Dodger Stadium – Oh What a Place
The great Gladys Knight comes to mind when I think of my 4th rated major league stadium of yesteryear, at least her famous lyrics, “LA Proved too much for the Man” – but before I took the Midnight Train to Cleveland, I wished it were Georgia in hindsight, I gathered a boatload of cool memories. My time at Dodger Stadium, although short, had the ingredients necessary for this high ranking, # 4 of most beautiful stadiums. It had undoubted beauty, great tradition – arguably the second best only to the New York Yankees – a winning team (for sure), great players and teammates (big time.) (Casual reminder – top criteria for beauty is how well I did in a ballpark.)
Before leaving the Dodgers, I had attained my first beg league hit, my greatest defensive play, which was a life unchanging defining moment to me, a World Series trophy and ring, and some lifelong friendships. Unfortunately, the only thing that kept Dodger Stadium from a higher rating gets back to the downfall of most of the previous major league stadiums in my rankings, that being I did not play all that well there. If I had, I would not have been shipped out so quickly and the ranking would have been top of the heap.
It’s funny, but a very small portion of my major league career was spent with the Los Angeles Dodgers, but so many of my memories came from there. I guess that is the power of Hollywood, as most of my dreams to this day – that of becoming an established LA Dodger – and nightmares – striving to impress manager Tommy Lasorda and staff, has me in a Dodger uniform.
Dodger Stadium Tradition
Dodger Stadium was and still is beautiful, but of course, intimidating to me, as a rookie. So intimidating, I was afraid to look above the first tier of bleachers when playing second base. It is hard to believe but Dodger Stadium is the third oldest baseball stadium in the major leagues now and is the largest by seating capacity in the world for baseball. Everything about it brought a sense of awe to me – from Tommy Lasorda, around whom there is never a dull moment, the incomparable and still unbelievably awesome Vin Scully, to the almost daily Hollywood stars that show up in the clubhouse. (Read about my encounter with Billy Crystal here) Just the words Chavez Ravine, where the stadium resides, invokes beauty.
Having come up through the Dodger system, there is no getting around the great sense of tradition with the Dodgers, long before one even gets to Dodger Stadium and even before the team moved to Los Angeles, as the Brooklyn Dodgers, with the likes of Jackie Robinson, Pee Wee Reese, Duke Snider, etc. Spring training involved learning from the Dodger greats – as an example – Sandy Koufax, Roy Campanella, Maury Wills, Johnny Roseboro – what could be better for a kid who grew up with the “eat, drink, and sleep baseball” attitude and the common, kid-major- league- aspirations. It would take a long time to name all the past Dodger greats that the young Dodger players heard about and got to meet, as the Don’s – Drysdale, Newcombe, and Willie and Tommy Davis, and on and on… but you get the point about the great Dodger tradition.
Back in the day, the Los Angeles Dodgers were the organization that other teams looked up to as the best, and that attitude was palpable to Dodger players throughout the organization. Being a Dodger, at any level, gave on a sense of pride. The downside for me was that I sat behind one of the greatest infields of all time – Ron Cey, Bill Russell, Davey Lopes, Steve Garvey – who stayed together a major league record of eight years, but the taste of the big leagues the Dodgers gave me made it worth the wait.
The 1981 Dodgers were full of great players that made it no wonder we won the World Series in 1981 – once again, too many to mention without leaving someone out. My contribution to that team was very minuscule, but forever grateful to the Dodgers for the World Series ring and trophy, my most cherished baseball possessions.
Along with the great Dodger history and players, the top reason for Dodger Stadium’s number 4 ranking on my countdown to the most beautiful major league stadium of yesteryear comes from two plays I was involved with there. Plays as these last vividly in a ballplayer’s memory, no matter the level, and these exist in my mind, as if they occurred yesterday.
All ball players remember their first major league hit and mine was mostly memorable because it was pure luck, as I popped a suicide squeeze bunt up over the pitcher’s head, not planned that way, for what turned into the game winning RBI.
Greatest Play Ever at Dodger Stadium – for me
The greatest play of my life occurred at Dodger Stadium and as mentioned, it did not change my life, thank God, as it had that potential. It seems odd that such a routine play could be the greatest, but the circumstances made it so. Messing up this one play may have changed my life in a way one does not want it to go.
The scene – Saturday, nationally televised game of the week, 46000 fans in attendance, Dodgers vs. Astros with the Astros up two games in the standings with two to play for the 1980 NL west champion. Bases loaded for the Astros in the bottom of the ninth with us leading 4 – 3. Basic ground ball to my left – mission accomplished – we live another day and I avoid the “Goat” label for the rest of my life, as I was never in such a precarious situation the rest of my major league career. As we know, sports fans have a hard time forgetting mistakes in such situations, especially fans of the losing team, and I am so glad I am not remembered to this day, and life goes on.
Any other plays in my career, whether diving, running, or turning double plays, pale in comparison to that routine play, and made all the baseball work and sacrifices I made for baseball worthwhile because of that play. Not being remembered much beats the alternative for that reason.
Those were the days and Dodger Stadium is one of those places that should be on ever baseball fans bucket list of places to see. The number three-ranked stadium on my list is one where the real fun begins for me, as it is bragging time, with a stadium I played well in, Here is an easy hint – Ironman.