When clubs like the Phillies and Pirates drew as well the second time around, this argument sank to last place quicker than the Dodgers. The baseball men who advanced it were overlooking the fact that Los Angeles had been the only minor league town in baseball that supported not one but two minor league franchises, and that both made money. Moreover, it has been established that California historically leads both leagues in producing players for baseball, and that the state has a lively tradition in baseball which antedates even John McGraw.
WHY SO BAD?
The really complex question, of course, is why Los Angeles supports as abysmal a loser as the Dodgers have proved to be, and its corollary, why the Dodgers have proved to be as bad as they have.
"They told us you have to have a winner to succeed in Los Angeles," admits the somewhat baffled Dodger vice-president, Fresco Thompson. "But I have never seen such continuous, concentrated enthusiasm. I don't believe another town in baseball would tolerate the kind of baseball we are delivering. I would shudder to think what the fans in Ebbets Field, if they were there at all, would be saying at this stage of the game if we were dead last and playing the way we have been."
If the Coliseum fans were sitting in pained, perplexed silence at the Dodger debacles, say like residents of the Belgian Congo watching a barnstorming baseball troupe, the phenomenon would be easier to explain. But Los Angeles fans are usually having more fun than a Cub Scout pack at Disneyland. Ebbets Field Hilda has been replaced by a shirtless cat who never misses a game and takes up his stand behind third base, equipped with an air horn and a freshly filled container of air which he looses periodically with a doomsday blast from the horn and a Teddy Roosevelt bellow of "Ch-a-a-rge!" whenever something happens on the field. It doesn't matter what. "These people yell whether the score is 9-0 for us or 9-0 against us," notes Fresco Thompson in some perplexity.
This is not to say the fans have entirely taken the Dodgers into the bosom of the family. There is almost no booing in the Coliseum. Even the umpires escape. A boo-boo on the part of the Dodgers usually draws a kind of reproachful exclamation or an "Isn't-that-too-bad!" sigh from the packed stands. And this has to be taken as a lack of wholehearted affection. The Dodgers are still quasi-guests-in-the-house and one doesn't chew them out for failing to hang up their wet towels or playing the radio too loud—yet. This is one reason why the recent trade of Don Newcombe for Steve Bilko, longtime Los Angeles slugger, will be good for the fans although not good for the team. Bilko belongs, and the crowd can release a lot of pent-up hostility when Big Steve boots one. He'd better hang up his wet towels, the big bum.
Artistically as well as athletically, the Dodger show was enough to discourage a saint. The field, like the team, is the worst in the league (for pure baseball). Its well-publicized dimensions, 250 feet down the left-field line and infinity down the right, have panicked baseball men from the commissioner himself down to the Dodger mound staff. It is hot as a brick kiln at the start of an afternoon game and often as cool as a Popsicle at the end of an evening game.
The playing field itself is scabrous where the grass has been burned out and torn up. The Dodgers blame the Boy Scout shows and track meets which take place between home games, but the Coliseum blames the Brooklyn-bred groundskeepers who, they say, do not seem to comprehend that a field on which no rain will fall and a 100° sun will shine all summer cannot be hose-watered (it evaporates before soaking the roots) and has to be flooded like a rice field almost daily. Wherever the fault lies, the field looks terrible. And the baseball, at times, has been enough to get John McGraw thumbed out of Heaven if he gets a look at it.
Why, then, does Los Angeles not only support it but pamper it?
A canvass of a score of fans shows that there are many reasons for the extraordinary indulgence on the part of the supporters. Number one, they realize that the Chavez Ravine controversy, regardless of its merit or lack of it, was no fault of the players, yet could not help but rattle them somewhat. No one can do good work under insecure conditions.