"In those early years we would sell enough ballplayers each spring to make ends meet at Dodgertown," says Bavasi, who served as the Dodgers' general manager from 1951 to 1968.
It was Rickey who said, "Luck is the residue of design," and at Dodgertown nothing has been done except by design. The residue, accumulated over the last 35 years, adds up to these ineluctable facts: The Dodgers have won more pennants (13) and more World Series (5) than any other team in the National League.
The design shaped by Rickey at Vero extended far beyond the ABCs of pitching and hitting. "Mister Rickey felt that players should know each other like they know their families," Bavasi says, "that they should get to know each other's habits, each other's strengths and weaknesses. He felt if they knew these things, they could play better together."
Thus, a communal life-style emerged at Dodgertown, and with it a body of lore unique among American sports franchises. In 1951 Pitcher Johnny Podres was standing around during his first day in camp when suddenly a meeting-room door burst open and 600 players charged past him onto the field. "They come flyin' out of there," Podres recalls. "I said to myself, 'How the hell am I ever going to make the big leagues?' "
Until the mid-1960s, when a good many players were earning enough money to rent housing off base, most of the major-leaguers lived in those two big barracks, shared the latrines and ate en masse in a mess hall that was also a Navy leftover. The chow line used to snake out the door and stretch across the street. Players ate off steel trays, Campanella recalls. TAKE ALL YOU WANT, BUT EAT ALL YOU TAKE, cautioned a sign on the mess-hall walls.
After dinner, says Don Drysdale, many of the players gathered in the main lobby of one of the barracks around a Baldwin piano and two large oak tables and talked baseball. Pinball machines snapped, a jukebox played. Willie Davis has vivid recollections of Alston and Maury Wills, two mean sticks, playing pool in an adjoining room. A huge copper bowl filled with oranges sat on the floor. The oranges were among the few that escaped Beansie Kunz, an old man whose sole job was to squeeze oranges and grapefruit for the players. The juice was set out all over the camp in giant drums and Lister bags, and on hot days the air above the drums shimmered like that above oases.
The wooden barracks could be stifling on a hot day, frigid at night. When the temperature plunged, players slept under their mattresses or in their overcoats. "You had to get out of bed and walk down the hall to the latrine," Lasorda says. "The floor was cold. You wouldn't want to go because it was so cold." Manager Charlie Dressen once bought 13 electric floor heaters, and on cold nights fuses popped like flashbulbs. Men stumbled about in the dark, stubbing their toes and cussing.
Podres can still hear the rain leaking into the barracks: "They put the big garbage cans in there when it rained." When it was dry the barracks were potential tinderboxes. One evening the fuses blew during a violent electrical storm, and, fearing lightning would turn the barracks into cinders, Minor League Director Fresco Thompson bellowed to staffer Bill DeLury, "Make sure everyone's down in the lobby!" DeLury looked up the staircase to the second floor and saw, reflected on the wall, a brilliant orange flame. He dashed up the stairs and swept into the glowing room. A mound of paper was blazing in the sink, flames lapping up the walls, and there was "one of our phenoms," DeLury says, lying back with his legs crossed and reading a newspaper by the light of his fire.
The hour of curfew, midnight for major leaguers, somewhat earlier for minor leaguers, caused another type of hot time at Dodgertown. Scouts and instructors, enforcers of the curfew, raced madly through the dark. "It was like an escape from Alcatraz," says Drysdale. "You'd look out the window, and there were flashlights shining and coaches yelling 'Stop! Stop! I know who you are!' They'd find guys hiding, even in orange trees. It was unbelievable."
Then there was the afternoon when Drysdale, stopping at the drawbridge over Indian River, saw a man standing up in a rowboat. He was holding out his jacket like a matador brandishing a cape. As the boat drifted past, Drysdale saw that the man was Podres. He yelled to him, "Hey, John, meet us at the Tahitian!" When Podres walked into the bar a while later, Drysdale asked what he'd been doing.