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Former Dodgers reflect on Coliseum
Times staff writer Steve Springer participated in a conference call Monday with 11 former Dodgers who played in the Coliseum. Their reflections:
Every Dodger who played in the Coliseum can picture a special moment there. Half a century later, right-hander Carl Erskine still pictures a moment that didn't happen.
The year was 1958. Erskine, having started and won the Dodgers' first game in the Coliseum, was back on the mound five days later, pitching in the ninth inning with his team holding a 5-4 lead over the Chicago Cubs.
Chuck Tanner led off the inning.
"I gave him a high fastball that hit him on the fists," recalled Erskine, now 81 and still living in his birthplace, Anderson, Ind. "He hit it on the handle straight down that short left-field line and out."
The Cubs scored twice more in the inning and won, 7-6.
"Ever have something in life you wish you had done?" said Erskine. "I was no showboat when I played. I was pretty serious. But as the umpire threw me a new ball while Tanner ran around the bases, I kept glaring at that left-field screen.
"What I wanted to do was throw that new ball over screen to show how cheap that home run was, to show I could throw a ball that far. If I'd have done it, I've have been more famous for that than for pitching on opening day."
By the time the Dodgers left the Coliseum four seasons later, there was a long line of frustrated pitchers behind Erskine, each with their own tale of being driven to near desperation by routine fly balls that wound up in the hands of fans 250 feet away.
Clearing the top of the Coliseum -- without a bat
Don Zimmer had an offer for teammate Duke Snider he wasn't about to refuse. Zimmer had wagered that Snider could throw a ball over the left-field screen and out of the Coliseum. If Snider succeeded, his share of the winnings would be $200.
"My first throw went over the screen and reached the top row of seats at the rim," said Snider, also 81 and a resident of Fallbrook, Calif., for 52 years. "The second throw hit the concrete wall behind the last row of seats. I told Zimmer, 'This last one is out of here.'
"But, as I released the ball, it slipped out of my fingers and I heard something pop. I had dislocated my elbow."
Snider was forced to miss the game that night, resulting in a $200 fine levied by general manager Buzzie Bavasi.
So instead of winning $200, Snider lost $200?
Not exactly. Returning to play the next night, he waited until the last day of the season, then attempted his gargantuan heave again and made it this time, the ball flying over the rim.
Snider got his $200 back.
After the season, Bavasi gave Snider his $200 fine back.
"So," said the Dodger outfielder, "I wound up getting $400 out of the deal."
Snider said he wasn't alone in the skills contest. Pitcher Ed Roebuck once tried to hit balls over the Olympic torch at the peristyle end using a fungo bat.
While hitters loved to take aim at the left-field screen, they weren't so enthusiastic when they had to exchange their bat for a glove.
The outfield could be an exceptionally dangerous place in a day game as Dodgers center fielder Don Demeter found out in the 1959 World Series against the Chicago White Sox.
Back then, before fans came adorned in a rainbow of colors, pure white was the uniform of the day. Most men wore white shirts. Not good for a player trying to pick up a white baseball sailing out of that background.
"I lost a line drive in the crowd," said Demeter, now 72 and a pastor in Oklahoma City. "There were millions of people watching on television, over 92,000 in the seats, but I was the only one with a glove and I couldn't see it."
Self-defense kicked in.
"I put the glove in front of my face," Demeter said. "The ball hit the glove and stayed there."
Lost: The sequel
It wasn't only the color scheme that affected the players. The elements could also be a factor, as Erkine discovered one day at dusk.
With a runner on first, Daryl Spencer of the Giants popped up a bunt attempt.
"As I came over to catch it," Erskine said, "the sun going down over the rim of the Coliseum hit me in the eyes. I couldn't see anything, so I ducked. The runner at first didn't know what to do, so he stopped. I picked up the ball and started a double play. Everybody thought I did it on purpose."
Another involuntary moment of brilliance at the Coliseum.
Pitcher Don Newcombe: "I won't say it was a joy to pitch in the Coliseum. You felt like you were shaking hands with the left fielder."
What was a joy, said Newcombe, was seeing the contingent of Hollywood stars that rivaled today's courtsiders at Lakers games.
"I remember meeting Dinah Shore," Newcombe said. "You'd look out of the dugout, and there would be Bing Crosby, Nat King Cole, Humphrey Bogart."
Catcher Rube Walker after hitting several long outs to center: "That sign out there that says 440 feet must have been left over from a track meet because that's got to be 600."
Third baseman Randy Jackson: "When I got my first look at the left-field screen, I asked for a nine-iron."