Wyman's Historic Efforts Bring Dodgers to Los Angeles
Wyman still gets satisfaction from attending games in her season ticket seats that she purchased behind the Dodger dugout at Dodger Stadium, knowing that she helped shape Los Angeles history by bringing the Dodgers to the West Coast. Additionally, in July 2003, a Little League baseball field at Cheviot Hills Recreation Center in Los Angeles was named in her honor “Roz Wyman Diamond.”
She enthusiastically names her favorite Dodger player of all-time as left-handed Hall of Fame pitcher Sandy Koufax. “My family, politics, arts and sports are my life,” said Wyman, who is also involved in numerous charitable causes, such as “A Place Called Home” in L.A. which serves inner city children and the Executive Committee of The Music Center, which serves the city arts (theatre and music, including the Walt Disney Concert Hall). The gracious Wyman, the last living city official from Los Angeles directly involved with the negotiations to bring the Dodgers west, discussed with www.walteromalley.com her interaction with O’Malley in the following questions and answers.
What are your special memories, as you reflect on your efforts as the youngest councilperson in city history to bring the Dodgers to Los Angeles?
“I think the most incredible thing that stands out is, first, we never thought we would get the Dodgers. The Brooklyn Dodgers aren’t going to leave Brooklyn. Why would any team leave New York City? That was number one. And number two, I felt as an elected public official, I was really doing something for my city. Some of the fights later were hard to believe. I felt that I loved sports, which was very strange being the only woman on the council. I probably loved sports more than all 14 of the council members put together. I went to the Hollywood Stars (PCL) and the (L.A.) Angel games and I don’t think any of them ever went unless there was some reason, some special event.
“I did a survey that showed that the corporations and the businesses wanted to come to communities that had sports and arts. They wanted these things. If you had people who wanted to come from other parts of the country, they wanted to feel where they are going to move and where they’re going to live, you are offering them everything. So, again, my survey proved...look here it is in black and white, this is good for the growth of the city of Los Angeles. It was a big growth period for Los Angeles. We’ve changed so much as a city since then.
“I thought that this great city of L.A. was getting a Los Angeles County Art Museum and was going to grow up and I didn’t understand how we could be a great city without having a major league baseball team. The motivation was it was good for my city and I also thought, obviously, it was very good business for my city and, therefore, I thought that it brings more tourists or tourists have something to do when they come here. When you got major league baseball, you could go see the Cardinals or you could go see every other team, as well as the home team. We were showing them the Hollywood Stars of the Pacific Coast League and they weren’t stars. Everybody thought just stars were playing for them when they came here, which was really funny. You’d get a question, oh Hollywood Stars do they go and play on that team? Some tourists would think that because they were called the Hollywood Stars. They weren’t that great. Once in a while you get a pretty good turnout, but it wasn’t big league.”
You first corresponded with Walter O’Malley in 1955 to meet with him in New York. Were you surprised by his response that his efforts were focused on staying in New York and he did not want to meet with you and Councilman Ed Roybal? How did you re-group from his response?
“I was really mad, to put it mildly. What I really thought was is he just positioning himself in New York then for negotiation with the land where Shea Stadium would eventually go or was this all talk about the Dodgers moving? I thought that it was pretty rude, to tell you the truth, the way you answer two elected officials. I thought is this a publicity stunt or something. I felt O’Malley had dealt too long with New York politicians and we were a little different out here. There were no Tammany bosses and there was none of that in L.A. “Basically, I thought in a way, the Dodgers don’t want to move, they are really not interested in coming and how do we ever get the Brooklyn Dodgers? I thought his focus must have been to build his stadium in Brooklyn. And then, I also was sad because I always felt had he seen Eddie Roybal, I would have more cooperation from Ed Roybal, who was really my friend. We brought in the most unpopular motions and when I needed a second, I usually could get Ed because we pretty well stuck together. I thought that was really not smart (O’Malley’s declining to meet them). As it turned out, Councilman Ed Roybal represented the area where Dodger Stadium would be located.”
