When Walter O'Malley moved his Brooklyn Dodgers to Los Angeles, the big question on everybody's mind was not how well the Dodgers would do afield but whether Los Angeles would support them in the style to which they had become accustomed. "That's a football town out there," O'Malley was warned by some advisers. "It's a beach town," others said. "Those kids are raised on surfboards, not ball fields." "You can't get anybody to leave his backyard barbecue for a lousy ball game," still others cautioned.
And so it went. "They don't have any baseball tradition out there. They raise tennis players and shotputters," was a typical remark. "San Francisco will be better than L.A.," sniffed Horace Stoneham. "That's just an opening-day crowd down there."
Those who knew Los Angeles best compressed their lips and said nothing. They had heard it all before. When the late, shrewd Doc Strub proposed to set up Santa Anita race track near Los Angeles in 1934, the Cassandras were already at work: "If you set up your track on downtown Broadway, those creeps'll step around it to get to a fortuneteller," he was told. When the Cleveland Rams wanted to move their pro football franchise to Los Angeles in 1946 they were given a headshake: "That's a college football town out there. They don't care about the pros."
So now it's summer 1958. The Los Angeles Dodgers, like Santa Anita and the Los Angeles Rams, have set wondrous attendance marks. And Angelenos have been deserting their surfboards and barbecue pits under the jacaranda trees in swarms to motor over the freeways to the Coliseum and sit in on the strangest baseball show in the history of the sport. The stands are full of football fans, college and pro, tennis players, shotputters, beach bums, movie stars—and even baseball fans. To date, an unbelievable 949,802 of them have paid their way through the turnstiles to get in on the fun, and enough others—ladies, knotholers and just plain freeloaders—have made it in to swell the actual figure to well over a million. For the first 33 home games, the Los Angeles Dodgers are the most fabulous success at the box office baseball has ever seen.
SHARE THE WEALTH
Nor does the story stop there. At 27½¢ a head as the visiting club's share, the Dodgers have passed out to the other clubs in the league well over $250,000. The Milwaukee Braves alone lugged home $47,000 as their share of a single three-game series as 171,000 fans turned out, or more than saw the five-game World Series in 1933.
The concession profit is staggering. The biggest single concession day in baseball history was May 4 of this year, at the only double-header to date, when 38,000 customers spent at a rate of 92¢ a head. In the knothole section alone one afternoon, 10,000 kids bought $8,000 worth of pop and ice cream. There has been $60,000 spent on Dodger souvenirs, and it sometimes seems at first glance as if everyone in Los Angeles is sporting a royal-blue Dodger baseball cap. The concessionaires have turned over $150,000 to O'Malley and have an astronomical (and gastronomical) average of 57¢ a head from O'Malley's customers. On game day, the Los Angeles Coliseum is the world's greatest outdoor smorgasbord.
Subsidiary businesses have flourished also. Local factories are engaged in turning out cheap imitations of Dodger caps (which has inspired the official capmaker to take an ad in the Sporting News, offering Angelenos the genuine article by mail order). And another small band of small businessmen has set up such a lively business in the palm trees and shrubs around the Coliseum at night games that the police have been forced to advertise for them. The increase in mugging robberies is marked at night games, they report.
Beer and liquor consumption is forbidden at the Coliseum, but the stacks of empties after a game make it clear that prohibition, as usual, is unpopular with the masses, and bootlegging is getting around it. The Dodger special police, who cannot arrest, only eject, have taken to shaking down the ticket holders for Thermoses full of Martinis, half pints of sour mash and king-sized cans of beer. Claim checks are issued for them when detected, but liquor store sales around the ball park attest that contraband gets through the Dodger police cordon as frequently as ground balls through the Dodger infield.
When it became clear that the Dodgers in Los Angeles were a staggering fiscal success, it next became incumbent upon the Cassandras to find a good reason for it—not the real one, a good one. It was decided that the fans were just out to see the elephant for the first time around. These were just curiosity seekers, not baseball fans. Los Angeles, they still insisted, just wasn't a sophisticated baseball town. They really didn't comprehend what they were seeing.