LOS ANGELES -- One of my favorite jokes in Steve Martin's wonderful 1991 film "L.A. Story" is when the main character takes his British girlfriend on an "architectural tour" of Los Angeles. He enters a "historic" area of Los Angeles and looks up with wonder. As if he is visiting ancient ruins, he pauses to reflect.
"Some of these buildings are over 20 years old," he says.
Los Angeles is a city that is obsessed with the new, with whatever young thing is coming around the corner. This makes L.A. like every other city in the country, but this is the city that always has to take the heat for it, because it's younger and newer and fresher than every other city. In the film "Los Angeles Plays Itself," which digs into how the city has been portrayed in films over the years, it's striking how Los Angeles seems to have two past eras: The fedora noir '40s and '50s, and the glitz and glam '80s. It's Dragnet, or Motley Crue. What's noteworthy is that both of those eras were short-lived, and neither of them were really all that long ago. Los Angeles is always reinventing itself. History can be difficult to find because so little is permanent. I mean, people are going to Culver City now? When did that start happening?
Which brings us to Dodger Stadium and the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Did you know that Dodger Stadium is now the third-oldest baseball stadium in the Majors? (Behind Fenway and Wrigley, of course.) In fact, the fourth oldest stadium is Angel Stadium out in Anaheim. Dodger Stadium was built to be flashy, glitzy and state-of-the-art. When the Dodgers moved from Brooklyn, they were looking for a place that would feel like the future. The major innovations were in fact incorporated from Japan, including the dugout-level seats behind home plate, the elevator shaft just above and two scoreboards, one meant to show the current game and one built to give us out of town scores. If you were to go to Dodger Stadium in 1962, the year it opened, you might feel as if you had entered a spaceship.
The thing about "futuristic" stadiums, though, is that they always end up, in history, as relics, specifically of the time period they were built. Wrigley Field and Fenway Park, when you enter those stadiums, are evocative of some vague time in the past: You don't know what year -- just that it's "the past." But Dodger Stadium is locked in 1962, that time right before the world started getting grimy and ugly and more complicated. It was built right before Vietnam, right before protests would fill the streets, right before the slow, 50-year decline in confidence in American institutions began. It's right before everything got cynical. Or, more accurately: It's right before everybody wised up.
It is forever 1962 here. This is the Los Angeles of limitless possibility, at least for the white people who were running the place, who saw infinite space in which to roam. When you walk into Dodger Stadium, you almost expect Bob Hope to come out to crack a few corny one-liners, remind you to support our boys overseas and make some sort of dated, creepy joke about airline stewardesses or your secretary. You can see Johnny Carson throwing out the first pitch. You can see Joe Friday, perfect posture, pressed suit and tie, Lombardi-brim hat, just the facts, just the facts, just the facts. It is the one place in Los Angeles that exists solely in the past.
This is another reason -- in addition to the fact that he's the best broadcaster in the history of the sport -- that Vin Scully felt so perfect here. It was a time where a guy could have a velvet voice, a low-key demeanor and an aversion to anything extraneous or showy would thrive. We loved Scully because he was Scully, but we also loved him because he seemed to represent a time when things were simpler. They weren't simpler, of course. But we like to pretend they were. Scully and Dodger Stadium let us live in that illusion.
Thus, Dodger Stadium gives Los Angeles something it has so little of but desperately wants: A never-changing memorial of a classier, sepia-toned time that has passed, an immortal history in which everything is always depressingly mortal. Dodger Stadium doesn't have the gravitas of a Fenway or Wrigley, but it doesn't need it: It gives Los Angeles all the history it needs. The Dodgers feel like a classic franchis while so little in Los Angeles itself feels "classic." L.A. is a wonderful place, but it is not "classic." Dodger Stadium gives a link to the past in a city that is constantly severing all their others.
The Dodgers, themselves, are essentially the Yankees now, at least when it comes to spending. They are the richest of the rich, the garish spenders, the wealthy so wealthy that they could care less about flying far past the luxury tax. The Dodgers are the one percent. In a baseball world that's constantly concerned about rich teams vs. poor teams, the Dodgers are the worst offenders.
But they don't feel that way, do they? Their spending doesn't feel as gross as the Yankees, or the Red Sox, does it? We just don't think of them as one of those teams. I'd argue that's because of this very thing: This sense that the Dodgers are somehow graceful -- McCourt era obviously excepted -- and old school is because of Scully and the feeling that Dodger Stadium gives you, the sense that you are out of time and somehow away from the ugly, confusing present.
This can't last forever: Scully is now gone, and the Dodgers -- who have gone nearly 30 years without a title -- are showing that they'll go to any lengths to win a World Series. And considering the monstrosity that is the Rams, and all the new stadiums popping up around the city, one wonders how long the Dodgers will hang onto that history before wanting to make some more of their own. But for now, Dodger Stadium gives Los Angeles something eternal, a living museum right there in the middle of the city. Some of these stadiums are over 50 years old.
Tomorrow: Wrapping up our Los Angeles trip.