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Dodger Stadium has the most garrulous message board in all of baseball, no mean accomplishment at a time when such appliances are given to prolixity, dazzling us with quizzes, statistics and other trivia, WELCOME TO BEAUTIFUL DODGER STADIUM reads the board as the fans arrive. Then, in a paroxysm of electronic conviviality, it sets about addressing each of them by name. A DODGER STADIUM WELCOME TO HELEN AND EARL SNYDER, LONG-TIME DODGER FANS...A DODGER STADIUM WELCOME TO SID AND MAY RIMER FROM LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND—SEEING FIRST DODGER GAME. DODGER STADIUM ANNIVERSARY GREETINGS TO...DODGER STADIUM BIRTHDAY GREETINGS TO....
The message board is meticulous about getting its readers' hometowns straight, and in the course of a leisurely game it will contrive to mention virtually every one of the numberless communities that fill the Los Angeles basin. During a recent evening when the Padres were in town, greetings were extended to visitors from Chino, Pomona, Ontario, Anaheim, Pasadena, Long Beach, San Jacinto, Huntington Park, Yucaipa, Norwalk, Culver City, Glendale, Burbank, Alhambra, Downey, Beverly Hills, La Habra, Ventura, Northridge, Van Nuys, Glendora, Montebello, Hacienda Heights, Simi Valley, Claremont, Sierra Madre, Highland Park, Whittier, Costa Mesa, Thousand Palms, Palm Springs and Oceanside, to name just a few. Anyone wishing to have his birthday, engagement, wedding or anniversary, or perhaps, divorce acknowledged by the board need only call Dodger Stadium between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. on game days. The board sustains a running commentary as long as there are athletes on the field and fans in the stands. One almost expects it to extend Dodger Stadium Apologies to those few it has overlooked and, therefore, consigned to anonymity.
The Hollywood celebrities who have descended on Dodger Stadium in increasing numbers this season are safe from such a fate, because Lasorda himself dances attendance upon them in his dressing room. During his 19 seasons as the Los Angeles manager, Walter Alston conducted his business in an office the size of an airplane lavatory. The taciturn Midwesterner was not the sort to exchange ripostes with Cary Grant, so although many of the stars have long been loyal Dodger fans, few of them had been seen in the clubhouse until this year. All that has changed with the ascendency of the star-struck Lasorda. He selected as his office a room once used by the trainers and has had it carpeted in Dodger Blue from wall to autographed-picture wall. Here, in capacious grandeur, he entertains his famous friends in a manner reminiscent of the late Elsa Maxwell. Wines are served, and catered Chinese dinners are delivered. The guest list reads like Johnny Carson's. Already this season, Lasorda has wined, dined and exchanged Beverly Hills bearhugs with, among others, Frank Sinatra, Jonathan Winters, Don Rickles, Shecky Greene, Gene Kelly, Huntz Hall, Irving (Swifty) Lazar, Tom Jones, Danny Kaye, Telly Savalas, Walter Matthau, soap opera star and former baseball player Johnny Beradino and, representing another Los Angeles team, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Mike Douglas did a segment of his talk show in Lasorda's office, and Winters performed a baseball skit there before an audience of players.
"What do you think about all this?" Lasorda shouts exultantly in his cannonading voice. "Who'd ever think that the third-string pitcher for the Norristown, Pee-ay high school team would be hanging around people like this?"
Visiting newspapermen seeking an audience with Lasorda have been startled to find themselves being introduced instead to Kelly or the legendary agent Lazar, who once handled Ernest Hemingway's affairs. One journalist wishing to discuss baseball matters with the roly-poly manager last week found Lasorda engaged in an animated telephone conversation. Everybody's host on the Coast beckoned the visitor to be seated while he talked.
"Francis," he bellowed into the blower, "how the hell are you? Yeah, the team's goin' good right now. Hooton's hurt his arm, though, and Russell can't play tonight. But we're doin' better than the last time you were here. Hey, Frank, what I want to talk to you about is that on Sept. 30 we're having a celebrity long-ball hitting contest here. I've been telling everybody about what power you had in your day. How about it? Yeah, yeah." Deafening laughter. "Hey, Frank, there's somebody here doing a story on the team. I'd consider it a personal favor if you'd talk to him. O.K., I'll put him right on."
The receiver was handed to the dumbfounded sportswriter. On the other end of the line he heard Sinatra's unmistakable voice. He listened as Old Blue Eyes, who reportedly has spent the better part of a career denouncing all journalists as prostitutes and worse, pleasantly sang the praises of Lasorda. "Of course I was rooting for Tommy to get the managerial job," the Voice said. "Everybody has been trying to boost him along. The players adore him. I think he's an unusual kind of manager. He stays so close to the kids. He has such a genuine quality about him. I know I like him. I've always been a good friend of Leo's [Durocher], and Tommy is just as gregarious. But Leo's drive is more...well...boisterous. I've seen him get thrown out of games. But Tommy is just great. Tell him he's a little overweight, though. I've just lost 32 pounds."
The journalist wordlessly handed the phone back to Lasorda.
"Yeah, thanks a lot, Frank. And say hello to Barbara."
The celebrities are highly visible in Dodger Stadium. Sinatra has a box behind the Dodgers' dugout, and he and Gregory Peck dined in the plush Dodger Stadium Club before a game with Cincinnati last month. But the team's promotion department, which works feverishly the year round, does not feel the big names are much of a lure for fans in a town where you are apt to end up standing in line behind Jack Nicholson in the meat market. It is the team that attracts the crowds, and more than any other organization, Los Angeles makes certain that even the most reclusive sorts in their potential audience know about the Dodgers. "Promotion requires everyday persistence," Board Chairman Walter O'Malley has said. "We have never taken the position that tickets will sell themselves."