Saturday, March 13, 2010

Baseball Place No. 80: Massive Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum; Place 80A: Massive Cleveland Stadium

It must have seemed strange for the 1958 Dodgers to go from their beautiful and intimate Ebbets Field – which was kind of like Citi Field without the majesty of the home run apple – to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

The stadium, home to two Olympics and a lot football, was retrofitted for baseball so the Dodgers had a place to play while their palace at Chavez Ravine was under construction.

Josh Pahigan takes us there for place No. 80 in his “101 Baseball Places to See Before You Strike Out.”

I was in L.A. for a conference in 2003, and a little time to sneak in visits to Dodger Stadium and Angels Stadium, but didn’t get to the coliseum.

Sounds like people went to Dodgers games in those days to see major league baseball without actually getting close to much baseball, since many of the seats were ridiculously far away from the action.

Other things were too close, like the leftfield fence. The wall was just 251 feet from home plate – or 30 feet closer than the fence on my softball field. Of course, I’d like to have the 42-foot-tall fence that Dodger pitchers had when I take the hill, since my slow-pitch arcs occasionally arc back over by head and land on the adjoining field.

That happened to Dodger pitchers, too. There was talk of adding a second fence 80 feet beyond the first, and balls that dropped between the two would count as ground rule doubles, but it never happened.

Despite the quirks, the team drew nearly 93,000 fans to 1959 World Series games, a record that still stands.

I did enjoy a game in the stadium that previously held that mark, at 86,288 fans. That would be:

Place 80A: Cleveland Stadium

Cleveland was the last stop of the epic baseball road trip of 1989. Rick, Mark and I watched the Red Sox and Blue Jays at SkyDome on June 30, and the plan was to make the fairly short trip through Niagara Falls and to Ohio with plenty of time for fun.

Alas, we were unaware that July 1 is Canada Day. And apparently Canadians celebrate by packing as many cars as they can on the 403 because we spent much of the day stuck in traffic. After several hours of inching along, we started to fear that we would not get to the game in Cleveland on time.

We got there just in time, frazzled, on each other’s nerves and out of film. I set off on my own to do some exploring.

Cleveland Stadium was ready for baseball by 1932, and was massive. The centerfield fence was 470 feet from home until owner Bill Veeck created an inner-fence to cut down the distance.

Veeck, a known bad ass, actually moved fences in and out depending on whether his team would benefit until the American League banned the practice.

The old stadium was one of the most derided in the game when we arrived. It was old, and so huge that even a nice-sized crowd left the place looking half-empty. It didn’t help that the Indians were horrible and had been for years.

We did get a close-up view of former Mets hero Jesse Orosco, who was then on the Indians and appearing in a pre-game autograph booth for several hundred children.

Wondering around the stadium, I heard the unmistakable boom-boom-boom of a bass drum coming from the outer reaches of the ballpark. Bing a National League fan, I was not familiar with John Adams, a super fan who brings his drum and pounds away to inspire the team.

The sound echoed throughout the stadium, and I wandered out to meet Adams, sitting in a section he pretty much had to himself, with the drum propped in the seat in front of them.

We watched the game together, and he converted me. I described the scene in my story about the trip for the Bridgeport Post.

“People say a lot of bad things about this stadium, but they’re wrong,” he said, drumstick in hand, waiting for the next Tribe hit.

“First of all, there are plenty of great seats. This place seats more than 70,000, so I know I’ll never have any trouble getting a ticket.

“Now I know a lot of people say, ‘Yeah, but there are columns that block the view,’” he said, pointing the drumstick at the upper deck. “But that’s bull and I’ll tell you why. Let’s say there are 10,000 seats that in some way block a portion of the field. Even better, for the sake of argument, let’s say there are 20,000. That still leaves 50,000 seats with an unobstructed view. And 50,000 seats are more than Wrigley Field has in the entire ballpark.”

Adams was cut off when Indians star Joe Carter, one of our favorite non-Mets, launched a two-run homer, sending Adams into a drum-pounding frenzy.

The game was a good one, with Mark McGwire and Dave Henderson – another of our favorite non-Mets – starting for Oakland, and Rickey Henderson delivering a broken-bat pinch single to drive in the winning runs.

Adams sold me on the park. It was comfortable, and a great contrast from our previous day at the brand new SkyDome. It became one of my favorites.

The Indians moved to their new park, Jacobs Field, in 1994 and the Browns left for Baltimore after the 1995 season.

That left the massive stadium without a tenant and a date with the wrecking ball. Pieces of the stadium were dumped into Lake Erie to form a reef for fishermen.

Not every piece. Will was living in Columbus at the time, and called with some news. The Indians were selling seats for a reasonable price. He was making the trip to Cleveland to get one, and wanted to know if I wanted one, too. Actually, he knew I wanted one. That was a rhetorical question.

He said workers directed him to drive right into the stadium, where they loaded two yellow seats into his car. Andrew and I made the trip down soon after, a wonderful reunion. And today, the seat from Cleveland Stadium is one of the centerpieces of the basement baseball room.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Ahh, the Mistake by the Lake. Believe it or not, I never saw a baseball game there -- a most lamentable (and embarrassing) omission from my ballparks resume.

My only (lame) defense was that I was a Reds fan, so I had no interest in making the trek to Cleveland. OK, there were other reasons but none existed by the time I actually was making some decent dough and was treking around the country to see old parks. Shameful!

Anyway, I did see two concerts there: The Who in 1989 and Pink Floyd in 1994. And all I can say is Muni Stadium was a great place to visit -- ONLY if there wasn't a real crowd. Both concerts were packed to the point where it was near impossible to move under the stadium. The aisles were so narrow that we were like cattle in the stockyards (and given that the first go-round was The Who, being so tightly packed led to a bit of discomfort).

And then there were the men's rooms, where well-prepared rock fans who had no patience to wait for a urinal used the nearest sink or trash can -- whatever was handy.

Finally there was the weather. The Who show was in July and the weather was fine. The Floyd show, Memorial Day weekend, was not: drizzly and a robust 41 degrees. Yikes!

So, no, one can't really say that I'm much of a Muni guy. But still ... there was no doubt I was going to get a seat from the old yard when it went under the wrecking ball. And, as Dave noted, I drove up the morning before a work shift (leaving at like 6 a.m. after having worked till 1 that same morning). When I got to the stadium, I asked the guy at the gate where I should go, and he said, "just drive right down on the field and get what you want" Excuse me? You want me to drive right down and park in the end zone where John Elway broke the hearts of Browns fans in 1987 with THE DRIVE? Awesome!

So down I went and pulled in right about the spot where Mark Jackson caught the TD ball with 39 seconds remaining and took in the sights. Ah, glorious! There's the spot where Bobby Bonds once hit a lost pop fly in the fog that no one ever saw come down (necessitating a rare fog-out)! And there's the spot where the Texas Rangers rushed the field with bats in hand to rescue fallen teammates from drunken Clevelanders during 10-cent beer night! And there's where the 1954 Indians, which won 111 games, sat after they tanked the World Series in four straight -- the last playoff baseball game Muni would host until Ricky Vaughn and company showed up in and ... no waitaminnit ... that actually took place in Milwaukee.

OK, just kidding. It was very cool to be there, and I was able to take my pick of seats. There were singles and doubles in various rows, plus a few piles of what could be called trash. I grabbed two singles, loaded them in my car and called it a day.

Good times.