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Walter Bingham
April 23, 1962
The game busted out all over with tinseled stadiums, fascinating new teams and a touch of carnival hoopla. Outlook: more color, more interest, more baseball
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April 23, 1962

Boom Goes Baseball

The game busted out all over with tinseled stadiums, fascinating new teams and a touch of carnival hoopla. Outlook: more color, more interest, more baseball

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All it lacked was 76 trombones and 50 beautiful girls 50. The opening of the baseball season, that is. The national game opened under the most gaudy, razzle-dazzle, Veeckian circumstances imaginable. There were ticker-tape parades on Broadway, stentorian speeches by city fathers in Los Angeles, record crowds in the bad-draw town of Washington and so many bright colors festooning the new stadium in Houston that players dubbed it "the rainbow sherbet." Art improved on life: the grass at Chavez Ravine was dyed greener than green; the ground crew at Houston donned fluorescent orange coveralls, blue cowboy boots trimmed with orange and blue cowboy hats. "Everybody so hoppy," said Roman Mejias of the Colt .45s, "it makes me so hoppy," whereupon he drilled a pair of three-run homers.

Baseball 1962, the liveliest corpse in town, opened officially in Washington when the President of the United States rose from his seat in the new District of Columbia Stadium (anybody who is anybody has a new stadium this year) and lobbed a ball at a grasping group of players knotted in front of him. Mr. Kennedy has lost some of his stuff this year—the pitch fell short. But the game didn't. Merrily ducking a foul ball by Willie Tasby, and at one point retreating under the stands to wait out a shower, the President—and 44,383 other fans—thoroughly enjoyed the Senators' 4-1 win over Detroit.

The new Colt .45s added to their own regional gaiety by reeling off a dazzling string of three straight wins (over Chicago) to the accompaniment of rolling drums and near-capacity houses. What did it matter that these wins were merely a harbinger of things not to come? And who cared that a Houston sportswriter pointed out that the Titanic had been launched 50 years before and had sunk five days later? Everyone knew that the Colt .45s would win at least a few more games in their carefully doctored home park, where the infield grass waves tall. ("They planted rice," complained Cub Coach Charlie Metro. Said Houston Manager Harry Craft: "When we make any changes in our park, it'll be to suit ourselves, no one else.")

But the biggest whoop-de-do of all was in Los Angeles, the movie, drive-in and strikeout capital of the world. After four hectic years during which he was sued, cursed and ridiculed, Walter O'Malley had turned a goat pasture called Chavez Ravine into the finest baseball stadium in the world. Some 52,000 people, just under capacity, turned out to see O'Malley's dream-come-true and, incidentally, to watch a little baseball. By the end of the first week total attendance at Chavez had exceeded 200,000, and O'Malley, who had sunk $18 private millions into his stadium, was out ordering a new, oversize money belt.

For a while there had been some doubt that the stadium would be ready in time for the opening game. Heavy winter rains delayed work, and the Los Angeles county supervisors suggested that O'Malley had better line up the Coliseum for the first Dodger home stand. But during the week before the opener the work crews labored around the clock—the glow from the stadium could be seen for miles—and O'Malley spent most of each day at the park. "Here's the gent again," said a plasterer. "We've seen more of him out here than we have our own boss."

O'Malley is a graduate engineer and he was constantly making suggestions. During the final week he inspected the Dodger dugout. "Ira," he called to his project engineer, "it seems to me this bench needs to be pulled out from the wall a couple of inches. Maybe it should have a backrest on it, too. If one of our guys is going to fall asleep out here we want him to fall back against the wall and not out on his face where 50,000 people can see him."

On the morning of the dedication ceremonies—the day before the opening game—someone asked O'Malley how he felt. "Just fine," he answered. "Really wonderful. Haven't slept in a week."

The ceremonies began on the steps of city hall. The Dodgers, in their home uniforms, sat up front in a long row and shifted back and forth impatiently as practically everyone in Los Angeles—politicians, bankers, ad men and auto dealers—was introduced. Ford Frick, the Commissioner of Baseball, made a speech in which he called O'Malley a man with the "courage, imagination and stamina to move a mountain.

"When you see that thing out there, that stadium," Frick said, waving a finger to the east, "then you will visualize the answer to some of those crybabies who say"—his voice cracked with emotion—"baseball is dying." O'Malley puffed on his 606 Manila cigar and smiled. Then Warren Giles, president of the National League, said something that sounded like "courage, imagination and stamina," and sat down. A third statesman predicted that the new stadium might become "a symbol of peace for this world." O'Malley smiled, then got up and told the faithful that now they knew there were other things that were long and drawn-out besides baseball. Everyone piled into a long line of shiny new cars and drove out to see what Walter O'Malley had wrought.

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