1959: “We go to Chicago!”
That night, the starting pitcher of Game 7 of the 1955 World Series, Podres stopped the Phillies in a 7-1 win and struck out 14, including six straight. The next night, Don Drysdale pitched the first 1-0 game in the nearly two seasons at the Coliseum, but Giant wins on both days kept the Dodgers still three games from first place. The Dodgers were doing all the little things right. The only Dodger run in the 1-0 win over the Phillies came in the sixth inning. Moon was on first base and Norm Larker squared to bunt Moon to second on the sacrifice.
Larker popped his bunt foul high into the air behind home plate. The Phillie catcher made the extra effort and dove head long to catch the foul popup, but the alert Moon, knowing the difficulty of the catcher getting up and throwing to second, tagged at first base when the ball was caught and sprinted to second. The Phillie catcher, on the ground and facing away from the diamond, had little chance to throw out Moon and he was in scoring position. One out later, Hodges singled and Moon scored the only run of the game.
The Dodger fortunes continued to hold. In the seventh inning, nursing a 1-0 lead, Drysdale had two Phillies on base. The hitter, Sparky Anderson, the future Hall of Fame manager, hit a ball that was described as being “barely foul down the left-field line.”Bob Hunter, Los Angeles Examiner, September 10, 1959 Drysdale escaped from the inning and the Dodgers had their hard earned win.
The next night, Craig continued the excellent work of Dodger pitchers as he pitched a complete game to beat the Phillies, 5-0. In the last three games, Dodger pitching had two shutouts and a one run win. Craig received a boost from Wills, who had four hits, including three singles and a triple and scored a run. The Giants lost, and their three game lead shrank to two.
The hot pennant race got the weather it deserved on the 11th day of the month as the Dodgers faced the Pirates at the Coliseum in a memorable doubleheader. Southern California broke out in one of its patented September heat waves and the first game began with a 104-degree temperature and the game would be hotter than the weather. In fact, the humidity even caused a brief amount of rain in the fifth inning, the first time it had ever rained in the Coliseum during a Dodger game.
The Pirates and Dodgers went back and forth in the game and Moon got the Dodgers close in the eighth inning with a solo home run. In the ninth inning, the Pirates had a 4-3 lead and ace reliever Elroy Face on the mound. Face had won 17 consecutive games pitching in relief for the Pirates. He had not lost a game since May 30th of the previous season. Worse, he had pitched in the Dodger minor league organization for two seasons before getting his chance with the Pirates and helped them to become competitive. Face was only 5’8” but had a superb forkball as his out pitch and the Dodgers would have their hands full.
Wills led off the ninth inning and singled, his third hit of the day. After a sacrifice moved Wills to second, Gilliam tripled to right field to score Wills and tie the game. Then, on an 0-2 count, Neal singled home Gilliam for the magical, come from behind 5-4 win and the first loss for Face in 18 decisions. Reliever Chuck Churn got his second major league win in 1 2/3 innings in relief.
The second game had fewer dramatics, but it was no less important. It was all Larry Sherry as he struck out 11 and gave up just six hits in a 4-0 Dodger win. The double win combined with a Giant loss to the Phillies in San Francisco had shaved the lead to a half game over the Dodgers and the Giants were one game ahead of the surging Braves.
The second game of the doubleheader was remarkable for two other reasons, but the context requires some explanation. The first game of the Dodgers’ doubleheader against Pittsburgh had started in the late afternoon before the Giants’ night game. However, the Dodgers’ second game had started after the Giants’ game, and the Giants were concluding their game as the Dodgers were only in the sixth inning. The Giants’ game was of importance to the Dodgers because if the Giants lost in San Francisco, a Dodger win in the second game against Pittsburgh would move the Dodgers to within a half game of first place.
As the Pirates batted in the sixth inning, one of the special moments in Coliseum history was about to occur. Dodger broadcasting great Vin Scully told the radio listeners, “By the way, we have direct control to Seals Stadium in San Francisco. There are two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning at Seals Stadium, Philadelphia leading 1-0.”Vin Scully, Los Angeles Dodgers, September 11, 1959 At that time in major league baseball, the means to keep track of out of town scores was by use of the ticker tape. Information would come clattering from a machine, but was limited to providing pitching changes, runs scored, and home runs. The capability to receive pitch by pitch and hitter by hitter information was not available as it was today.
