Original Dodgers ready to look back

Original Dodgers ready to look back

Their voices quiver a little, they're a little hard of hearing and their eyes would no longer be able to pick up the spin of a pitched ball.

But their minds remain as sharp as photographs pressed between pages of a memory album, and the Boys of (Indian) Summer are exhilarated by the opportunity to spend a few more days on the shores of baseball's Golden Pond.

"I'm overwhelmed by the thought of this anniversary, and the type of celebration the Dodgers are planning," said Wally Moon, who was arguably Los Angeles' first baseball icon. "I think it's wonderful."

The observance of the 50th anniversary of the Dodgers' arrival in Los Angeles is about to become much more than merely wonderful. It will become surreal, poignant and retro-magical on an unforgettable night when baseball once more invades the historical oval at Exposition Park.

The Dodgers return to the Memorial Coliseum for a one-night stand on Saturday against the Boston Red Sox, and the links between Brooklyn and Los Angeles will be revisiting their youth.

And Moon, the left-handed hitter who became a celebrity in a tinsel town of celebrities for his knack of turning the Coliseum's cozy left-field porch into an opposite-field ally, may even take a crack at launching another of his signature Moon Shots.

"Some lady with the Dodgers called to ask what size I wear now, so I guess they're gonna get me a uniform," Moon said. "I don't mind taking a shot at it. ... I just wouldn't run around the bases after I hit it."

Moon is 77. He is a baby among the Coliseum-era Dodgers who will be the centerpieces of a remarkable weekend-long celebration organized by the club, which informally kicked off Monday with a series of conference calls with these resonant echoes out of the past.

The tour guides for a trip through time:

• Duke Snider, 81, outfielder; the native Los Angelino was a Brooklyn Bum for 11 seasons and remained a Dodger through 1962.
• Don Newcombe, 81, right-hander; a Brooklyn hero and three-time 20-game winner, "Newk" never won a game in Los Angeles.
• Carl Erskine, 81, right-hander; he was on the downside of a 12-year career, all as a Dodger, by the time the club came west.
• Tommy Davis, 69, outfielder; his career began with one at-bat for the 1959 Dodgers -- and endured for 7,222 more through 1976.
• Don Demeter, 72, outfielder; he began his 11-year career with the Dodgers.
• Chuck Essegian, 76, outfielder; he played through the 1959-60 Dodgers during a 404-game big league career.
• Ed Roebuck, 76, right-hander; one of the game's pioneer relief specialists who made 324 appearances and one start for the 1955-63 Dodgers.
• Norm Sherry, 76, catcher; he spent four seasons of his five-year career with the 1959-62 Dodgers, often as the batterymate of brother Larry, who passed away in December 2006.
• Randy Jackson, 82, third base; he had only 65 at-bats in Los Angeles before a mid-1958 deal to Cleveland.
• Ralph Mauriello, 73, right-hander; his Major League career consisted of 11 2/3 innings with the 1958 Dodgers.
• Don Miles, 72, outfielder; he went 4-for-22 with the original 1958 L.A. Dodgers -- the sum total of his big league career.
• And Moon, 77, outfielder; a pep talk from former teammate Stan Musial inspired him to attack that 250-foot left field rather than fear the 390-foot right-center power alley.

Quite a lineup, quite a flood of memories. But for them all, the westward migration is vivid, as is their first look at the Coliseum, already the venerable home of crosstown college football rivals USC and UCLA.

"That's what I knew of the place, watching UCLA-USC games on television," said Davis, who was born in Brooklyn but didn't get to play for the Dodgers there. "I was wondering how they could put a baseball field in it, but they did."

Snider, the displaced Duke of Flatbush, first entered the Coliseum alongside Willie Mays, shortly before the April 18, 1958, home opener -- which, of course, had to be against the San Francisco Giants, who had escorted the Dodgers cross-country.

"We'd come off the parade, too late for batting practice," Snider recalled. "When I came out, Mays is standing there, looking at the right-field fence and he says, 'Duke, they killed you,' and starts laughing.

"I guess," added Snider, a left-handed pull hitter, "they had to put real estate somewhere in the outfield, and they put it all in right field."

The move to Los Angeles meant different things to different Dodgers, as Erskine reflected. The veteran clique to which he belonged was concerned about leaving its impressive Brooklyn legacy behind, aware they were too past their primes to give the new Los Angeles fans a true sense of their collective talents.

The young Turks, however, enthusiastically embarked for new horizons.

But on at least one count, being in Los Angeles meant the same thing for all the Dodgers ... movie stars!

"In the second or third inning," Erskine recalled that 1958 inaugural, "all the guys in the dugout are looking in the stands. There's Danny Kaye, Bing Crosby, Lana Turner, Jeff Chandler."

"Everyone in Los Angeles just opened their arms to us," Jackson said. "We'd be in the dugout and nobody'd be facing the field. Our eyes are up in the stands, looking at Doris Day, Rock Hudson."

"The thing that most stands out for me is meeting Dinah Shore," Newcombe said. "She was entertaining us at a [welcome] dinner downtown. And at the park, you'd come out of the dugout and look behind you in the seats and see Nat King Cole, Humphrey Bogart, Crosby.

"Movie stars just loved baseball. And eventually they loved the Dodgers."

After an awkward introduction -- the 1958 Dodgers went 71-83, oddly their only losing season in what would become 17-year stretch -- that love was returned in 1959, with a World Series championship.

That cemented the romance between a team and a city still burning passionately.

"We'd never played in front of such large crowds," Erskine said of the 70,000-plus who would jam the Coliseum, "and having the crowd all the way around us was unique. But it was a quiet crowd.

"Ebbets Field had maybe half as many, but it was real noisy, so you were always conscious of the fans. The L.A. fans didn't yet have a connection with the team, so at the beginning, they were just curious."

"All in all, it was a great place to play because of the way the crowds opened their arms to you. It was a very warm climate to play in," said Demeter, and he wasn't alluding to the weather.

For a few special days in late March, it is about to get very warm again.

"This is a huge dividend on the tail end of my career," said Erskine, expressing a universal sentiment, "to be a part of this celebration for the 50th anniversary."

Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.