On the Road With the Dodgers
It was 1965. Major League Baseball's National and American Leagues were still settling into the new 10-team configurations brought on by the first expansion era of the early decade; the first U.S. combat troops were arriving in Vietnam; Timothy Leary was tripping on LSD; and I took a trip of a lifetime.
Being the son of George Lederer, L.A. Dodgers beat writer for the Long Beach Independent, Press-Telegram, has many advantages as brother Richard has so eloquently outlined in these spaces. Richard and I cut our baseball teeth on games at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in the Dodgers' early days in Los Angeles. The exciting move to the new Dodger Stadium in Chavez Ravine in 1962 included some visits for us during construction. Together, from 1962 to 1968, we attended virtually every Sunday afternoon game and many others, sitting in the front row of the Loge level past third base, then hounding for autographs for an hour or more after the games waiting for Dad to file his story.
I had the tremendous fortune to join the Dodgers' official travel party on a complete 10-game road trip during the summer of 1965. For a 13-year-old aspiring pitcher, it was a wide-eyed experience to be treasured for a lifetime.
The Walter O'Malley Dodgers were the envy of baseball, traveling on their team-owned jetliner -- the "Kay O," named for O'Malley's wife, Kay. I accompanied Dad and the team on the plane, on the team bus rides, in the press box at each game, and even an occasion in the dugout and on the field during batting practice. Dad snuck in a couple of side excursions for me, as if he was afraid I may get bored.
Think about it. These were the Los Angeles Dodgers! Two years removed from their 1963 World Championship. Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, Maury Wills, and . . . well, OK, it was the pitching-dominated 1960's. Ron Fairly was the team's most productive hitter with an OPS of .768 (Rookie of the Year Jim Lefebvre and Lou Johnson led the team with 12 HR). But they were in first place in the National League en route to a pennant and another World Series win. And I was 13 years old! They were all superstars.
My recollection of the whole event begins with a quiet warning from Dad that he was waiving his parental discretion with the hope that I could ignore the profane banter that I was going to be subjected to round the clock. Heck, I don't even remember any remarks making an impression on me. I was 13, you know.
The stark contrast of 1965 to today is illustrated in so many ways. The Dodgers closed out a home stand at Dodger Stadium on Wednesday night, flew to Albuquerque on Thursday afternoon for an exhibition game against their Texas League AA affiliate on their way to a 10-game road trip beginning in St. Louis on Friday night, July 30.
With the help of a letter I wrote to home that has been thankfully archived in a scrapbook, a few details are available beyond the scant few that my memory has preserved. I wrote that 200 people, a red carpet and brass band greeted the team at the Albuquerque airport and a motorcycle cop-escorted motorcade paraded the team to the stadium for an evening game.
At the risk of unduly removing the luster from the story, I must admit one of my most vivid memories of the trip was the national anthem before that game. Due to tight seating arrangements for the big city press visiting the AA ballpark, I sat in a box seat behind the dugout with the Dodgers traveling secretary, Lee Scott, and the parents and daughter of Dodgers catcher John Roseboro. The unfortunate attempt by a soloist performing the Star Spangled Banner left Mr. Roseboro doubled over and many of the players on the field in obvious contortions trying to restrain their laughter.
The game lasted until 10:30 p.m., the team plane took off at midnight and by the time we hit our room in St. Louis, it was 5 a.m. Friday with a game to be played that night -- most likely a then-typical 8 p.m. start time -- to open the four-game series against the Cardinals, the defending World Series champions. We slept past noon, then had breakfast with Wally Moon. The weekend-through-Monday stay in St. Louis included a visit to the zoo and a dip in the pool with Dodgers announcer Vin Scully. The press box in the old Busch Stadium (once known as Sportsman's Park) was Dad's least favorite in the league because its configuration created a particularly frightening view considering his fear of heights.
The Dodgers and Cardinals split the four games and the team was off to Milwaukee for a three-game set with the third-place Braves. It was to be the Braves' final season in County Stadium before the move to Atlanta. Tuesday's game was rained out in the first inning and made up as part of Wednesday's "twi-night doubleheader" as Dad described in his article. Perhaps the most exhilarating experience was the opportunity to don a Dodger uniform and spend some time in the dugout and a brief game of catch on the sidelines during pre-game warm-ups. (Three years later, I had the thrill of pitching batting practice to Dodger pitchers during the early batting rounds before a game at Dodger Stadium.)
The teams split that doubleheader and the Dodgers took the series with a win in Thursday's finale behind Sandy Koufax's second complete game of the trip, his 12 strikeouts giving him 23 for the two starts on the trip. It was a magical season for Koufax on the way to his second of three Cy Young Awards. In 41 starts, he had 26 complete games and a 26-8 record. Oh, and he mixed in a couple of relief appearances that would have produced saves had they been an official stat at that time. He had an ERA of 2.04 and chalked up 382 strikeouts, breaking Rube Waddell's 61-year-old major league record. Did I mention a contrast between 1965 and today?
The final leg of the trip was a weekend in Cincinnati for three games against the second-place Reds in Crosley Field. The stay in Cincinnati provided the opportunity for the second excursion of the trip, an afternoon at River Downs racetrack with the other member of the Dodger broadcast team, Jerry Doggett. The trip ended on a bad note with an injury to Don Drysdale during an 18-0 drubbing by the Reds in the final game.
Along the way, the experience was awe-inspiring. Most notable of all was the dream like experience of being asked for autographs. It happened on a few occasions while traveling with the team. You see, I was within a few months of reaching six feet and 200 pounds. Maury Wills told me he thought I was a college student and Carroll Beringer asked me how many years of high school I had left. I took great joy in telling them, "I'm only 13!"
What a trip!
Tom Lederer manages sports and aquatics programs for the City of Lakewood, California, selected the number one Sportstown in California by Sports Illustrated.