It is said that baseball fans in Los Angeles will cheer anything that moves in Dodger Blue. As if to verify that statement, on a balmy evening last week the multitudes in "Beautiful Dodger Stadium" cheered a middle-aged man named Richard Dickson, who was attired in full Dodger apparel. Dickson was carrying a butterfly net with which he endeavored to capture live flies knocked out of a glass jar by Los Angeles Pitcher Tommy John. Dickson was being coached in this largely futile exercise by none other than Dodger Manager Tom Lasorda, who solemnly advised him to "keep your eye on the fly, Rich, your eye on the fly." Presiding over these bizarre proceedings was Bob Hilton, a prototypical television announcer—fluffy blond hair sprayed into place, blue blazer, open-necked white sports shirt, wrinkle-free gray slacks, Westbrook Van Voorhis voice you could hear in Canoga Park.
Hilton and his crew were filming fly-chaser Dickson for a sequence on the Truth or Consequences TV show. Get the picture? Dickson, a true-blue Dodger fan, was told by the emcee back at the studio that he would be outfitted in a Dodger uniform and brought to Dodger Stadium, where Lasorda would coach him in the technique of catching flies batted to him by John. All too true, Dickson must have thought, as John pounded the flies out of the jar toward his net. Naturally, this inane venture had the full cooperation of the Dodgers, who cooperate with everyone. And, of course, the Dodger fans viewed this pre-game nonsense with characteristic good cheer as it unfolded before them near third base. Dickson might charitably be considered a weirdo anywhere but in Southern California, where catching flies with a butterfly net while wearing a baseball uniform is, while not exactly routine behavior, not very far out of the ordinary. Indeed, at Dodger Stadium, Dickson emerged as something of a hero.
There are many heroes at Chavez Ravine these exciting days, but the biggest of all may be the fans themselves, because it is they, not the players they so adore, who are approaching a most remarkable major league record. By the end of last week, 2,790,153 of them had passed through the Dodger Stadium turnstiles this season, enough to surpass by 34,969 the major league attendance record set by the 1962 Dodger fans in the stadium's first year. With seven home dates remaining, including three with traditional rival San Francisco and one Fan Appreciation Day promotion, Dodgers attendance this year is likely to reach the heretofore unthinkable total of three million. Dodger fans are getting behind themselves, reaching back for that extra buck, girding themselves for the final push, congratulating themselves for having the good taste to back their club as no team in history has been supported, cheering for themselves to break their own record. As Fred Claire, the Dodgers' affable and canny vice-president for public relations and promotions, has pointed out, "How many times does a fan have a chance to be a part of a major league record?"
In Los Angeles he gets lots of opportunities. The Dodgers now hold virtually all of the big league attendance records, both for a season and for single games. Between 1958 and 1962, when the Dodgers played in the Los Angeles Coliseum, a football stadium, marking time while their stadium was being built, they attracted more than 90,000 fans to four different games. The largest crowd ever to see a baseball game—93,103—watched the Dodgers and the Yankees play an exhibition on Roy Campanella Night, May 7, 1959. That year the team also set World Series single-game records on consecutive days with crowds of 92,394, 92,650 and 92,706. In the vast, saucerlike Coliseum, many fans were seated so far from home that they may as well have been in another ball park. Still they came, cheering for themselves when the attendance figures appeared on the scoreboard.
Of the 10 highest season attendance totals, the Dodgers have seven, including the top two. (The others in the top 10 belong to the 1948 Indians, 1976 Reds and 1970 Mets.) They have drawn more than two million in 13 seasons and have averaged better than that for the 20 years they have been in Los Angeles. Two million is a figure most franchises never reach. This season the Dodgers hit it in their 50th game, the first time any team had drawn so many so soon. They have had 16 crowds of more than 50,000 (the average NFL team gets 56,482 a game for its seven-date home season) and 29 of more than 40,000. Their average for the year is slightly less than 39,000.
What the Dodgers have in their favor is depressingly apparent to competing franchises (although the opponents are more than happy with the money they receive as their 40�-a-ticket visitors' shares at Dodger Stadium): excellent teams (since 1958, the Dodgers have finished lower than fourth only four times); perfect weather (only seven rainouts in 20 years); a huge population base (10 million people live within 50 miles of Dodger Stadium); and the cleanest, best-run and maybe even prettiest of all ball parks.
Dodger Stadium itself draws fans. Situated in Chavez Ravine in the otherwise humdrum Echo Park section of Los Angeles, it is, at age 15, one of the oldest big league baseball stadiums, but it gets better looking every year. Palm trees wave seductively above the scalloped roofs of the pavilions in left and right field, and at sunset the forested hills beyond take on a lavender tint. The marigolds in the giant planters outside the park are replaced three times a season. The tiers of brightly colored seats rise above blue outfield fences and the lush green of a real grass field. It is a very nice place to watch a game.
The stadium was built expressly for baseball. And it was built by the Dodgers, thereby becoming the first privately financed ball park since Yankee Stadium was completed in 1923. No football games desecrate its turf; aside from an annual mobile home show, an occasional congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses and a rare rock concert starring the likes of Elton John, it is not used by anyone except the Dodgers.
The most appealing aspect of the place is its spit-and-polish cleanliness. You can almost check out the state of your hairdo by looking down at its polished concrete floors. Work crews numbering as many as 75 hose down and scrub the stadium daily. For large crowds—and there do not seem to be any other kind—there are attendants in all of the 75 rest rooms. The concession stands are immaculate, and they are thoroughly scrutinized before every game by various inspectors, one of whom makes his rounds on a skateboard. Every day an electrician checks all the bulbs in the structure by hustling from fixture to fixture on a motor scooter. As traffic enters the 16,000-car multilevel parking lot, it is directed from a booth on the stadium roof, and there is a service station on the lot, so the prudent fan can have his car lubricated, washed and gassed while he is inside the park.
The Dodgers employ their own security guards—as many as 85 for a capacity crowd—and 20 off-duty Los Angeles policemen to keep the multitudes in line. Several years ago, some unruly young patrons in the pavilions staged nightly punch-ups and tossed refuse on the field, particularly at Cincinnati's Pete Rose. Stadium Operations Director Bob Smith doused their spirits by cutting off beer sales in those sections. Fans there have been soberer and wiser ever since.