As the radio audience, including the fans inside the Coliseum, listened, Scully began to do play by play of not only the Dodger game, but the Giant game in San Francisco. The greatest ever broadcaster in sports was going to do it in a fashion only he could.
“We have direct wire now to San Francisco…..Well, we’re doing two ball games almost simultaneously.”Vin Scully, Los Angeles Dodgers, September 11, 1959 Scully was getting information on the Giants’ game from producer-engineer Clay Sanders, who was talking to someone in Candlestick Park in San Francisco, relaying the news from there. Scully described Larry Sherry pitching to the Pirates’ Fred Green and giving a pitch by pitch description to the Giants’ McCovey. At one point, Scully laughed briefly and said, “Boy, if somebody tunes in late feeling good, they’re really going to get confused.”Vin Scully, Los Angeles Dodgers, September 11, 1959
As Sherry pitched to the Pirates, the Phillies’ Robin Roberts was facing McCovey in San Francisco and Scully went back and forth between pitches, announcing the pitches as they occurred in the Dodger game and then providing information on the Giant game given to him by Sanders on the phone to Candlestick Park.
Scully continued with the dual broadcast. “Sherry’s pitch is fouled away, two balls, two strikes. Ball three to McCovey.”Vin Scully, Los Angeles Dodgers, September 11, 1959 Scully laughs again. “If there’s confusion but if you’re a baseball fan, you asked for it.”Vin Scully, Los Angeles Dodgers, September 11, 1959
McCovey takes ball four for a walk from Phillie pitcher Roberts and as Scully announces the Giants have a base runner at first base over the air, an audible groan can be heard from those fans that have brought their radios to the game and are listening.
The attention of the moment was not toward the Dodgers, but the outcome of the game in San Francisco. Scully was aware the crowd in Los Angeles was hearing his report. “The crowd here at the Coliseum, many of them with transistors, and the oohs and the ahhs really whirling around the saucer. We’ll try to keep you right up to every pitch.”Vin Scully, Los Angeles Dodgers, September 11, 1959
Bob Skinner of the Pirates was at the plate and without missing a beat, Scully provided all the information Dodger fans wanted to hear. “Thanks to the ingenuity of our producer-engineer Clay Sanders, we’re giving you every pitch in both ballparks. Curve ball to Skinner, a bouncer to Charlie Neal (second baseman), he’s up with it, throws him (Skinner) out.”Vin Scully, Los Angeles Dodgers, September 11, 1959 In the next breath, Scully announced, “Orlando Cepeda has just hit a fly ball to center field aaannnd it is caught! Philadelphia won it!”Vin Scully, Los Angeles Dodgers, September 11, 1959
Dodger fans in the Coliseum hear the report and break out into a tumultuous roar that lasted 15 seconds as they celebrated the final out of the Giant game. Pirate players wondered what could have happened to make the Coliseum crowd break out into such a sustained cheer in the middle of a game where nothing of importance had appeared to happen. The country was changing with transistors, jet aircraft, and baseball on the West Coast and now fans, even inside the stadium, were grateful for the information the great Dodger announcer could provide and they responded.
Sherry finished the game with the shutout and the Dodgers moved a half game behind the Giants. Almost lost in the pennant race excitement was a three home run-day by Moon. Moon homered twice in the first game to help the 5-4 win and hit a three run-home run in the second game to put Sherry and the Dodgers ahead. The two home runs in the first game started a stretch for Moon where he hit five home runs in six games, the best power display of his career. Moon was the model of understatement when he told a reporter, “I’m getting so I like the screen.Dan Hafner, Los Angeles Times, September 12, 1959
Veteran Hodges spoke of the 1959 Dodger team, a mixture of players who played in Brooklyn and those players just now getting their chance to play for the Dodgers. “I’ve never seen such spirit—short of winning a pennant or World Series--as we’ve had in our clubhouse recently.”Bob Hunter, Los Angeles Examiner, September 14, 1959
The Dodger hopes may have been high, but there were plenty of games left in this pennant race. After the twin win over the Pirates, consecutive losses by the Dodgers to the Pirates and the Braves moved the Dodgers again two games behind the Giants and the Milwaukee Braves were coming fast. The Braves had begun their own move to capture their third consecutive National League pennant. After trailing the Giants by 4 ½ games on September 5th, the Braves had won eight of nine games, including the opener of a two-game series against the Dodgers in Los Angeles on September 14th.
