A Dodger House Divided
Despite the title, this is not going to be a sports column.
Rather, it’s about a significant event in L.A. history and how, in my early teens, it caused a rift between my father and me. The “event” was the Brooklyn Dodgers moving here in 1958, which turned Los Angeles from a minor to a major league city in many more ways than just baseball.
At this moment, the Dodgers are waiting to face the winner of the Nationals and Cubs starting tomorrow.
The victor will go to the World Series, something the Dodgers haven’t done in the seemingly endless twenty-eight years. (An infamous club record.)
Back to Los Angeles in the 1950’s, surprisingly L.A. was not considered a sophisticated metropolis.
At least not compared to New York, Chicago, Boston and Philadelphia. Even with the movie industry, L.A. was considered by many to be a “rube” town, albeit with great weather and great beaches. (Hey, that’s us!)
In their view, L.A. was populated with transplants from the 1930’s Dust Bowl and those drawn here during WW2 to work the aircraft factories.
As my heart surgeon friend, Andy Hurwitz, a longtime Santa Monican and also an art expert, notes, “Los Angeles didn’t even have a dedicated city art museum.”
In the 1950’s baseball not football was the “national pastime,” and L.A. had two minor league teams.
The Hollywood Stars played at rickety Gilmore Stadium. (Constructed in 1934, it was torn down in 1952 to build CBS.)
The L.A. Angels played at beautiful Wrigley Field on Avalon Boulevard in South Central, an exact replica of Chicago’s ivy-covered walls of Wrigley Field. (Wrigley also owned Catalina Island and Avalon Boulevard was named because it went all the way to San Pedro where you could catch the boat to Avalon.)
Our family rooted for the Angels because of Jackie Robinson who became the first black player in the Major Leagues in 1947.
My parents were FDR liberals, believing strongly in integration and Robinson was a hero to my father who was a “Bernie” type socialist.
(During grade school I had a reversible nylon “Jackie Robinson” jacket I wore everywhere.)
Robinson played for the Brooklyn Dodgers who were in the National League.
Seven other teams were also in the NL, including the Chicago Cubs whose top minor league team was…the Los Angeles Angels.
About now you’re probably wondering about the “rift” with my father. In 1957, when the Dodgers announced they’d be moving to L.A., everyone, including I, was ecstatic. My dad definitely wasn’t and I’ll get to why in a minute.
Among the city leaders championing the Dodger deal was firebrand city council member Rosalind (Roz) Wyman. At 22, she was the youngest person ever elected to the council and only the 2nd woman. My mother, always involved in politics, worked for Roz.
My dad, however, considered the “sweetheart” deal the city gave the Dodgers to be corrupt and unfair to the Mexican-Americans who lived in Chavez Ravine, the site for Dodger Stadium. They were eventually evicted as many were handcuffed and dragged kicking and screaming out of the only homes they’d ever known. In the excitement of the Dodgers arriving, everyone turned a blind eye. Not my dad.
In 1958, the Dodgers had a miserable season. In 1959, however, they won the World Series. I was overjoyed, but with regard to Chavez Ravine, I knew my dad was right. (Another example of his progressive views, long before I ever heard of “free agency” my father would say, “Players are people not property.”)
We now cut to 1962, a terrific Dodger season reminiscent of this one, only I hope with a different outcome.
The Dodgers wound up in a tie with the Giants with a 3-game post-season series to decide which team went to the World Series. On pins and needles, I was watching the game with my best friend, Lance Spiegel. (For decades, a distinguished family law attorney in Beverly Hills.)
The Dodgers were winning game 3 handily and Lance and I were excitedly discussing how we could get World Series tickets. I left on my Vespa motor scooter in the 9th inning to go home and begin calling to get tickets.
When I arrived my father greeted me with an odd smile. He informed me that relief pitcher, Stan Williams (a name that will live in infamy) blew the save and the Dodgers lost.
I was devastated. Actually, I still am. (As Lance says, “Fifty-five years later the memory is still fresh enough to effectively deter premature celebrations of most anything!)
For my father the Dodger defeat had been a victory for those evicted from Chavez Ravine. Seeing my utter dejection, however, he had the heart not to rub it in. Good on dad. Now, starting tomorrow, hopefully good on the Dodgers.
Jack is at facebook.com/jackneworth, twitter.com/jackneworth and firstname.lastname@example.org