By Tom Hoffarth, columnist
L.A. Daily News - 6/7/2009
Behind the 12-story L.A. Mart and across from the ominous Los Angeles Superior Court Metro Courthouse just south of downtown, Dick Beverage surveys the vacant public parking lot Saturday morning to try to get his bearings.
"Where's north?" asks Beverage, founder of the Pacific Coast League Historical Society and president of the Society for American Baseball Research.
This matters because ...
"That would put home plate over there," Beverage says, pointing back toward the corner of Washington and Hill, where a McDonald's now competes with a Burger King across the street, "and left field was out there," he turns around, gesturing toward some graffiti-enhanced warehouses on Broadway.
This marks this spot where Washington Park went up nearly a century ago. It's a piece of real estate that once betrayed Babe Ruth during a home-run exhibition on a 1919 barnstorming tour.
"He was two feet short of the center-field wall," adds historian Ron Selter, explaining that the 13,000-seat ballyard had a 460-foot reach to its deepest part, and a 20-foot fence to clear.
On this cloudy, gray morning, the ghosts of L.A.'s baseball past seemed fairly easy to summon. The local SABR chapter held its first guided tour of the city's former horsehide shrines, some of which triumphantly appeared and sadly vanished before the Dodgers even began sniffing a move west more than 50 years ago.
On the five-plus-hour journey, the well-read guides were helpful, and imagination and a sense of adventure were required.
At Washington Park (1911-1925), we learn that the PCL's Los Angeles Angels and Vernon Tigers could only play Sunday afternoons because of city ordinances to support church-going residents. To get around that, the teams ventured over to Vernon, the incorporated area about three miles southeast of downtown, and play the first of a doubleheader at about 10 a.m.
That's over at 38th and Irving, where the first 4,000-seat Vernon Stadium stood and Al Parnis, asemi-retired teacher from San Bernardino, goes through his index cards retelling what he's uncovered about this area. Today, it's where an abandoned brick building supports a sign warning anyone that it "may be unsafe in the event of a major earthquake."
Or a strong sneeze.
Wandering over to the first Wrigley Field, on 42nd Place and San Pedro near Avalon, Chuck Carey recalls Sept. 29, 1947.
His dad was able to score some box seats 10 rows up from first base, allowing him (among the 22,996) to witness Clarence Maddern's dramatic eighth-inning grand slam that pushed the Los Angeles Angels past the San Francisco Seals 5-0 for the PCL championship.
"It cleared the trees and went around the light pole in right field," said Carey, preaching next to a skateboard park and soccer field where Wrigley's right field used to be.
Duck back under the Harbor Freeway and to the regal Coliseum - the Dodgers' first L.A. settlement. Author and SABR national director Andy McCue takes pride in being among the World Series record-setting 92,706 who were at Game 5 of the 1959 Fall Classic, although he terms the attendance figures that the football facility generated for baseball as "grotesque." He also points out that if one sat in the top row behind home plate, above the west tunnel, "you were farther away from the action than where most fans today would be while sitting in the outfield."
While there's a giant plaque bolted to the peristyle entrance of the Coliseum to acknowledge the Dodgers' existence from 1958-61, the most poignant display for historical purposes of the tour comes up where Gilmore Field led a glamorous existence as the Hollywood Stars' stage from May 2, 1939, to Sept. 5, 1957 - more than 1,700 games. It says so on the bronze landmark that, in 1997, Beverage's PCL group had attached to the building at CBS Television City on Beverly and Genesse. It's easy to spot, around the corner from the entrance to Studio 46 - known now for where "The Price Is Right" and "Dancing With the Stars" is taped.
"This is where the ticket booth stood," Beverage says with certainty, since he's written a book on the team. "And if you go around the side of the building, there's a driveway, and about 80 feet in, that's where home plate is."
He quickly corrected himself. "Where home plate was," he said.
It's OK. We can still pretend to see it.