Do you recall your first meeting with Walter O’Malley and the circumstances?
“I didn’t meet with Walter O’Malley until the team came and I was on the steps to the airplane (October 23, 1957). That was the first time that I ever met him. It just seemed like I was always away when he showed up (on three previous trips) and (L.A. County Supervisor) Kenny Hahn would report to me, because Kenny Hahn and I clearly were the strongest two for major league baseball. He told me, obviously, and the papers were full of when O’Malley flew over Los Angeles in a helicopter and for the first time saw Chavez Ravine and other areas that might be considered for his stadium and that leaked out to the press. I’m not sure that was the greatest leak...we probably could have done without that leak. I kept in touch, but each time I missed O’Malley. I never met him until I met him on the stairs going up to welcoming him to Los Angeles and the process server ran up the stairs and Walter leaned over and said, ‘What was that?’ and I said just accept it, I’ll explain it to you later. And was he shocked when we walked away down the stairs. I said you have just been served Mr. O’Malley. He was a lawyer and he certainly understood what that meant. I said there may be a few lawsuits. I never talked to Walter O’Malley until the day of the final council vote (October 7, 1957).”
In view of the failed bond measure to help fund a baseball stadium in Los Angeles in 1955, after listening to Walter O’Malley’s desire to privately build and maintain his own stadium were you more or less encouraged that you, Mayor Poulson and others would be able to convince the Dodgers to come westward?
It was encouraging and it was interesting, because all during my arguments I could use that he wanted to build and finance his stadium. Here’s a guy who wants to build his own stadium. Because all across America, the ballparks were being built and all taxpayer money was being used to pay for them. But that was a negotiating point as far as I was concerned, because at one point during the negotiations they kind of threw up their hands and said okay we’ll take the deal in San Francisco and I said over my dead body you will. Because, I wanted that stadium to be privately built, because then it could be taxed. If it was a municipal stadium, we could not tax them and that was a huge issue for me all the way along and I never budged on that issue. I didn’t think that bond issue would go to begin with or be close. Some of the powers said let’s put a bond issue out and maybe we can entice a ballclub. That was defeated and I was happy.
“A lot of people say it’s great to own a ballpark. What for? It was a one purpose use at that point. You put it all together and I didn’t want the upkeep and the maintenance. I had been on the (L.A.) Coliseum Commission and I knew what the maintenance was over at the Coliseum Commission. People say we should own it and I don’t know why we should own it. I never thought we should own it. San Francisco went into a municipally-owned stadium (Candlestick Park). It never compared to Dodger Stadium. It was never maintained (cleaned and landscaped) like our stadium.”
Were you the one that initiated the discussions about Major League Baseball for Los Angeles?
“I don’t know what happened before I got there (in 1953), but I do know that I had a little piece of literature. It was a little 3 x 5” card. I had no money when I ran the first time (for City Council). Literally, I walked from door to door and I got elected by walking door to door. And in those days, it’s almost like the (literature was the) size of a business card. We used to get 35,000 of those in those days for about $30. I had checked off on the piece of literature one of the points Bring Major League Baseball to L.A. when I ran. My Mother and my Mother’s side of the family were baseball nuts. Her brothers had played baseball in a neighborhood league. In Chicago, they just loved the Cubs. My Mother always talked about the Cubs. I was born during the World Series. It had an effect on all of us. My Mother wanted to know what the score of the World Series game was. She didn’t ask if it was a girl or a boy, but wanted to know the score of the game! My two uncles played ball. I can’t say semi-pro, but maybe a level under it. They went every week (to play) or sometimes they went on a bus to another city. So, baseball was in my Mother’s side of the family. She talked about baseball. We would go to the Hollywood Stars a lot. My Mother went. My Dad never went. My Father had no interest whatsoever. My Mother and Dad were both druggists...Mom and Pop druggists. Both my parents were learned. My Mother was really into sports and my Father into reading medical books. He wanted to know the newest medicine, or he wanted to read Shakespeare, or he wanted to go hear opera and we (Mom and I) wanted to go to the ballpark.”
