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Original Issue

A night in the Coliseum

Big league baseball is no longer a novelty, but still the throngs spill into Los Angeles' Coliseum to watch the pennant race in the game's strangest but most exciting setting

...Dodgers after dark

Long before the crowd came, the sun was dipping redly behind the peristyle of the Coliseum, a stiff westerly was blowing the 48 starred flag straight out toward the mountains, and the sky above was a deep and darkening blue. The temperature was in the 80s. It was, as usual, a perfect night for baseball in Los Angeles.

The Dodgers were at home, and the opposition, this last Friday night of the home stand, was the Chicago Cubs. At this precise moment, in thousands of homes throughout southern California, harassed housewives were shoving the evening meal hastily in front of the men of the house and sometimes the young men of the house. For there would be no work or school tomorrow and the place to be, this balmy evening, was, clearly, at the old ball game.

In San Bernardino two young insurance salesmen poked their sedan cautiously out onto the freeway and. straightened it out for the 75-minute, 60-mile run to the ball park. In mid-Los Angeles a visitor from San Jose piled his wife and 3-year-old son into his station wagon, snatched a supply of blankets and headed to the Coliseum; at a midtown hotel two girls from Connecticut hailed a cab and instructed the driver to take them to the game. In Hollywood a Czech-born chemist and his Irish-born wife phoned friends and invited them to share their box.

Before they—and the rest of the swarm of spectators—got to the turnstiles, the Coliseum was ready for them.

"Remember," screamed Head Usher Gino Creasmen at his crews of red-jacketed hirelings, "these are your paying guests. But it will be a light night. So see to it they don't move down on you. See to it they get what they are paying for and no more. And no lateral traffic. It blocks the view of those on the aisle."

In his office over the ticket windows, Ticket Manager Harold Parrott cast an appraising eye out over the ocean of empty seats, glowing orange in the fading sunlight. "We should do 18,000 tonight," he said expertly. "There'll be plenty of box and reserved seats. Everybody wants box seats. Everybody's got money." Behind him, his daily operations manager, Gordon Gerster, offered an opinion. "It's because of television. Television makes everybody a front-row customer." A skeptic disagreed. "It's because of LA," he said flatly. "LA makes everybody a front-row customer. How many people call up they want seats? In a stadium that seats 90,000, they're worried?"

In the counting room 15 sacks of money ($200 in change in each) were rushed out to the 25 ticket booths that would be open this night. Sixty-five ushers fanned out to their stations, 30 washroom attendants disappeared from view, and 35,000 tickets were placed in the box offices just in case. At $7 per night per usher, $9.15 per ticket taker and $12 per ticket seller plus $1.80 an hour for washroom attendants and the 60-man crew of sweepers who scour out the stands after the game (they once found a toupee), the Dodgers have a healthy investment in the evening's proceedings even before the high-priced athletes take the field.


In the concessions office Manager Tom Arthur also calculated his gamble on the evening. "This heavy night schedule hurts us," he admitted. (The Dodgers play only 12 day games, all but one of them on Sunday.) "For one thing, people have already eaten by the time they get to the game. For another, daytimes are better because your cold stuff moves. At night only the hot stuff sells."

Arthur also prays for a one-sided game. A 2-1 game is the despair of the concessionaire. The fan is too preoccupied to be hungry. "Your best bet is an 80° double-header in the daytime with the Dodgers leading 8-2 in each game. The disappointed fan is likely to become an emotional eater, but on the other hand he's likely to walk out. He never walks out if the home team is ahead. He wants to be in on the kill."

Arthur also takes his responsibility to the public seriously because "this place is owned by the taxpayers and it's taxpayers who come here. We got to give them the best. I get sworn affidavits from a bonded laboratory as to the protein content of our hot dogs. And our hot chocolate is only 20 calories a cup."

The Dodgers share in the concession receipts but not the concession management (which has to answer only to the Coliseum commission). They "never give us any trouble and have never meddled," reports Arthur. In fact, they have consistently staged "special" lures in addition to the traditional ladies' night, such as "family day," and days for Knotholers and uniformed Little Leaguers. At one Milwaukee game only 49,000 paid, but the crowd totaled over 78,000. A crowd of 56,579 showed up at a Cardinal-Dodger Sunday game, but only 24,879 were paid.

True to Parrott's prognosis, there were 18,297 fans in the Coliseum by game time. Usher and Field Crew Chief Jack O'Brien, a Brooklyn émigré, smiled as he watched them pour in and philosophized about their differences from an Ebbets Field crowd. "They're more good-natured. They're more patient. They come later. They go home earlier." Did they enjoy themselves as much? He was pressed. He temporized: "They're more easily pleased," he grinned.

The game on this night was a severe test of their ability to remain pleased. In the third inning the visiting Cubs picked up five singles, a double, a sacrifice fly and a walk. The Dodgers graciously threw in three errors, and suddenly the score was Chicago 8, Los Angeles 1. Only one spectator got up and stormed out muttering. It was E. J. (Buzzie) Bavasi, the Dodgers' own vice-president and de facto general manager.

