tell but they will wait for another time. I still follow the team although that is sometimes difficult living in the Bay Area. Nevertheless, I still bleed Dodger Blue.
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