Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Bleeding Blue: Dodgermania! by Peter Reum

When I was 6,  I was introduced to the Los Angeles Dodgers by my Aunt Olivia, a fanatical Chicago Cubs fan. She was a perfect example of the classic Cubs fan, as she had faithfully stayed involved through 80 years of the Cubs not qualifying for The World Series. She came to New Mexico to be near my mother who was her niece. Aunt Liv, as we called her got me interested in baseball, and taught me how tp keep score in the way she did it, which was self-designed. I would hop on my bike, eager to catch a game on her little black and white tv. I had my own yellow legal tablet, and would use my ruler to create my own box score sheet. We would grab some pop, and plant ourselves in front of the small 12 inch black and white television. and watch the games of the week, usually on and CBS and NBC.

The chance to view these games was exotic to me, and filled a big portion of my imagination.  I became a fan of the Class AA Albuquerque Dukes baseball team which was part of the Dodger farm system. My dad and I would hop in the car and drive the 86 miles to Tingley Field to catch a game. The Dukes were in the Texas League, and during the seasons each summer the Los Angeles Dodgers would travel to Albuquerque for an exhibition game with the Dukes. One year I got Sandy Koufax's autograph on a sheet of paper that I happened to find. From then on, I discovered each player's name, and memorized the basic stats for each Dodger. To see the Dodgers live was a major thrill. Famous Dodger pitcher Don Sutton was with the Dukes team that year, and he became a favorite pitcher of mine.

Because I was so strong a Dodger fan, my father's assistant, Ed O'Mara bet me on the outcome of the 1963 World Series. I became quite wealthy that year. I decided I would try to find a radio station that broadcast Dodgers games live. I became determined to listen to every Dodgers game I could find. I happened to find a clear channel radio station in Los Angeles, KFI, that had every Dodgers home game broadcast live, with a distinctive toned announcer named Vin Scully calling the action. Somehow, Mr. Scully had been able to get the announcing job while the Dodgers were still playing at Ebbets Field back in Brooklyn.  The years in Brooklyn were an incredible run for the Dodgers. They were difficult to beat at Ebbets Field, and the intimacy of that historic ballpark made the Dodgers hard to beat at home in Brooklyn.

Vin Scully calling a game for the Brooklyn Dodgers 1956

The familiar Dodger logo

The Brooklyn Dodgers, a team that was progressive and innovative, had been at Ebbets Field roughly 50 years before their relocation to Los Angeles in 1957. Their early and mid Fifties teams had an incredible set of players, including Jackie Robinson, the first African-American to play major league baseball. There were a number of other players who are now in the Baseball Hall of Fame, or are honored as excellent players of that era. There was catcher Roy Campanella, Outfielders Duke Snider and Carl Furillo, Shortstop Pee Wee Reese, Pitchers Don Larsen, Preacher Roe, Johnny Podres, Don Newcombe, and Carl Erskine,  and first baseman Gil Hodges. In 1956 in the fifth game of the World series, Don Larsen pitched baseball's first perfect game against the New York Yankees. The Dodgers were called "dem bums" by frustrated but fanatically loyal fans. The annual ritual of building excitement, followed in the end by disappointment, became a common pattern to the long suffering fans, and "Wait ’til next year!" became an unofficial Dodger slogan.

Ebbets Field - Brooklyn Dodgers Home 1914-1957

Ebbets Field Razing for Apartments in 1960

Iconic View of Main Entrance to Ebbets Field

Jackie Robinson - First African American to Play in Majors

In 1957 the Dodgers moved to Los Angeles, some players retired, many younger players stayed with the team. The move to Los Angeles was earthshaking for the National League. The New York Giants moved that same year to San Francisco, and the rivalry between the two teams continued on the West Coast. The Los Angeles Dodgers played at Los Angeles' Olympic Coliseum temporarily. The Coliseum was a cash cow for the Dodgers, who averaged over 3 million fans attending each season there. The Coliseum hosted crowds of almost 100,000 people for the 1959 World Series  against the Chicago White Sox. They won their first World Series after the move to Los Angeles.

The Dodgers had exceptional scouting pros along with  an excellent minor league group of clubs. The Triple A team was in Spokane, Washington, and the AA team was the Albuquerque Dukes. As the Brooklyn players retired, they were replaced by so-called "bonus babies."  This referred to the then huge signing bonuses each new player received after signing on the dotted line to become a Dodger. 
1958 was a transitional year. The Dodgers finished 7th that year in National League standings.

The Los Angeles Coliseum-Home of the 1932 and 1980 Summer Olympics
First Home of the Los Angeles Dodgers

In 2016, after 60+ years of announcing Dodger play by play, the legendary Vin Scully finally retired. His voice on KFI in Los Angeles was my main connection to the Dodgers. My last connection to my "rabid fan of the Dodgers" period, the man who was my main connection to 50+ years of being a "bleeding blue" Dodger fan was gone. He was the last connection in the Dodger organization to Brooklyn, having moved west with the team in 1958. There are so many remarkable players in Dodger history. Some have passed away, and some are still alive. For my era of roughly 1960 through 1971, there were so many outstanding players...Sandy Koufax, perhaps the best pitcher ever--Don Drysdale, a pitcher to be respected, Maury Wills, the first player to steal 100 or more bases in one season. There was Frank Howard, a towering man whose homeruns were amazing to behold. Tommy and Willie Davis, unrelated but were steadfast players at their positions.

Dodger Stadium, the famous home of the Los Angeles Dodgers for the last fifty years is a ballpark that was designed for the fans. It displaced a neighborhood known as Chavez Ravine, home to some of the earliest Hispanic families to settle in Los Angeles. Many Angelenos who loved that old neighborhood were angry to see the neighborhood razed. Still, the Dodgers have become such a venerated organization in Southern California that few people hold grudges about Chavez Ravine. The highlight of my Dodgers fan period was attending a double header in 1964 at Dodger Stadium. Thet were playing the St. Louis Cardinals, and by my reckoning today, I saw 6 Baseball Hall of Famers that afternoon. They were Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, Maury Wills, Ken Boyer, Bob Gibson, and Lou Brock. Also playing was Curt Flood, the player whose litigation got rid of the salary structure that had shackled players financially since the National and American Leagues were organized.

Early 20th Century Photo of the Historic Chavez Ravine Neighborhood

Early Sixties Groundbreaking for Dodger Stadium

The Dodgers Home-Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles

For me, the common thread in my Dodger fan history has been Vin Scully, He is the most respected baseball sportscaster alive, and I will miss his calling of Dodger games immensely. His retirement comes at a time when the Dodger franchise is vital and competitive. For me, anyway, he was my connection to the Dodgers for over 50 years. Mr. Scully has been inducted into the Sportscaster Hall of Fame, a fitting tribute to this iconic man. Perhaps now, in retirement, he can just be a fan and enjoy Dodgers games like myself and thousands of other Dodger fans. Thank you, Mr. Scully....

Vin Scully of the 21st Century-An Inspiration to Five Generations of Dodgers Fans

Text copyright 2016 by Peter Reum-All Rights Reserved

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