Who was your favorite baseball team when you were growing up in Los Angeles?
“It had to be the (Chicago) Cubs at that moment because of my family. Then when I got married, my husband was a St. Louis Cardinals fan. I mean he was Stan Musial day and night, night and day. I’ll never forget sitting with Walter (O’Malley) the first time that Stan Musial came up and I thought, oh, oh Gene better be quiet. He’s going to say something in front of Walter...I hope he gets a hit or something. The first year Gene didn’t say anything. The second year was fascinating to watch Gene. Stan Musial was the batter and Sandy (Koufax) was pitching and Sandy struck him out and Gene said ‘Hooray!’ And I said, wow, it only took us a year to convert him. So, he switched.”
How much influence did Mayor Poulson have in eventually bringing the Dodgers to Los Angeles? Has he received enough credit for supporting the idea and a location for them to play?
“Let me just say I was very fond of Norrie Poulson and he was a right-wing Republican. For me to be proud of, and friends with, him was pretty weird. He was as right-wing in Congress as they came. But, as Mayor I really felt he was kind of a different person. We didn’t have the issues you have in Congress, luckily. Poulson originally, I have to tell you, was dragged into the Dodger controversy. He was very apprehensive. He thought the people of L.A. had voted a bond issue down and asked, ‘Why do I want to stick my neck out? I don’t know these Dodger people.’ Poulson ran around with the ‘in-crowd’ of downtown which I didn’t, by the way, except Otis Chandler, when he became publisher of the paper (L.A. Times) and we were very good friends. I spent a lot of time with Norrie on this and said Norrie I think it’s really popular with the people. But, then we had all those lawsuits and we had the (Prop B) referendum, he would sometimes get me by the side and say, ‘Yeah, you’re sure right, the people really like this thing.’
“We were getting really bogged down between the City Attorney and the council -- Sam Leask, the Chief Legislative Analyst who answered to the Mayor, and the city’s Chief Administrative Officer who answered to the council. We were getting a hassle between all of those people and what Norrie did, which was the best and most helpful thing he did, was to find Chad McClellan (who was lead negotiator for the City and County of Los Angeles and President of Old Colony Paint). And Chad basically saved our lives. Chad came in with his fine reputation and as a big corporate guy, right down the alley of all the key downtown boys and Poulson. I don’t know if he was recommended but Norrie came to us and said, ‘I think he might be helpful’ and I said Norrie anything will be helpful. We were just bouncing all these people, back and forth. Then we had O’Malley represented by (Dodger Vice President) Dick Walsh and by his (O’Malley’s) brother-in-law Henry Walsh. Henry was a very able lawyer, a very lovely man. Dick was a good representative and, at the same time, a very considerate person. But, it was at that point, they had never dealt with government and they couldn’t understand if I said something, how come it didn’t happen? Or, if Roger Arnebergh, the City Attorney should say, ‘This is the way it should be’ well why didn’t it happen that way?
“We had too many cooks at that point and Chad helped to straighten it out. We never would have gotten the negotiations where they were if we hadn’t had an independent person from all the elected officials to help us. And we picked somebody who was very well respected in Los Angeles. He was really smart; he went around and introduced himself to all the people involved in the city that he would have to work with. He didn’t just plunk himself down and say here I am. At this time, I also was in my first pregnancy. And then more — the referendum and everything else.”
Why did you feel so strongly about the need for a Major League Baseball team in Los Angeles? The Pacific Coast League already had teams playing in L.A. and Hollywood and was not overwhelming attendance-wise.
