There are fans, and then there is Howie Siegel.
The son of a Brooklyn bookie, Siegel was 8 years old when he first set eyes on Ebbets Field. “It was like the first Christians that saw Jesus,” Siegel said. “I saw Allah descend to Mecca.”
He was 13 and, like the Dodgers, recently arrived in Los Angeles when he would take the No. 7 Pico bus, transfer to the streetcar near San Vicente, transfer to another streetcar on Vermont, and jump off in front of the Coliseum. The trip usually took more than an hour, but it was worth it. One afternoon he came face to face with team owner Walter O’Malley in the Coliseum parking lot.
“He was in a Cadillac without whitewalls,” Siegel said. “That’s the first thing I noticed. Blackwalled tires on a Cadillac. I walked up to the car window and I was looking at O’Malley.
“I said, ‘Mr. O’Malley, I’m from Brooklyn. Why did you move to L.A.?’
“He said to me, ‘Why did your father move you here?’
“‘To make more money,’ I said.”
“He said: ‘So did I.”’
By then, Siegel’s father, Solomon, was trying to escape the rackets. He ran a penny food market on Crescent Heights and then a furniture store, but he wasn’t a businessman. It wasn’t long before the wise guys found him, and persuaded him to return to what he did best.
“They put the squeeze on him in the Pico Steambaths,” Howie Siegel said. “I don’t know why they called it a health club. All they did was eat pastrami sandwiches, play gin rummy, watch TV, and make calls on their private phones. They went there to hide out from their wives.”
One night, Siegel said, his mother, Celia, met Mickey Cohen, the mobster. “He was introduced to her as Doctor Cohen,” Siegel said. “They spent the evening talking about childhood diseases. She thought he was a very nice man.”
Solomon Siegel cared little about sports. To him, bookmaking was just another form of accounting. Howie Siegel lived for the Dodgers.
“I went to Roy Campanella night,” he said. “It was the first time they ever turned the lights off at the ballpark and everybody lit matches. There were more than 90,000 people there, and there was Campy down on the field, in a wheelchair.”
He was 20 and sitting in the left-field pavilion of the still mint- condition Dodger Stadium when Koufax threw his perfect game.
“I was there with Mike Boskin,” he said. “Now he’s known as Dr. Michael Boskin. He’s Bush’s chief economic adviser, head of the economics department at Stanford, a boy wonder.
“But back then, he was a real baseball fan. He was a wise-ass kid from the Bronx, who happened to be a genius.”
Siegel tried playing baseball, but early on decided there wasn’t much of a future for 5-foot-5 Jewish infielders, especially if they were afraid of the ball. He had one hit in 2 years of playing in the Rancho Park Little League. “And that hit came in my first year,” he said. “I wasn’t improving.”
He moved to Canada, he said, so he could play shortstop and meet women. “Most of the women I met in L.A. were uninterested in me,” he said. In Canada, he fell in love, had a family, and opened a restaurant. He also remained true to the Dodgers, even in the midst of hockey country--Victoria, British Columbia, training camp home of the Los Angeles Kings. He has been to four hockey games in his life.
One wall of his first restaurant, Little Sammy’s Fatburger, he turned into a 20-foot mural of Ebbets Field. He had his wife, friends and Woody Allen painted into the stands. The restaurant closed, but the mural moved on to his next restaurant, one of three he owns in town. He also has a art-house movie theater, which he calls the Cine-Gog.
The closest big-league ballpark was in Seattle, but he boycotted the Mariners. They were American League, for one, and they played indoors. That was heresy. When he wanted to see baseball in person, he went to Tacoma, and watched the minor leaguers there.
To follow the Dodgers, he installed a satellite dish. That worked fine until this season, when major league baseball scrambled the signal. Sometimes he’d get a picture, but would have to pick up the radio broadcast from Las Vegas. Other times, there would be an audio feed, but no picture.
That was no way to track the Dodgers through the postseason, so he called his mother and told her to get the extra bedroom ready. He flew home for the playoff opener here, followed the team across the country to New York, and was back in Chavez Ravine when they won the pennant against the Mets.
“I think in that last game we hit a high-water mark in decibels,” he said. “All the people I knew in L.A. were hoarse the next day, like they all had a two-pack-of-Camels-a-day habit.
“I always wondered why people left games early. Where did they go? To their jobs? Their houses? I’d rather be in the ballpark.”
Which is why, at age 43, Howie Siegel was still in the Oakland Coliseum last Thursday night, 2 hours after Orel Hershiser had thrown strike 3 past Tony Phillips and the Dodgers had won the World Series. “I was looking at the garbage and the refuse of the World Series, looking under the stands,” he said. “I didn’t want to leave.”
He was sitting on a photographers’ platform beyond the center-field wall, within hailing distance of the Dodgers’ team bus.
Naturally, he had something to say to each Dodger as they boarded the bus, and tape-recorded their responses. It wasn’t much different from 30 years earlier, when he’d breathlessly approached pitcher Johnny Podres and asked for an autograph on an afternoon Podres had lasted two-thirds of an inning.
“Podres said to me, ‘Go bleep yourself, kid,”’ Siegel said. “I’ll never forget that. I wonder if he remembers.”
Podres’ memory of that moment probably lasted as long as that of the champagne-sated Dodgers, bemused by this middle-aged nebbish serenading them in the middle of an Oakland night.
“I yelled at Fred Claire, ‘Fred, I thought you were a PR guy,”’ Siegel said. “He roared with laughter.
“And let’s face it, we have to break up Hershiser. He’s making a mockery of the game. Maybe they have to handicap him, make him pitch with a Bible strapped to his back. He’s got the atheists worried.
“If God is a baseball fan, he’s fickle. He’s got his favorites, too. . . . I mean, how can we rate this? We’re not fools. The Dodgers had no business winning. Maybe it was hubris, the pride of youth. Oakland had all these Zeus-like characters, McGwire, Canseco, and youth had to be brought down.”
And the Dodgers?
“I hate this team,” he said. “It was like the Cheviot Hills Little League playing the ’27 Yankees.
“You know what the first thing I thought of as the Dodgers were clinching the Series? We need a first baseman, a third baseman, a shortstop, a center fielder and a left-handed reliever for next season.
“And thank God Lasorda didn’t pitch Jesse Orosco in the World Series.”