This Day in Dodger Baseball -- Feb. 17, 1958

After being rebuffed by New York City officials to help find a suitable site to build a new baseball park in Brooklyn, the Dodgers accepted an offer from Los Angeles officials to move to the left coast and settle in Chavez Ravine, a site just blocks from downtown. The move was heavily criticized in Brooklyn but it led to expansion of the Golden West.

Ebbets Field was crumbling, there was little parking and Dodger attendance -- topped at 1,807,526 in 1947 -- slid ever downward despite winning six pennants, tying for first once, finishing second twice and third twice:
1947 - 1,807,525 
1948 - 1,398,967 
1949 - 1,633,747 
1950 - 1,185,896 
1951 - 1,282,628  
1952 - 1,088,704 
1953 - 1,163,419
1954 - 1,020,581 
1955 - 1,033,589 
1956 - 1,213,562
1957 - 1,028,556
However, when it came to putting a drafting pencil to the plans for a new park, in Los Angeles it became apparent that the process would take longer than originally thought. Cries of "giveaway" by city officials that opposed the Dodgers taking over Chavez Ravine delayed construction and spawned lawsuits, countersuits and appeals that delayed plans for a new stadium.

Dodger President Walter O'Malley had traded their Class AA Fort Worth franchise and stadium to Chicago Cub owner P.K. Wrigley for his stadium in Los Angeles, also known as Wrigley Field and the club had determined that they would open the 1958 season there.

However, when it was announced in November of 1957 that advance tickets were being sold, demands very quickly overwhelmed the 22,000 seat Wrigley Field. The Rose Bowl was considered but it was decided that the Coliseum would be a 'better' fit, despite the fact that Rams Coach Pete Roselle wanted home plate to face the setting sun so his team would not have to play on the skinned part of the infield.

Commissioner Ford Frick, fretting about the delaying tactics the Dodgers faced, got into the act by saying that he hoped Babe Ruth's home run record would not be broken "in a cow pasture." O'Malley winced at the remark but the comment stirred members of the Coliseum Commission to new action.

As time was running out, the Commission accepted the agreement that would allow the infield in the west end of the coliseum. A 42-foot screen down the left field line was installed and the Dodgers were responsible for the cost taking it down and putting it up when the team was not in town.

The screen penalized line-drive hitters, converting their shots into singles and helped fly-ball hitters whose long, arching drives cleared the screen and fell into the crowd.

Right field was 300-feet at the foul line but the fence quickly bowed out to 440-feet in center field, making lefthanded hitting Duke Snider comment he would trade places with any righthanded hitter in the world. After five straight 40+ home run totals in Brooklyn, Snider would slide to

The Coliseum held 101,000 but configured for baseball, "only" some 95,000 baseball seats would be available. New light towers on the west end of the field added to the already excellent lighting and the dugouts were located on either side of the large service entrance.

The Dodger and Giants, who moved at the same time to San Francisco, opened Major League Baseball in California. Don Drysdale pitched the opener in Seals Stadium and was battered 8-0. Johnny Podres won the first Dodger game on the coast the following day and Don Newcombe absorbed a 7-4 loss in the third game of the series.

Moving to Los Angles, the Dodgers won their first game in the Coliseum 6-5 in front of 78,672 fans. Third baseman Dick Gray banged the first Dodger homer and Carl Erskine collected the victory.

Attendance for the three game set was recorded at 167,202, some 817,000 more than in 1957 in Brooklyn. However, the aging Dodgers sank into seventh place as their first season in L.A. ended.

Despite their worst finish since the war year of 1944, total attendance was 1,845,556 -- a new franchise record, topping Jackie Robinson's 1947 pennant winner. They also set major league attendance records of 78,627 for a single game, 66,485 for a night doubleheader, 60,635 for a night game and 171,326 for a three-game series.

The Los Angeles Times' Frank Finch noted, "The story of the Dodgers' life in Los Angeles ... a story of ineptitude and frustration." And Sports Editor Paul Zimmerman wrote, "L.A. fans are entitled to a stronger team. We've had all the alibis -- the move West, the short left field and long right field fences, the Chavez Ravine situation, injuries, etc., etc. It is high time action supplanted alibis."

The Dodger front office had decided that the Los Angeles fans would want to see the Brooklyn stars but age had overtaken them and with the distractions, they were never in the pennant race.

But O'Malley countered. "I am confident that if we could have had the same start as the Giants did this year, we could have hit 3,000,000 at the Coliseum. No club has ever done it but Los Angeles is the one place in baseball where it can be done. We have the team, we'll hit it."

Los Angeles finally passed the referendum to allow the contract with the Dodgers to be completed -- but it was by a tiny margin. Of the 666,577 votes cast, it carried by 24,293 votes.

With minor changes in the roster the unexpectedly won the 1959 pennant and then stopped the Chicago White Sox in the World Series four games to two. Outfielder Gino Cimoli was traded to St. Louis for Wally Moon; Jim Gilliam replaced Gray at third base; at shortstop Don Zimmer was replaced by Maury Wills and Carl Furillo gave way to Don Demeter in right field. Stan Williams replaced Danny McDevitt in the starting rotation.

Gil Hodges 1b, Charlie Neal 2b, Duke Snider cf, and Johnny Roseboro kept their positions during the pennant surge. And the Captain, Pee Wee Reese had retired and become a coach.

The three World Series games in the Coliseum drew 92,395, 92,650 and 92,706 fans -- a stunning total of 277,751, a record that will stand for some time.

The Dodgers would play in the Coliseum in 1959, 60 and 61 before Dodger Stadium would be finally completed in 1962. The team played before 2,07,045 in 1959; 2,253,887 in 1960 and 1,804,250 in their lame-duck season of 1961.

They drew almost 8 million fans in the first four seasons, all in the oddly-shaped Coliseum, and 2,755,184 the first year in Dodger Stadium.

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