“Everybody had huge heroes in baseball. You talk about the kids. You were going to get Stan Musial and you were going to get some really great players that people had certainly heard about. I mean the Dodgers certainly had them — Duke Snider, Carl Furillo and Gil Hodges. As I said, almost to the very end, I didn’t think the Brooklyn Dodgers were going to leave Brooklyn. That was one thing, I’d come home and my husband would say ‘Well, what do you think?’ and I’d keep saying deep down I keep thinking they won’t come. I mean, how do you leave Brooklyn? Although I knew Ebbets Field was built in 1913. But, the tradition and the O’Malleys are such New Yorkers. I always deep down had this feeling in the pit of my stomach that after I beat my guts out that they would not come. That was a real fear.
“But, I did feel that all of those reasons that it would be great and I had seen some of things that the Brooklyn Dodgers had done and Major League Baseball about encouraging Little League and some of the things that various clubs had done across America and, I thought, yes we have some of this, but the Hollywood Stars and the Angels were doing nothing with clinics or Little Leagues.
“I also felt very strongly the biggest motivation was my city has to grow up. It was good business, it was good for tourism and if I got them to build it, I could tax it and I could prove to the people that they kept their word and built a first-class stadium. These were honorable people and it would be really good for Los Angeles and that there were no unifying projects. All parts of Los Angeles watched Dodger Stadium being built and, therefore I always felt and I’ve said this a hundred times over, that the day (the Dodgers won the 1959 National League Pennant in Los Angeles against Milwaukee) that (Vin) Scully said, ‘We go to Chicago!’ horns started tooting all over the city...it was the first time, the eastside, the westside all came together because they saw this grow in front of their eyes. You saw them come and people became a part of it. Three million people go out there every year. They don’t have to go. They don’t have to buy a ticket. I’ve always felt that it cost me a lot politically, but that I still felt that it was the right thing to do even as I look back on it now.
“I might have been Mayor had I not led the battle for the Dodgers to come West. It may have cost me that, but I still feel it was one of the best things that ever happened for Los Angeles. People today don’t remember how controversial the battle was and therefore it was used as an issue to defeat me in my last election. (Prior to that, in polls it showed Wyman had a 90 percent approval rating in the city.) It’s interesting to note that in the Los Angeles Business Journal of May 23, 2005, Dodger Stadium is listed as a “Turning Point” and one of the “Ten transactions that played a role in L.A.’s rise to world-class status.”
Weren’t you also extremely concerned about growing Los Angeles in many other areas to the point that you challenged your fellow council members on them, as well?
“I was very supportive of arts for the city. Our first cultural accomplishment that finally came about was the art museum on Wilshire (Blvd.). I thought great we finally got an art museum. I was big on the arts. I mean I fought for all kinds of art. I also felt we were pretty little league in arts. Dorothy Chandler and I became friends, we didn’t start out friends, but we became friends. In people’s minds, I was this liberal democrat as far as they were concerned. I was way out in left field. City issues didn’t fall into liberal and conservative. They are much more partisan today in a City Council than when I served. We really had the opportunity to grow as a city. I supported Dorothy Chandler from day one and the Music Center. It took her a lot to build it. I just thought once the Music Center was also up and we had Dodger Stadium you could see the growth of a great city. Now look what we have with Walt Disney (Concert) Hall. A major city is a major city and you have everything to offer or you don’t. I cared deeply about the arts and that was another thing that most of the council couldn’t care less about. I also felt Los Angeles didn’t care about the development of a fine park system. Los Angeles had great climate and yet other cities had greater parks than we had and I also felt that we could have pocket parks to serve various areas of L.A. — just a little green to sit in. I mean sports and arts, you’d think it’s something they would care about, but they weren’t wild for that either. There are stories about me fighting for culture.”
When Walter O’Malley made his now famous visit to Los Angeles (only his third trip ever to L.A.) in May 1957 and took a helicopter ride over the city to view possible sites for the ballpark he wanted to build, was that a turning point in your mind?
