Coliseum Attendance Record Recalls Unforgettable 1959 Game

The Most Eyes Ever on the Field

The L.A. Coliseum was the original West Coast home of the transplanted Brooklyn Dodgers.

One hundred fifteen thousand and three hundred people can say they were there last Saturday night when baseball’s single-game attendance record was broken in Los Angeles. I had been tempted to join them when it was announced the Dodgers would celebrate their 50th anniversary in L.A. by playing an exhibition game in the Coliseum, their home for four seasons beginning in 1958, but I decided it would not be worth the headache of negotiating the traffic jams around the stadium just to get a whiff of nostalgia.

It is so much easier to close my eyes and remember what it was like 50 years ago. My family lived on the outskirts of L.A. I had been given a transistor radio for my 12th birthday in 1958 and used it almost exclusively to listen to the Dodger game broadcasts by Vin Scully and Jerry Doggett. Almost a year went by before my dad took me to my first major-league game at the Coliseum-on June 30, 1959-but, boy, was it ever worth the wait.

The Dodgers, much improved over the previous year, were in a three-way battle at the top of the National League standings with the Milwaukee Braves and San Francisco Giants. The Giants were the opponent that night, and the crowd of 59,312 at the Coliseum was larger than any that would be packed into Dodger Stadium. Our seats were less than ideal-50 rows up beyond the center-field fence, about 550 feet from home plate, the distance of Frank Howard‘s longest home run. But I was thrilled to be there. Many spectators around us had their radios going.

Don Drysdale, early in his Hall of Fame career, was on the mound for the Dodgers. The Giants’ pitcher was “Sad Sam” Jones. After two scoreless innings, Jim Davenport of the Giants led off the third with a double. That brought up Willie Mays, who promptly lifted a fly ball over the 42-foot screen in left field for a two-run homer.

An all-time record opening-day crowd of 78,672 witnessed the major league debut at Los Angeles Coliseum.

In the top of the sixth, it was still 2-0, and Mays smacked another high fly down the left-field line. On its downward arc, the ball appeared to hit some part of the structure supporting the screen. The umpires ruled it a ground-rule double. Giants manager Bill Rigney charged onto the field, arguing it should have been a home run. Even from a distance, we could see how agitated Rigney was, and the dispute raged for 10 minutes, with the Dodgers joining in. Scully’s description of the brouhaha was brilliant. I once heard it in a recording of the announcer’s early highlights with the Dodgers. He said the cords in Don Zimmer’s neck were standing out like the cables holding up the screen in left field.

In the top of the seventh, the Giants were denied again. Orlando Cepeda tried to score from third on a fly-out by Daryl Spencer, but Dodgers right fielder Duke Snider threw a one-hopper to John Roseboro that nailed Cepeda at the plate.

In the eighth inning, the drama was heightening because the Dodgers had yet to get a hit off Jones. After Zimmer and Ron Fairly went down swinging, the lanky Giants pitcher was four outs away from a no-hitter. Jim Gilliam then hit a slow grounder to shortstop. Andre Rodgers didn’t field it cleanly, and Gilliam beat his throw to first. The scorekeeper’s ruling-a hit!- joined the long string of thorns in the Dodger-Giant rivalry.

Jones settled for a one-hitter, and the Giants won 2-0. Yet it would be the Dodgers’ year. They edged the Braves in a playoff for the pennant and took the World Series in six games against the Chicago White Sox, drawing record crowds at the Coliseum. My eighth-grade teacher let us listen to the weekday games-there were five of them-in the classroom.

Nothing that happened at the Coliseum last Saturday could top my memory of that eventful game almost 49 years ago-bitter rivals, a pennant race, big plays by great players, controversies, and almost a no-hitter. Last week’s Dodgers-Red Sox exhibition was a gimmick, although a commendable one inasmuch as proceeds went to charity.

GAME OF THE WEEK: At 3:15 p.m. on Friday on Santa Barbara High’s Eddie Mathews Field, the Dons will face the Dos Pueblos Chargers in what should be an outstanding pitchers’ duel between Santa Barbara’s Mason Radeke-a no-hitter to his credit this year-and DP’s Chris Joyce, who’s averaging two strikeouts an inning.

Top Sporting Events: April 3-13

Thursday, April 3

College baseball Cuesta at SBCC, Pershing Park, 2 p.m.; Fresno Pacific at Westmont, 2 p.m.

College women’s tennis Long Beach State at UCSB, 1:30 p.m.

High school track & field Tri-City Relays at Dos Pueblos, 3 p.m.

Friday, April 4

College men’s tennis Fresno State at UCSB, 1:30 p.m.

High school baseball Dos Pueblos at Santa Barbara, 3:15 p.m.

Saturday, April 5

Running Law Day 5K, 10K, Palm Park, 8:30 a.m.

College softball Cal Poly at UCSB (2), 12 p.m.

College women’s water polo Arizona State at UCSB, 12 p.m.

College baseball Oxnard at SBCC, Pershing Park, 1 p.m.

College men’s tennis UC Davis at UCSB, 1 p.m.

College volleyball UC Irvine at UCSB, 7 p.m.

Sunday, April 6

College women’s tennis UC Riverside at UCSB, 10 a.m.

College softball Cal Poly at UCSB, 12 p.m.

College women’s water polo Cal at UCSB, 12 p.m.

College men’s tennis Pacific at UCSB, 12 p.m.

Every Monday

Santa Barbara Athletic Round Table press luncheon, Harry’s Plaza Cafe, noon.

Tuesday, April 8

College softball Fresno State at UCSB (2), 12 p.m.

High school baseball Ventura at Santa Barbara, 3:15 p.m.; Buena at Dos Pueblos, 3:15 p.m.; Mission Prep at Carpinteria, 4 p.m.

High school softball Malibu at Carpinteria, 3:30 p.m.

High school boys volleyball Santa Barbara at San Marcos, 6:30 p.m.

Wednesday, April 9

High school swimming Ventura at Dos Pueblos, 2:30 p.m.

College baseball The Master’s at Westmont, 3 p.m.

High school softball Camarillo at Dos Pueblos, 3:30 p.m.

Thursday, April 10

High school boys tennis Ventura at Santa Barbara, 2:30 p.m.

High school boys volleyball Dos Pueblos at Santa Barbara, 6:30 p.m.; Ventura at San Marcos, 6:30 p.m.

Friday, April 11

College women’s tennis UC Davis at UCSB, 1:30 p.m.

College baseball UC Davis at UCSB, 2 p.m.

High school swimming San Marcos at Santa Barbara, 2:30 p.m.; Mater Dei at Dos Pueblos, 2:30 p.m.

High school baseball Villanova Prep at Carpinteria, 3:30 p.m.

High school softball Ventura at Santa Barbara, 3:30 p.m.

College men’s volleyball Long Beach State at UCSB, Robertson Gym, 7 p.m.

Basketball Newport Beach at Santa Barbara Breakers, SBCC Sports Pavilion, 7:05 p.m.

Saturday, April 12

Running Are You Tough Enough? 105K, Toro Canyon Park to Nojoqui Falls Park, starting at 4 a.m. (individuals) and 7 a.m. (teams).

High school swimming Mater Dei at Santa Barbara, 10 a.m.

College baseball UC Davis at UCSB, 1 p.m.; Moorpark at SBCC, Pershing Park, 1 p.m.

College men’s volleyball UC San Diego at UCSB, Robertson Gym, 7 p.m.

Basketball Hollywood at Santa Barbara Breakers, SBCC Sports Pavilion, 7:05 p.m.

Sunday, April 13

College baseball UC Davis at UCSB, 1 p.m.

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