The Dodgers of 1958: Ed Roebuck

The Dodgers of 1958: Ed Roebuck

"I can't remember the important things," claimed former Dodgers pitcher Ed Roebuck when asked about the circumstances of one of the earliest community events after the franchise announced its move to the West Coast following the 1957 season.

The scene was Wrigley Field, the former Pacific Coast League home of the Los Angeles Angels. Dodgers team president Walter O'Malley acquired the PCL franchise prior to the 1957 campaign, along with the coveted territorial rights to the Los Angeles area.

In a publicity photo, Roebuck and teammates Gil Hodges, Jim Gilliam and Gino Cimoli are presenting a home plate to a stewardess. The uniforms are not regular Dodgers-issued jerseys, rather the "Los Angeles" versions that Roebuck suspects were left over from the previous tenants. The "LA" hats also are makeshift designs, as the final logo wouldn't be decided until early in 1958.

Although the details from that Wrigley Field event are sketchy in Roebuck's mind, he recalls with great delight the cross-country automobile trip from New York to Los Angeles with the family of Dodgers clubhouse manager Charlie "The Brow" DiGiovanna. The Roebuck family picked up the DiGiovannas in Dayton, Ohio. Along the way, they stopped by Anderson, Ind., to visit pitcher Carl Erskine and his family and then continued through New Mexico. While stopped at the Grand Canyon, DiGiovanna's dog swallowed a ball and Roebuck estimates a vet bill in the neighborhood of $200.

"We were very excited; it was like a new world to investigate," the 76-year-old Roebuck said. "I really didn't believe O'Malley was going to move. I thought after all those negotiations with Robert Moses from the city's office that he would finally come into a situation where he'd get his ballpark in Brooklyn. The Dodgers were a tradition for many years; it just seemed impossible they would move. I'm sure Moses thought O'Malley wouldn't leave."

During his tenure in Brooklyn, DiGiovanna was known for his ability to ghost-sign the team baseballs in the clubhouse with remarkable similarity to the real signature. He could "sign" any player's autograph, including O'Malley's. Players were asked to sign three dozen baseballs before every game. DiGiovanna's motto was, "Three dozen balls, they're for a good cause ... 'cause I don't have to sign them!"

"When we got to Los Angeles, Charlie the Brow says, 'We have to go to the Dodger office immediately,'" Roebuck said. "Turns out they were going to have a giant baseball as the cover illustration of the 1958 yearbook and they wanted Charlie to sign all the player names so it could be published. [Publicity director] Red Patterson bumped into Charlie at the office and said, 'Boy, am I glad to see you!'"

Finding a home also proved amusing for Roebuck. He brought several teammates to the Lakewood area to meet a developer, who was having trouble selling individual lots around a golf course. He offered All-Star outfielder Duke Snider a lot at half price if he told everyone he lived in Lakewood.

"Duke couldn't do it because he owned a bowling alley in Fallbrook," Roebuck said. "I asked, 'Where do I sign up?'"

Infielder Norm Larker, pitcher Stan Williams and pitcher Roger Craig also purchased lots in the Lakewood area. At the time of the transaction, the developer told Craig that if he pitched a shutout that night and Larker had four hits in the game, he would give them some stock in his company. Craig won the game, but didn't pitch the shutout. Larker had three hits.

Roebuck, who signed with Brooklyn as a free agent in 1949, made his Major League debut with the 1955 world champion Dodgers, posting a 5-6 record and 4.71 ERA in 47 games. He also helped the Dodgers win the pennant in 1956 and made three appearances in the World Series against the Yankees. Roebuck's career twice appeared in jeopardy when he missed the entire 1959 season and most of 1961 due to arm problems.

During a stint in the 1961 Arizona Instructional League, Roebuck crossed paths with rookie outfielder Roy Gleason, a recent graduate from Garden Grove High School. At age 30, Roebuck was playing against kids, trying to regain his form.

"I remember when he was trying to pitch and get the calcium deposits loosened from his shoulder," Gleason said. "You could see the tears in his eyes every time he pitched."

Roebuck appeared in 64 games in 1962 and went 10-2 with a 3.09 ERA and eight saves. The Dodgers traded him to the Washington Senators during the 1963 season and he later played for the Philadelphia Phillies from 1964 to 1966.

In 2005, Roebuck attended the 50th anniversary reunion of the 1955 world champion Brooklyn Dodgers. Roebuck brought two very special guests to the field that Sunday afternoon -- his two grandchildren, ages 8 and 4. The sister introduced herself and her younger brother with a polite greeting and baseball analogy: "He's Satchel and I'm Gage -- just like Satchel Paige, the pitcher."

The mild-mannered Roebuck cracked a slight smile as he spied the two kids in the dugout, sitting next to his former teammates in the Dodgers dugout during the festivities. Some things you just don't forget.

Mark Langill is the team historian of the Los Angeles Dodgers. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.