“I felt it was hopeful. You see, I keep going back, I never thought the Brooklyn Dodgers would come. I kept thinking we’ve come a ways. Two years into this and he’s still dealing with New York. So, I had to look at it a little positive. And I thought, well, third trip, he keeps looking at the site (Chavez Ravine). I thought we’ve come a long way in a sense; that he’s now flying over L.A. I did feel there was hope. Kenny Hahn said he thought that trip was very positive. I don’t know why I wasn’t there. I remember coming back and Kenny calling and saying, ‘Roz we might have something positive.’ We may have! But, the sportswriters had developed good stories about this visit, which was helpful to me.
“Kenny and I were really close friends. Kenny was the youngest person ever elected to City Council. Then I came along and I was the youngest. There was already a bond between us. Kenny was very active in Democratic politics. Even though I was very young, I had fooled around in Democratic politics already. He really deserves credit for helping in bringing the Dodgers west. The trouble was it was a city responsibility and I had the brunt of it. He was for it, but the County didn’t have much to do with it. It just became my problem and Kenny was a rooter. We needed the County of L.A. to help with roads. Kenny saw to it that these were secured.”
You made a critical phone call to Walter O’Malley the night of the City Council vote on October 7, 1957. Apparently, Mayor Poulson was too nervous to talk to Mr. O’Malley about coming to Los Angeles and handed the phone to you. What do you recall about that conversation?
“It was crazy. We are up to the last day of the vote. We sit in a semicircle in City Council and my seat was the last seat alphabetically and there was a way that you could come into the Chambers through a door closest to my seat. The Mayor’s office called me and said the Mayor wants to see you. I said I can’t leave the floor now. We’re in the middle of this discussion and I don’t want to leave. The Mayor’s secretary said, ‘The Mayor wants to see you. It’s very important that he see you and he has some idea, that he wants you to do something.’ They called me three or four times. I said I’m not coming. I’m not leaving. I didn’t know what he wanted, but I said I can’t leave the floor right now. We were really in a critical time. I have got to listen to what’s going on here. I’m petrified that I am going to lose the vote anyway, (Councilman Karl) Rundberg’s vote, so I just didn’t want to leave. The Mayor comes running down the hall and the policeman opened the door. He’s standing about halfway through the hallway. He sent the assigned Council policeman to the Chambers to bring me to him.
“He said, ‘The Mayor is standing there and he wants to see you.’ I said for goodness sakes won’t he leave me alone? But, I said okay because he’s here and I could still hear the speaker box and I’m still standing close. I said what do you want Norrie? He said, ‘We have to call Walter O’Malley.’ I said why do we have to call Walter O’Malley? I said I haven’t talked to him all the way along, I don’t know if you’ve talked to him all the way along, I don’t want to talk to him. I said it will be dreadful to talk to him right now. Poulson said, ‘What are you talking about?’ I said, Norrie, what if he says no, I don’t want to come? What are you going to do then?
“I said his people are saying this is a good negotiation. That he will like this contract. I don’t want to talk to him because I feel I’m honest and if somebody asks me on the floor of that council, ‘Have you ever talked to him? Is he coming?’ What am I going to say then? He said, ‘You’ve got to call Walter now. We have to know his answer about coming to L.A.’ So, I gave in and went to the Mayor’s office. But, I’m still thinking this is stupid because if O’Malley says no then what do I do? So, he got on the phone and I said you talk first. Poulson said, ‘Oh no, I don’t want to talk at all.’ I thought at least he would start the conversation. ‘Oh no, no, here’s the phone.’ So, he wouldn’t talk at all.
