It was the middle of the 1959 baseball season, the Dodgers’ second year in Los Angeles, and they were in a rut.
They had just dropped three out of four games to fall into third place. They were struggling to overcome a lousy debut season. Pressure was building to make a mark in their new city.
They felt like they were pushing a boulder, until Pee Wee Reese changed their fortunes with a pebble.
The franchise has benefited from plenty of magic in the 60 years since, but it may have started that summer when Reese walked up to rookie outfielder Ron Fairly in St. Louis and handed him a small stone.
“Keep this,’’ the Dodger coach told the kid. “It will bring us good luck.’’
Fairly stuck the pebble in the pocket of his blue Dodgers jacket and forgot all about it.
The Dodgers charged ahead to win 44 of their last 76 games, capture the National League pennant, and head to Chicago for the World Series against the White Sox.
They lost Game One. They were trailing 2-0 after the first inning of Game Two. Sitting on the bench, Fairly absently stuck his hand deep in the pocket of his jacket and felt something hard.
Oh yeah, the pebble. He rubbed it and history happened.
The Dodgers came back with three runs in the seventh inning to win Game Two and won the series in six games behind the near-perfect pitching of reliever and series MVP Larry Sherry.
Only one year after arriving in town, the team had delivered its new city a championship, marking the beginning of the most glorious and increasingly forgotten era in Los Angeles Dodgers baseball.
Today, amid the three championship rings and countless trophies in Ron Fairly’s safe, there hangs his original Dodgers jacket. And in the pocket of the jacket is that pebble.
“It’s as special as anything I own,’’ Fairly said from his Indian Wells home.
He just turned 80, but the longtime Dodger has not forgotten even the smallest pieces of this larger-than-life era, many of which appear in a book published this spring called, “Fairly at Bat.’’
Written with co-author Steve Springer, a former Los Angeles Times reporter, the book is an important reminder that the Dodgers haven’t always gone 30 years between championships.
There was a time — before Kersh, before Gibby, before Fernando, before Bulldog, before Penguin, even before Tommy — when they seemed to win almost every year.
Soon after inhabiting this town, they owned this town, and maintained that ownership during an incredible mid-1960s streak that, if it happened today, would make them baseball’s version of the Golden State Warriors or New England Patriots.
During an eight-year span, they won three World Series titles, four National League pennants and lost another pennant in a playoff. Their roster was filled with the likes of Hall of Famers Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, Duke Snider and Reese, legends joined by greats like Maury Wills, Tommy Davis, Willie Davis, Johnny Podres and Jim Gilliam.
During this time, they set a World Series attendance record at the Coliseum, opened Dodger Stadium and became ingrained in the fabric of Southern California life.
“One year after a franchise fell into the lap of this city, a dynasty showed up,’’ said Mark Langill, Dodgers historian. “Championships, stars, one parade after another, this was when the Dodgers all became household names.’’
Fairly, a local kid and USC product, was one of those names during his 11-year Dodgers career. Throughout the book, he tells great stories about many others.
“We got a head start on the Lakers and captured the imagination of Southern California,’’ Fairly said. “We were Hollywood.’’
There are stories about Koufax, a pitcher so good that when he was scheduled to pitch, the bullpen partied.
In 1963, reliever Pete Richert showed up for one Koufax start with a raging hangover. He figured he could drink the previous night because Koufax never came out of a game.
Well, on this day, Koufax struggled early, and a wobbling Richert was called to warm up early on a hot afternoon at Dodger Stadium.
After Richert had been given ample time to get ready, manager Walt Alston came to the mound to replace his star.
“How do you feel?’’ Alston asked Koufax.
“Better than the guy you have warming up,’’ Koufax said.
Alston spun on his heels and walked off the mound. Koufax settled down and the Dodgers eventually earned the victory.
For every Koufax story, there is one about Drysdale, the famously aggressive pitcher who would knock Fairly down with inside pitches even during spring-training batting practice.
“Ah, hell, Ron,’’ Drysdale told him, “you’re going to get knocked down during the season. I thought you might want to practice that, too.’’
Once in Chicago, Drysdale was drinking all night with Cubs infielder Don Zimmer, a former teammate. Before the next day’s game, Zimmer told his teammates that Drysdale, who was the Dodgers’ starting pitcher, was surely still drunk.
Drysdale, a 6-foot-6 bear of a man who was feeling fine, heard about what Zimmer was saying and decided to milk it. When the Cubs came to bat in the bottom of the first, Drysdale acted like he couldn’t see catcher John Roseboro, who was in on the joke.
Roseboro stood and shouted, “Over here!’’ to Drysdale, who promptly threw his first pitch over the batter’s head and to the backstop.
From the Cubs’ dugout, Drysdale heard frightened players muttering that he was, indeed, drunk. Nobody wanted to bat. Ron Santo came to the plate and shouted, “Hey Don, can you see me?’’
Drysdale knocked a few guys down before throwing a complete-game victory and striking out 10. After, he invited Zimmer to dinner again. Zimmer refused.
“There was a certain toughness to our teams; it carried over from the Boys of Summer in Brooklyn,’’ Fairly said.
This toughness came from the top. During one difficult trip, Alston ordered the team bus to pull to the side of the road. He challenged any unhappy players to fight him on the street. Alston stepped off the bus and waited while casually smoking a cigarette. He had no takers.
Then there was the economically based toughness of pitcher Stan Williams, who had a clause in his contract that would pay him $500 if he issued fewer than a designated number of walks.
Williams was so intent on earning the bonus that every time he went to 3-and-0 on a batter he would hit him to avoid a walk.
“There was no way I could throw three strikes in a row,’’ Williams said. “So I just stuck one in the batter’s ribs.’’
Williams will forever be remembered for walking in the go-ahead run during a ninth-inning meltdown in the decisive 1962 playoff game against the San Francisco Giants. But he was only one of several Dodgers who contributed to that blown 4-2 lead and crushing 6-4 loss. Fairly writes that Drysdale should have been summoned to close that game, but he was being saved for Game One of the World Series that never happened.
“It was the worst inning I ever played in while wearing a Dodger uniform,’’ Fairly recalled.
He remembers both the good and bad from a monumental era that should not be allowed to fade away.
“People have no idea how good those guys were,’’ Fairly said.