Before the game, Alston got a look at a future Dodger, but not in the way he expected. Alston noticed a young man on the field behind the Dodgers’ cage in batting practice. Not recognizing the man, Alston summoned team publicist Red Patterson to have the person removed from the area as Alston believed him to be a reporter. Checking out the situation, Patterson informed Alston the young man was Willie Davis, a graduate of Roosevelt High School in Los Angeles who had been signed by the Dodgers to a pro contract.Bob Hunter, Los Angeles Examiner, September 15, 1959 Davis had just completed a superb first pro season playing for Reno in the California League and Green Bay in the Three I league (Illinois, Iowa, and Indiana). He showed himself to be the next bright promise with 216 hits combined and 43 doubles, 16 triples, and 12 home runs. In the next decade, he would help the Dodgers patrol center field and be part of the 1963 and 1965 World Championship teams.
Every game was now a must game and it was not impossible for baseball and possibly sports to have its first three-way playoff and the National League office was hard at work to determine what the teams would do to establish the pennant winner. And if it was possible, the wild National League pennant race got a little crazier in the Dodgers’ September 15th game against the Braves.
It wasn’t enough the Braves and the Dodgers were going head to head in a pennant race, this game being the last meeting of the season for the two teams. There would be three lead changes, the game would be tied in the 9th inning, a team would go ahead in the 10th inning. The game-winning runs would be scored in the bottom of the 10th inning. There would be a protest of the game. Wills would have his first five-hit game of his career. When the dust settled, the Dodgers would edge out the Braves in 10 innings, 8-7.
The Braves took a 2-0 lead in the first inning on a two-run home run by Joe Adcock, whose role in the game would not be over. Craig started and was not effective, but in the fourth inning, the Dodgers put five runs across the plate, including two runs scoring with two out. A notable at bat came in that Dodger five-run fourth inning when Amoros was safe at first on a fielder’s choice and the third Dodger run scored. The one RBI by Amoros allowed the Dodgers to be tied in the ninth and get a chance to win in the 10th inning.
After the Dodgers’ big inning, the Braves’ Adcock led off and hit a drive to left field toward the Coliseum’s screen. In order to play baseball at the Coliseum, the diamond was laid out in 1958 with the left field fence only 250 feet away. To mitigate the effects of the close left-field fence, a 42-foot high screen was established from the left field foul pole to a point in left center field. The National League had permitted the use of the screen at the Coliseum and the approved ground rules provided that any batted ball that remained stuck in the screen would be considered a ground-rule double, limiting the batter and any base runners to two bases.
Adcock’s ball went toward the left-field screen, and the ball hit a supporting tower beam and became lodged in the screen. Second-base umpire Vin Smith gave a signal for a home run, but center-fielder Fairly pointed to the ball stuck in the screen and Alston came onto the field to protest the decision. Both player and manager made their argument to the crew chief, third-base umpire Frank Dascoli that this was not a judgment call in dispute, but rather an issue of the ground rules. Dascoli reviewed the situation with his umpires and it was agreed the ball had stuck in the screen and under the Coliseum ground rules, Adcock was to be given a double, he would remain at second base and instead of Adcock’s ball being a home run, a run was taken off the scoreboard.
Braves’ Manager Fred Haney wanted to get the run back and argued his case, and losing his direct appeal to the umpires, announced he would play the game under protest. Haney’s point was that Adcock’s ball lodged behind the screen and should be considered over the screen for a home run, but he lost that decision and the protest was his only hope, if granted, to have the run count and the game replayed from that point.
The Braves would enjoy a big offensive day with seven runs scored, 16 hits and seven walks from Dodger pitchers, but they hit miserably in the clutch, driving in just three of 21 runners in scoring position, and they would leave Adcock stranded and the score remained 5-2, Dodgers.
The two teams swapped runs (the Dodgers scored their run when pitcher Podres hit a sacrifice fly) and the Dodgers led 6-3 in the eighth inning. Dodger pitching was not effective and the Braves scored twice in the eighth inning and one run in the ninth inning to tie the game at 6-6. During the winter, the Braves would often point to the disputed call on Adcock’s double in the fifth inning and complain at the end of nine innings, they would have had seven runs to the Dodgers’ six and ultimately, a Braves victory.
