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Talking Baseball

When the Dodgers moved West in 1957, baseball was entering a new era. These comments and conversations, a fast-forward excerpt from a comprehensive new oral history, offer snapshots not just of a ballclub, but of a rapidly changing city and nation.

March 11, 2001|STEVE DELSOHN | From the book "TRUE BLUE: The Dramatic History of the Los Angeles Dodgers Told By the Men Who Lived It," by Steve Delsohn, Copyright 2001 by Steve Delsohn. Reprinted by permission of William Morrow & Co., an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers

To understand the Dodgers, you have to begin at their birthplace. You have to return to Brooklyn. Since the 1850s, when America's new game of baseball spread through New York City, Brooklyn had been represented by different teams. During the late 1880s, one of those teams was dubbed the Trolley Dodgers (which is what a Brooklynite became if he wanted to stay alive). The Trolley Dodgers joined the National League in 1890. They would later be called the Superbas and the Robins. Fortunately, the "Brooklyn Dodgers" stuck in the 1920s. Their home was Ebbets Field, built in 1913 on a garbage dump called Pigtown, in one of the poorest sections of the borough.

By 1956, with Walter O'Malley as the majority owner, the Dodgers had won their fourth pennant in five seasons, but had lost in the World Series for the fifth time to the powerful Yankees. The next year the Dodgers came in third and then left for Los Angeles, where they played in the Coliseum until their stadium was built.


Duke Snider (Dodger outfielder, 1947-62): "My wife and I had tears in our eyes the day we packed up and moved. I was born in Los Angeles. But I was born in Brooklyn, baseball-wise."

Pete Hamill (New York columnist): "O'Malley understood that airplanes and air-conditioning were changing the perception of the West. So there had to be a ballpark out there. To think that major league baseball would end at the

Mississippi was just nuts . . . But did you have to take our team?"

Bud Furillo (Los Angeles sports journalist): "Red Smith once said to me, 'Bud, I have nothing against Los Angeles. I like Los Angeles. Tell me one thing. Where is it?' So the city needed more identity."

Joseph Siegman (producer): "Cary Grant. Bing Crosby. Bob Hope. Jack Benny. George Burns. Milton Berle. Nat King Cole. Danny Kaye. Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis. All of these stars came out to see the Dodgers."

Milton Berle (comedian): "I became one of the Dodgers' biggest boosters. My wife and I had season tickets. We had eight box seats between home plate and first. And we would take other performers. Walter Matthau, Jack Lemmon, Neil Simon. Everyone wanted to go and see the Dodgers."


The Dodgers won the 1959 series against the White Sox with an easy 9-3 victory in Game 6 in Chicago. It was bedlam back in California. The Dodgers were World Champions, the Western Dodgers, mind you, this Los Angeles crew achieving in year No. 2 what it took the Brooklyn Dodgers 73 years to do.

Buzzie Bavasi (former Dodger general manager): "It was the worst club ever to win a World Series. But it's also my favorite club. Those kids won on sheer courage and fortitude."

Maury Wills (Dodger shortstop, 1959-66; '69-'72): "That was my rookie year. The winner's share was $11,000! That was more than twice what I was making. Man, I was gonna retire, get that place in the country I always wanted."

Larry Sherry (Dodger pitcher, 1958-63): "You saw what the Yankees just got for winning the series. $320,000 a man. While we got about $12,000. But what the hell, that team made history. We won the first World Series for L.A."


In 1962, Dodger Stadium opened and Maury Wills stole a record 104 bases.

Tim McCarver (sportscaster and former St. Louis Cardinals catcher): "We used to kid around that a Dodger rally consisted of a Maury Wills bunt for a single, Wills stealing second base, Wills moving to third on a sacrifice, and then Wills scoring on a wild pitch."


The following year the Dodgers won the pennant and were matched against the formidable Yankees, who had won the previous two World Series and six of their seven World Series against the Brooklyn Dodgers. Now, in the teams' first transcontinental series, the Yankees were solidly favored (8-5) to triumph again. However, the Dodgers had a superior pitching staff led by Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale. The two were different in many ways, not the least of which was Drysdale's willingness to throw at batters.

Jeff Torborg (Dodger catcher, 1964-70): "You know how every hockey team has a policeman? Don was our policeman. And he always talked about that two-for-one thing. You knock down one of our hitters, and I'll knock down two of yours."

Roger Craig (Dodger pitcher, 1955-61): "If you were a rookie, you could expect it. First time you faced Drysdale, you went down."

John Roseboro (Dodger catcher, 1957-67): "He was the meanest white boy in baseball."


Still, in his own way Koufax made the Yankees pay attention, and the Dodgers won the 1963 series in a shocking four-game sweep.

Roger Kahn (author of "The Boys of Summer"): "I remember Koufax taking the mound that [first] game. The second hitter for the Yankees was Bobby Richardson. The scouting report on him was, don't throw him a high fastball. So Koufax threw Richardson three high fastballs. Three pitches, three strikes, sit down. Then Koufax looked straight into the Yankee dugout. I could see Sandy saying in that look, 'I can pitch it to your power and I'll still strike you out.' "

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