ALL STAR GAME: 1980 WORLD SERIES: 1963, 1965, 1966, 1974, 1977, 1978, 1981, 1988
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, so that many home runs drop inside that small space, just out of reach of the fans. It may make the game "fairer" by eliminating the possibility of fan interference, but it takes away a lot of the fun. There weren't that many home runs to begin with, as the 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.
Dodger stadium has changed very little over the years. In 1969 home plate was moved forward 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 is probably five or more feet further than at the corner of the bleachers. I accept Lowry's argument 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. There is also an apparent inconsistency between the 1962 and 1969 outfield distances, which were marked at the same locations before and after home plate was moved, but changed by different amounts. Apparently they wanted numbers ending in zero or five. There was no change in the left and right field corners, however, because the fences there were at an approximate 45 degree angle to the baselines. (I figure the actual distance down the lines probably increased by a few feet, say from 328 to 332 feet.) 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. In 1973 the outfield fence was shortened 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 -- until the late 1970s, that is, as the rivalry with the Yankees heated up once again. The Dodgers won more world championships in 1981 and 1988 under manager Tommy Lasorda, but not since then.
CINEMA: Dodger Stadium was featured in the movies Superman Returns (2006), in which Superman prevents a jetliner from crashing, and The Core (2003), in the scene where the Space Shuttle Endeavour flew over during a Colorado Rockies-Los Angeles Dodgers game. (Thanks to Daley Holder.)
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 about 55 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 several new rows of luxury box seats were added along the foul lines. 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.
It's hard to believe, but Dodger Stadium is now the fourth 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