Chuck Churn came out of the bullpen and the Braves scored a run in the top of the 10th inning for a 7-6 lead. The Giants were winning easily that day in San Francisco over Cincinnati and a Braves win would keep them one game behind the Giants, while dropping the Dodgers three games behind first place if the Dodgers would lose.
With one out in the bottom of the 10th inning, Wills singled for his fifth hit of the day. Wills had been on a tear of late and his fifth hit of the game was his 15th in his last 24 at bats over seven games, helping the Dodgers win five of seven. Chuck Essegian singled Wills to third. After catcher Joe Pignatano ran for Essegian, Gilliam hit a fly ball to center field and Wills scored the tying run. Neal singled to move Pignatano to second, and then in a duel with the Braves’ pitcher, Moon coaxed a walk on a 3-2 pitch to load the bases for Fairly.
Fairly, signed as a bonus player from Southern California, had not driven in a run since August 21st and he would only drive in one run in the month of September, but he chose his spot well. He drew a walk to force in the winning run as the Dodgers won a tough, tight 8-7 game. The Braves fell back one game to two games out, and the Dodgers stayed within two games.
After the game when the media met with Alston, the manager wearily said, “Don’t ask me much about the game. I’ve forgotten most of it already.”Dan Hafner, Los Angeles Examiner, September 16, 1959
As grateful as Alston was to win the big game against the Braves to keep the Dodgers two games from first place, he had to admit the club had their problems after a 7-4 loss to the Reds on September 16th.. Alston said, “Our pitching is in bad shape. (Larry) Sherry needs a rest and if I don’t use him in relief he may start against the Giants (in San Francisco). Our pitching is in bad shape because I had to use guys who haven’t pitched much lately (Alston used Stan Williams and veteran Clem Labine). (Sandy) Koufax seems to get steadily worse. I don’t know why. His shoulder’s all right but he hasn’t been fast lately.”Dan Hafner, Los Angeles Examiner, September 17, 1959 Despite the loss to the Reds, the Dodgers did not lose ground to the Giants and remained two games behind, but it was the Braves who defeated the Giants and they moved into second place, pushing the Dodgers into third place, one game behind them.
Despite the loss of the previous night, it was a celebration for the Dodgers on September 17, 1959 as Walter O’Malley, the team president, Manager Walter Alston, club executives and players welcomed approximately 5,000 fans to the groundbreaking of Dodger Stadium. A baseball diamond was drawn with the home plate, bases, and a pitcher’s mound marked off an estimated area where they would belong in the new stadium. Looking at the hardscrabble area with its gullies and ravines, it is hard to believe a stadium could be built there, much less anything else being established, but for the city officials of Los Angeles and the Dodgers, the long term vision for the city could now be reality.
Groundbreaking was the first step of a dream of Walter O’Malley and the Dodger organization to build the finest baseball stadium ever. National League President Warren Giles and architect-engineer Emil Praeger were among the guests that turned the first ceremonial shovels of dirt. Moments later, a group of bulldozers came over the hill to do preliminary leveling and Dodger Stadium was no longer a dream, but a start on what is known to still be baseball’s finest stadium.
And the celebration continued to that night as the Dodgers defeated the Reds, 4-3. Snider hit a three-run home run in the first inning. Gilliam drove in the decisive run in the eighth inning. Alston hoped he would not have to use his top relief pitcher, Sherry, but the Reds threatened in the 9th inning and scored twice when Sherry allowed two walks and a two-run single, but he nailed down the final out. The Giants won in San Francisco over the Braves, and the Braves fell into a tie again with the Dodgers, both teams two games behind the Giants. However, the Dodgers’ home season was over. They had eight games left to play, all on the road, and the first three games of the trip began in San Francisco.
Friday, September 18th, the Dodgers flew to San Francisco just as Soviet Premier Nikita Khruschev was flying into Los Angeles during his visit to the United States. Los Angeles weather was fine for the Soviet Premier, but the Dodgers were met with 2 ½ inches of rain up north and the Friday game was rained out. Saturday’s game would be a split doubleheader, an afternoon game started at 1:25 p.m. and a night game to start at 8:10 p.m. with two different admissions for fans. After the first game, the stadium would be cleared and the two teams would wait for several hours before starting the night game portion.