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Looking back at the opening of Dodger Stadium

Rain, restrooms, water fountains, scoreboards, and more

Work underway on Dodger Stadium Photo by Los Angeles Examiner/USC Libraries/Corbis via Getty Images

April 10 marks the 60th anniversary of the first game at Dodger Stadium. Let’s look back at the final few months leading up to the opening of the iconic Los Angeles landmark — for a comprehensive history of how the land at Chavez Ravine became available, be sure to read Eric Nusbaum’s excellent book ‘Stealing Home’ — and what was anticipated in the brand new stadium.

What’s in a name?

The Angels were an expansion team that played its first season at Wrigley Field in downtown Los Angeles, but signed a four-year lease to play at Dodger Stadium beginning when it opened in 1962. The lease was advantageous to the stadium owner, per Ross Newhan of the Los Angeles Times in 2005: “The Dodgers received 7.5% of attendance gross, 50% of concessions and all parking revenue.”

In addition to having the indignity of being the other team in Los Angeles, the Angels had no interest in calling the stadium by its name.

“Whoever heard of Dodger Stadium? As a major league team, the Angels should be playing in a park that the public has heard of — and everybody knows about Chavez Ravine,” Angels owner Gene Autry told the Progress Bulletin in February 1962. “I would calculate that Chavez Ravine has had about $3 million worth of publicity in the press and on stage, radio and television.”

When the Angels played at Dodger Stadium from 1962 to 1965, they called the ballpark Chavez Ravine, before moving to their own stadium in Anaheim in 1966.

Stay hydrated

By law, no beer nor other alcohol was allowed to be sold at the Coliseum, which made for a dry first four years in Los Angeles during Dodgers games. The beer began flowing at Dodger Stadium, but there soon was another problem.

“Irate mothers are literally screaming over the fact there are no water fountains where children may drink,” Los Angeles city councilman Edward Roybal said, per the Pasadena Independent on April 18, 1962. “I have been advised there are only two water fountains in the entire stadium and they are in the dugouts.”

The water fountains, deemed an oversight by the team, were soon added. Today, the Dodger Stadium ballpark guide lists 21 water fountains at the stadium, as well as stations to fill water bottles in center field, and behind sections 152 and 153 on the Loge level.

Wait, what?

After drinking all that beer and, eventually, water at Dodger Stadium, fans needed somewhere to relieve themselves. Luckily, we have the Associated Press describing the various features of the ballpark one month before it opened:

“Twenty-four ladies’ rooms are scattered through the stadium and the men, for once, have been granted equal facilities.”

The “for once” here is hilarious. Finally, men wouldn’t be disadvantaged.

Big scoreboards

Of the many defining features of Dodger Stadium — the picturesque view, pastel-colored seats, the stacked levels among them — two that stood out were the giant scoreboards above the pavilions, billed at the time as four times larger than the scoreboard at Yankee Stadium.

The right field scoreboard had the relevant game data, including the line score, balls and strikes, and lineups, while left field was used for various messages. Like this one for outgoing general manager Buzzie Bavasi in 1968:

Buzzie Bavasi was general manager of the Dodgers from 1951 to 1968 in Brooklyn and Los Angeles before leaving to join the expansion San Diego Padres. Bavasi was honored at Dodger Stadium in 1968, including this message on the left field scoreboard.
Buzzie Bavasi was general manager of the Dodgers from 1951 to 1968 in Brooklyn and Los Angeles before leaving to join the expansion San Diego Padres. Bavasi was honored at Dodger Stadium in 1968, including this message on the left field scoreboard.

“The fans were bringing their portable radios to the Coliseum so they could get some of the inside of the game from our broadcasters,” owner Walter O’Malley told the Associated Press in 1962. “We don’t want to rub their noses in statistics all the time, but we do feel that a certain amount is desirable.”

Symmetric field

That right field scoreboard at Dodger Stadium was much closer than would have been possible at the Coliseum, which featured a fence in right center field 440 feet from home plate. The new park at Chavez Ravine was 330 feet down the lines and 380 feet to both right center and left center field.

Manager Walter Alston got an Associated Press byline in a spring training preview in 1962, and predicted success for his left-handed batters at Dodger Stadium.

“The right field fence in the Coliseum was too tough a target even for our best lefty batters such as Duke Snider, Johnny Roseboro, Willie Davis, Ron Fairly and Wally Moon,” Alston wrote. “They are all looking forward to playing at the ravine where the measurements are the same down each foul line.”

The results didn’t exactly play out that way, however.

Dodgers left-handed hitters at home

1961 Coliseum 1,648 71 43 .283/.379/.440
1962 Dodger Stadium 1,688 46 14 .266/.345/.342
Source: Baseball Reference

Dodger Stadium was tremendously advantageous to pitchers in general, especially compared to the hitter-friendly Coliseum. Even though the former home was tough on left-handers going to right field, the friendly fence in left field proved an ample target. Wally Moon peppered left field so often that his drives were dubbed “Moon shots.”

But even with more inviting fences in right field, Dodger Stadium was a tough place to hit. Dodgers left-handers had roughly the same number of plate appearances at home in 1961 and 1962, but hit about a third of the home runs in the new ballpark and only two thirds of the doubles. It’s not that those lefties couldn’t hit in 1962; that group hit .270/.348/.430 with 45 home runs on the road that year.

Inclement weather

There hasn’t been a rainout at Dodger Stadium since April 17, 2000, with the Dodgers going a record 1,729 home games since without a game postponed by weather. They also had the previous record, with 856 consecutive games between rainouts in 1988 and 1999.

But February 1962 was one of the rainiest months in Los Angeles history, which proved to be a problem for construction crews trying to finish building the new stadium at Chavez Ravine. Seventeen inches of rain pelted the site that February, and the Dodgers sought aerial support. From Walter O’Malley’s website:

An Allison jet airplane engine from an F-84 fighter plane was mounted on a truck. Moved to various locations on the field, the engine spewed a jet blast of 300 feet of heat estimated at 250,000 BTU’s (British thermal units). Two helicopters were also employed to help dry out the field with their powerful downdrafts of air. The jet engine was also eyed for future use if needed to dry the access-road beds leading into the stadium so they could be blacktopped.

O’Malley, the Dodgers owner who footed the bill for the $23 million facility (the first privately-financed MLB park since Yankee Stadium in 1923), was anxious to make sure his shiny new venue would be ready for its first game, on April 10.

“I’m a stubborn man,” O’Malley told the North Hollywood Valley Times. “We will hit the target date no matter what the weather.”

There have been 21 total rainouts in 60 years at Dodger Stadium — 17 Dodgers home games, plus four Angels games.