“Now, I’m first introduced to O’Malley on this phone call after many months. I’ve never spoken to him. He said, ‘Mrs. Wyman, I want to thank you for all you’ve done.’ And he said, ‘I know it’s been difficult’ and he was very gracious. I don’t want to get to the question and I’m talking about the weather almost. You know, how’s the weather in New York? Finally, Norrie says ‘Ask him, ask him, ask him!’ I mean literally yelling at me, ‘Ask him, ask him, ask him!’ And I thought Roz don’t, but finally I thought I’ll never get out of this room if I don’t do it. So, I said Mr. O’Malley, I take it if we vote this deal through, you will come. And he said, ‘I do not know if I will come. I’m certainly seriously giving it consideration. Do you know if you have the votes?’ I said I think I have the votes. He continued the conversation, ‘I am a New Yorker. I still believe that possibly the better place for us is in New York.’ He said, ‘Baseball has never been very successful in California.’ He said, ‘I don’t know if we will come.’ At this point, I was so deflated, I thought why argue with him, as I had to get back to the Council Chambers. I said Mr. O’Malley, that’s a pretty disappointing answer. I said we’ve gone a long way to get here. I said, but I do have to go back to the City Council and fight this thing through. I said it was nice meeting and talking with you on the telephone. Goodbye.
“I was really devastated. It took me a little while, in fact, I went back to my office to really collect myself. I was really disappointed. I didn’t have time to get into my personal feelings. I had to get back to the floor of the council.
“I never deceived people in my career in the City of L.A. I thought will the council be smart enough to ask me, ‘Is he coming? Did I know for sure the Dodgers would come to L.A.?’ As it turned out, they never asked me and, if they had, I was concerned because I didn’t want to deceive my colleagues or the City of Los Angeles with my answer. If my answer was negative, that surely would have affected the vote which was coming very soon. I felt O’Malley wouldn’t have had a team negotiating if he wasn’t seriously considering coming to Los Angeles. That was the best I got from that conversation.”
How long was it until the City Council voted that night?
“It was more than a couple of hours and I decided it was time to call for the vote. We went into an evening session, which was rarely done. We went quite late, after having debated all day. My biggest problem then was to hold Rundberg in (to get to 10 votes). There’s an old saying in City Council about voting, ‘I’m with you until roll call...then who knows?’ I called for the vote, still not sure of Rundberg. I decided we had discussed and debated this far enough. We were going to win or lose.”
When the Council voted 10-4 to approve the contract on October 7, 1957 with the Dodgers and ask them to relocate to Los Angeles for the 1958 season, did you have a great sense of accomplishment and relief?
“I was exhausted! I didn’t enjoy it at that point. I was absorbing what O’Malley had told me on the phone. We voted. I’m going to go home and hope O’Malley’s going to say yes the next day. The next day, October 8, the Dodgers announced they had drafted the Los Angeles territory according to the City Council terms and invitation. Now I had a sense of elation. I still didn’t understand why, if the Dodgers planned to announce the next day after our vote that they were coming to L.A., O’Malley didn’t tell me on the telephone conversation.”
Were you surprised by the unexpected fierce opposition that took place almost immediately thereafter?
“We were surprised that the opposition was well-organized. The opposition was well spread all over the city and we began to realize there was real money behind this effort. It took me a long time to figure out about J.A. Smith down in San Diego, who was behind it and trying to get a team that he would own there. Smith decided that there would never be another major league team to come because of the Dodgers. He knew the PCL would be gone and thought that they would never get a San Diego team. It took 11 years to actually get one. O’Malley and I often discussed with the P.R. firm Baus and Ross Company that this was a well-organized, funded campaign. The opposition had a lot of material handed out which was getting around the city. The signs that are wonderful are the signs that are homemade. All the signs and all the literature we saw were not homemade. We kept saying there’s money here somewhere. The funniest thing of all, my little Mother, who loved baseball, was sent by the campaign to some of their public meetings. We needed information. She got on their mailing list and would show up and she’d come home and say, ‘Rozie, they are really out to beat this thing.’ And she said, ‘They’re even doing a phone bank.’ It was just like a political campaign. My Mother knew something about campaigning as our drugstore was (Franklin) Roosevelt — (John Nance) Garner headquarters in 1932.”Back to top