Dodgers' SoCal chapter rich in history

Nostalgia thrives at celebration presser

LOS ANGELES -- It is 12 days away from the 50th anniversary of the Dodgers' last game at Ebbets Field. And for five decades now, what was Brooklyn's sad loss has been Los Angelenos' happy gain.

"Relative to Los Angeles, which is the entertainment capital of the world, the one true constant over the last 50 years has been Dodger baseball," said former first baseman Steve Garvey, who played such a big part in it. "For 81 days and nights during the year, the Dodgers have entertained hundreds of thousands of people. Movies come and go. TV series come and go. But for Los Angeles, the Dodgers have been the pinnacle."

And so, with some panache and a splashy Dodger Stadium press conference, the Dodgers announced on Wednesday that the theme of the 2008 season will be a celebration of the 50 years they have spent in the Los Angeles basin, the last 46 of them at the ballpark carved into Chavez Ravine.

To open the year of festivities, the team will sponsor and ask fans to help decorate a float commemorating the celebration that will be part of the Rose Bowl parade, which is scheduled annually in neighboring Pasadena, Calif., on New Year's Day, said Jamie McCourt, the team's president and vice chairman.

"The Dodger float will honor the team's 50-year relationship with the City of Los Angeles," she said. "And it's the first time the Dodgers have ever entered a float in the Rose Parade."

Each month of the season will honor a different decade of the team's most recent history. April: the '50s, May: the '60s; June: the '70s; July: the '80s; August: the '90s, and September: the turn of the new century.

July will also include a 20-year reunion of the 1988 team that defeated the A's in the World Series for the Dodgers' last championship -- five of them won since the team moved to Los Angeles in 1958 and the other coming in 1955 during what turned out to be the dying days of Brooklyn's hold on the franchise. September will include a day to honor Dodgers legends when all the living standout players who have graced a Dodgers uniform will be asked to come back.

A star will be placed for the Dodgers on Hollywood's Walk of Fame, a first for a baseball team. And there will be many more events to come.

"We want as big of a tent as possible to include anybody who's ever had any connection to the Dodgers at all, either new or old. This is a huge milestone," said Frank McCourt, the team's owner and chairman, who, along with his wife, purchased the club in 2004 to begin their stewardship. "It's also a real expression of gratitude to the fans and a chance for the Dodgers to give back to this tremendous community. It's our golden anniversary: 50 wonderful years in Los Angeles."

The Dodgers were born in 1884 and played their last game in Brooklyn on Sept. 24, 1957, a 2-0 defeat of the Pittsburgh Pirates attended by a scant and angry crowd of only 6,702. Of the key players on the field that day, many have since passed away: Jim Gilliam, Gil Hodges, Roy Campanella, Pee Wee Reese and Sandy Amoros.

Don Newcombe, the venerable pitcher, said he was in the clubhouse late that season when manager Walter Alston told the players that all efforts by the late Walter O'Malley to keep them in Brooklyn were unsuccessful and that the franchise would move west along with the Giants to San Francisco in 1958.

"We were all a little shocked and most of the players didn't want to go," Newcombe said on Wednesday. "But I was thrilled about it. I was going through a divorce, and I couldn't wait to go. It was a fresh start, not just for me, but for everybody."

Tommy Lasorda, who pitched small parts of the 1954 and 1955 seasons in Brooklyn, but later became a Hall of Fame manager for 20 of the 50 Los Angeles years (1976-96), said he was driving to Key West, Fla., on his way to play winter ball in Cuba when he heard the news on the radio.

His reaction might have been his shortest utterance in history: "They said what?" said Lasorda, who will turn 80 on Sept. 22.

Campanella didn't make it to Los Angeles, of course. He was paralyzed that offseason in a car wreck trying to get there. But the new era began with all the expected hoopla against the Giants in the Los Angeles Coliseum on April 18, 1958, in front of 78,672, as the Dodgers held on to win, 6-5.

It's a love affair that's still going strong. Among the 14 players who were at the presser on Wednesday, four played for the Dodgers in Brooklyn and Los Angeles -- Newcombe, Lasorda, pitcher Ed Roebuck and Duke Snider, the great Hall of Fame center fielder.

The other 10 were a veritable Who's Who of Los Angeles-era royalty: Garvey, Ron Cey, Maury Wills, "Sweet" Lou Johnson, Manny Mota, Steve Yeager, Charlie Hough, Rick Monday, Fernando Valenzuela and Eric Davis.

"This is the greatest organization," said Lasorda, summing up the emotions as only he can. "I saw guys who wore the uniform go to the Hall of Fame. I saw guys who wore the uniform establish records in baseball. And I think about the guys who have played here who have already gone on to visit the Great Dodger in the Sky. I think about all those guys who set the pace. Those are the memories I have: great guys, great organization. Thank God we're alive to be able to celebrate it."

Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.