ALL STAR GAME: 1980 WORLD SERIES: 1963, 1965, 1966, 1974, 1977, 1978, 1981, 1988 (4 wins, 4 losses)
Traumatized by the 1963 World Series, I used to resent Dodger Stadium and the squeaky-clean, symmetrical modernity it embodied. I even detested that trademark zig-zag roof that covers the back portion of the bleachers ("pavilions"). As I have mellowed over the years, however, I have come to appreciate Dodger Stadium's finer qualities. It has the smallest lower deck of any modern stadium, which means that the higher decks are positioned much closer to the infield than normal. It has a great location, sitting on a plateau only a mile north of downtown L.A. (The drawback of this site was that the city had to evict Chicano squatters who refused to leave, postponing the start of construction from 1958 to 1959.) Finally, the spectacular backdrop of palm-tree-covered hillsides (and even mountains on days with less smog) is almost without equal.
For many years Dodger Stadium held the unique title of being the only stadium with four decks, not counting the small loge level below the third deck. (In 2001 Milwaukee's Miller Park became the second such four-decked stadium in baseball.) When approached from the southwest side behind home plate, however, the stadium profile is very low, as it is built on a hillside.
One unfortunate precedent set by Dodger Stadium was that the bleachers were set back several feet from the outfield fence, providing space for small stairways by which fans enter and exit. As a result, many home runs drop inside that small space, just out of reach of the fans, taking away a lot of the fun. There weren't that many home runs to begin with, as the heavy ocean air seems to create drag on balls in flight. Dodger Stadium has always been a pitcher-friendly ballpark, especially in the early years. One exciting feature is the low fence in the two corners between the foul poles and the bleachers, much like Yankee Stadium used to have. Another innovation was creating a ground-level section of covered seats between the dugouts; this was later imitated at Progressive Field.
For the first four years, the Dodgers shared their new stadium with the American League expansion team Los Angeles Angels. This was the first and only time that a stadium began its existence being shared by two MLB teams. (See Anomalous Stadiums.) After that, the Angels moved into Anaheim Stadium, which was designed to be very similar to Dodger Stadium, but slimmer.
Dodger Stadium has changed relatively little over the years. In 1969 home plate was moved forward about ten feet in hopes of generating more home runs. (This was the era of pitcher supremacy.) The distance to center field was reduced from about 410 feet to about 400 feet; the uncertainty stems from the fact that the distances used to be marked just to the left and right of center field, and given the angle of the fence, dead center field may be a few more feet further than at the corner of the bleachers. Phil Lowry argues that center field has been 400 feet away since 1969, even though it now says "395" in dead center field. This has caused great confusion over the years. I decided to split the difference and assume the true center field distance is 397 feet. There was no change in the left and right field corners, however, because the (curved) fences there were roughly parallel to each other for a short distance, situated at an approximate 45 degree angle to the baselines. The 1969 shift of the diamond enhanced visibility for fans in the upper decks, but fans in the lower-deck box seats were farther away from the infield. Indeed, from 1969 until 1999, Dodger Stadium had one of the roomiest foul territories of any stadium: about 33,500 square feet foul territory and 110,500 square feet fair. In 1973 the outfield fence was reduced in height by two feet, from ten to eight.
After pitcher Sandy Koufax had to retire prematurely after the 1966 season because of arthritis, the Dodgers lost their formerly dominant position. Then in the late 1970s, they won the NL pennant two times, but lost to the Yankees in the World Series both times. The Dodgers got their revenge in 1981 with a fourth world championship for L.A., and yet again in 1988 under manager Tommy Lasorda, but not since then.
The Beatles played a concert at Dodger Stadium on August 28, 1966, a week after they had played at Busch Stadium in St. Louis.
The only significant change during the 1990s was upgrading the playing surface to "Prescription Athletic Turf." Also, the warning tracks were covered with a rubbery surface. In 2000 the Dodgers followed along with the trend of putting fans closer to the infield by adding several rows of box seats between the two dugouts, thus shortening the distance behind home plate from 75 feet to 57 feet. Three more rows of seats were added between the dugouts and the foul poles as well. At about the same time the lower sections of the pavilion on either side of the center field gap were covered with black tarp to enlarge the "batter's eye" background.
Major changes to Dodger Stadium came in 2005, as the dugouts were moved 15 or so feet closer to diamond, and eight new rows of luxury seats with small tables for food were added along the foul lines. Between the dugouts there were nine new rows of seats plus a walkway in back. The new seating rows had a very shallow pitch, with the front row slightly below ground level. To compensate for the rather poor sight lines, many of the new seats were removed a year later, so that there would be fewer heads to look over. The squeezing of the once-vast foul territory yields far fewer pop foul outs, making this stadium much less pitcher friendly than it used to be. This change created a large notch in the corners much like Yankee Stadium. The rubbery stuff was removed from the warning tracks, as well. To offset the 1,600 additional box seats, the same number of seats were closed off in the upper decks, some of which were replaced with a new elite club section in the second deck in the right field corner. For some obscure legalistic reason, the official capacity of Dodger Stadium has always remained exactly 56,000, even when seats were added.
Yet another round of renovations came in 2013, but they mostly involved interior changes. The portion of the lower deck beyond the dugouts was demolished so that bigger batting cages and Dodgers' team clubhouse facilities (on the third base side) could be built several feet underground, and all this required major excavation. In addition, the Field Level entrances were expanded, and the visiting team clubhouse was relocated. In addition, two or three rows of seats were removed from each deck, so that the concourses could be widened and drink rails could be added. In January 2014, while further renovations were underway, a hockey match was played at Dodger Stadium, between the L.A. Kings and the Anaheim Mighty Ducks. By Opening Day 2014, there were new team merchandise stores and seats with tables behind both bullpens, and new restrooms and team stores located behind the upper deck of the main grandstand. On top of all that, dozens of new trees were planted, while the existing iconic palm trees were replanted (after being removed for a few months), making Dodger Stadium even more beautiful than before.
It's hard to believe, but Dodger Stadium is now the third oldest major league baseball stadium still in operation. It has become a true classic, unlike the rest of the stadiums built in the 1960s, and hopefully it will last for many decades to come.
SOURCES: Lowry (2006); Pastier (2007); Gershman (1993); Ward and Burns (1994); USA Today / Fodor's (1996); Ron Selter (SABR); Sporting News (March 11, 1959)
WEB LINK: walteromalley.com
FAN TIPS: Daley Holder, Mike Zurawski, Bruce Orser