Dodger Stadium filled by 50 years of memories

Dodger Stadium filled by 50 years of memories

Dodger Stadium filled by 50 years of memories
SAN DIEGO -- On April 10, 1962, Dodgers owner Walter O'Malley unveiled Dodger Stadium, his long-awaited baseball showplace overlooking downtown Los Angeles. O'Malley spent $23 million to build it, a comparative pittance considering the staggering sports-record $2.15 billion it took to buy the team and Dodger Stadium last week.

While the guts of the ballpark need hundreds of millions in renovation, for its 50th anniversary season Dodger Stadium still looks the showplace. Time, however, hasn't been as kind to the players who helped opened it.

From the starting lineup that day, five Dodgers have passed -- Jim Gilliam, Duke Snider, John Roseboro, Willie Davis and Johnny Podres.

Of the four that remain, Maury Wills, Wally Moon and Daryl Spencer will attend next week's home opener to mark the anniversary. The fourth, Ron Fairly, is part of the Seattle Mariners broadcast team.

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Wills, still active as a Dodgers instructor, says he feels "blessed" to still be here to recollect that Opening Day.

"I remember I was leading off, so I was the first player introduced," said Wills. "I remember it was state of the art. There was no ballpark like it. The dugout was nice. And the dugout seats behind the plate -- they were the worst place to watch a game, but they were prestigious. The place was pretty, with landscaping on the hillside. Another thing, it didn't have a lot of advertising. We didn't need a lot of advertising. Just the Union 76 globes, that was it.

"There was no padding on the outfield fences. And the infield was hard, Georgia red clay. It was the worst dirt they could have put in an infield, but it looked pretty. I hated the Dodger Stadium infield. Mr. O'Malley was very proud of the way it looked. But it had hard and soft spots. It was terrible. It wasn't until the Cey, Russell, Lopes and Garvey infield that they changed the dirt. Now there's no such thing as a bad hop. [Head groundskeeper] Eric Hansen and his crew do a great job. At the time, the clubhouse was state of the art. Some clubhouses, if you flushed the toilet while somebody was showering, they got burned. It might seem like a wormhole by today's standards, but it was almost palatial back then."

The Dodgers went on to lose that game to the Reds, 6-3, Wally Post homering for Cincinnati. Opposing Podres was Bob Purkey, an emergency starter for Reds ace Jim O'Toole, who had torn his fingernail carrying luggage a day earlier. Snider played the game for the Dodgers despite burning his fingers grabbing his car's tailpipe, which broke off on the drive to the ballpark.

Fairly remembers the fans packing the place, the grass appearing a perfect green until stained baseballs backed up rumors that the field had been spray-painted to improve appearance. Fairly also recalled a soft-sell warning from the boss that illustrated how much the park meant to him.

"I remember Mr. O'Malley saying when the stadium first opened, there might be a few glitches, please don't criticize. Say nice things," Fairly recalled. "The only major negative thing I remember was there weren't any drinking fountains for the fans. We had them in the dugouts, but not for the fans. But we had a good year in '62 and we won it all in '63. That '62 team, Tommy Davis had a marvelous year. But Sandy [Koufax] developed a bad finger and missed the second half. You think we might have won one or two more if we had Sandy?"

Spencer, Koufax's roommate, hit the first triple in Dodger Stadium history.

"I remember after one of the games that first homestand, I came out of the game in the seventh inning and I showered and dressed and went up to the upper deck, just to see what it felt like watching a game up there," said Spencer, who platooned at third base. "It was a panoramic view, really beautiful.

"I really look forward to [the ceremony]. I hope Koufax comes, he was my roommate. I have a lot of great memories. The game, I don't remember much except I hit the first triple and we lost. But it was a great feeling to run out onto the field, to trot out and look around in awe of this massive, beautiful ballpark."

The park was, and still is, symmetrical, a fair place for hitters but kinder to pitchers. And not anything like the Dodgers' makeshift home for their first four years in town, the Memorial Coliseum and its left-field "Chinese Wall." Because the foul pole was only 251 feet from home plate, the city erected a 42-foot high screen that home runs had to clear, the result of a configuration required to turn an Olympic and football venue into a Major League Baseball park.

Left field became a target for the left-handed-hitting Moon, who adjusted his swing to go opposite field for what were dubbed "Moon Shot" home runs. For all of his success at the Coliseum, however, Moon welcomed the move to Chavez Ravine.

"I didn't really mind leaving the Coliseum," he said. "We watched Chavez Ravine come out of the ground being built. We were all excited about that. We were looking forward to moving into a new stadium, really anxious to make the move. The Coliseum was never designed for baseball. We played extremely good baseball there, but we all knew it wasn't a baseball stadium. So, you had to adjust to it, which I did.

"When we moved to Dodger Stadium, I adjusted again, but all I had to do was revert to what I had done with the Cardinals for five years. I always hit the ball to all fields, just kept the ball in play. That's how I was able to adapt my swing to the opposite field at the Coliseum.

"Opening Day was absolutely exciting. It was such a beautiful facility. I truly enjoyed Dodger Stadium more than the Coliseum. I was probably more productive in the Coliseum, but it was unique production. I got a lot of publicity for it. But as a player, my concern was putting runs on the board. We won 102 games in 1962. Although we lost the playoffs, we had an extraordinary year. We just came up short."

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