In the section behind the left field screen the insurance men from San Bernardino—Cody Jordan, late of Hartford, Conn. and Jerry Marker, late of Jamestown, N.Y.—fell into relaxed conversation. "Do you think we could get good season tickets to the Ram football games?" they wanted to know. They ignored the game to watch paper airplanes wedge into the iron screen. "You can tell the game is boring when that begins to happen," said Marker. "I don't think it's boring," said Jordan. "I'm rooting for Moe Drabowsky. I used to play ball with him in Hartford and he left the tickets for us tonight."

A few seats away Norm Von Marbod, the visitor from San Jose, was observed rooting for the Dodgers. "How come you're for the Dodgers if you're from San Jose?" he was challenged. "You're supposed to be for San Francisco."

Von Marbod, wrapped in blankets out of which an enormous cigar projected, cheerfully flicked an ash. "That's a thing you have to understand," he said patiently. "San Francisco and Los Angeles just aren't going to be rivals the way the old Dodgers and Giants were. I mean, you won't get that 'drop dead' stuff. If the Giants can't win the pennant, I want the Dodgers to win it. I mean, I'm for the West Coast, see? I'd rather see the Dodgers beat Milwaukee than see the Giants beat the Dodgers. And if the 49ers can't win at pro football, I'd just as soon the Rams did."

On the field at this point Shortstop Bobby Lillis kicked in with his third error. Even for Los Angeles this was too much. "And a local boy at that!" snapped a man in a third-base box as he rose to lead the booing. In another section a writer friend of the Czech chemist studied the crowd with fascination. Suddenly he found himself joining the booing. He was still in a state of wonderment over his behavior later: "You know," he marveled, "I'm normally a pretty reserved guy. In fact, earlier tonight, I was a little annoyed at the drunk behind us. Not that he did anything out of line. But he was so loud and aggressive. Now it comes to the late innings and I'm doing the same things he is. Only I'm not drunk."


He shook his head and considered what baseball was doing to him in the vast incubator of baseball fans the Coliseum had become. "I used to think baseball was for truck drivers and juveniles. There's still a lot I don't understand about it, but my wife has got me interested. I don't even know whether I like being interested or not. I get so mad at the Dodgers when they lose and I get mad at myself for caring. I mean, I don't want to be involved. But I am."

On the field the Dodgers struck back for three runs, and the Coliseum was on its feet cheering lustily, scenting victory. "That's another thing about LA," observed Jack O'Brien. "They're optimistic. They would rather root and ride a winner than grouse at a loser. They always see a way to win. In Brooklyn, they usually expected the worst. They could see where they could lose."

On the field, Pinch-hitter Rip Repulski hit into a double play, and even in LA it was possible to see where the Dodgers could lose.

High in the grandstand seats the girls from Connecticut didn't much care. The weather was of more moment to them. "Lordy, why didn't someone tell us it would be this cold?" shivered Betty Foley, as she and her girl friend, Pat Carney, huddled for warmth. They looked enviously at the blanket-clad natives. "This place is too big for baseball anyway," opined Betty firmly, and she contented herself with applying lipstick.

The crowd grew more detached as the game droned on, and the chatty buzz of conversation put syllables in the air that smacked more of an outdoor cocktail party than a baseball crowd. A Coliseum crowd is always well behaved, by baseball's standards. No one has yet attacked an umpire physically. Not one beer can or pop bottle has been tossed on the field. The crowd cannot be said to have gotten on any player as yet. "We try to encourage them, not insult them," a Beverly Hills doctor, watching the game with binoculars, observed.


To a transplanted New Yorker all this was baffling and faintly frustrating. "They're just not baseball fans!" he wailed. A friend leaped on him. "Why not?" he demanded. "Who says a baseball fan has to be a loud roughneck? You know the old story about the difference between the California race track crowd and the crowd at Jamaica? In California they yell 'Please, Baby, do it just this once. Stay up there, Sweetie, you can do it.' At Jamaica, they yell 'Don't die now, ya lousy, goldarned dog, or I'll kick ya all the way back to the barns.' It's just a difference in psychology." The New Yorker retreated, muttering unconvinced.

Encouraged or not, the Dodgers finally rolled over and died against the Cubs on this night. Because it was Friday, most of the crowd waited for the final out. In the press box, the writers tapped busily as the field lights dimmed and winked out. As the fans filed out, the public-address system boomed the final totals and concluded: "Please drive carefully on your way home, and thank you for your attendance."

A fan stopped and his face grew red. "Don't thank us," he bellowed. "Give us a ball team." But the rest of the crowd just laughed and slapped their thighs. They thought it was a good joke. The complainer was disgusted. "They're glad just to have a team," he muttered gloomily. "They shoulda got the Phillies."