Wyman's Historic Efforts Bring Dodgers to Los Angeles
It took a 22-year-old with leadership, courage and vision to encourage the Brooklyn Dodgers to come to Los Angeles.
Convinced that it was the right course of action for the City of Los Angeles to take, the University of Southern California graduate was compelled to push for the Dodgers, even when it seemed only a remote possibility.
Today, it is more commonplace to have cities interested in luring a professional sports team to relocate. But, in the 1950s, Major League Baseball did not even field a team west of St. Louis. When the Boston Braves relocated to Milwaukee for the 1953 season, it snapped a 50-year period of no movement by teams.
The campaign staged to attract a team -- and not just any team, mind you, but the 1955 World Champion Dodgers — said all one needs to know about the ambition of this elected official.
“Right now, I’m deep in plans to bring major league baseball to Los Angeles. Everybody wants it and we should have it. Baseball is a big business. We have the climate and Los Angeles is a great sports town. We need big league baseball. It would be great for the kids, too. They are great worshippers of top sports figures and sports-minded kids are never delinquent.”Anne Norman, Los Angeles Times, Roz Wyman Has Simple Method to Win Votes; She Rings District Doorbells and Gets to People, April 7, 1957
This quote was delivered in April of 1957, not by the Mayor of Los Angeles, but by a woman.
That’s right, the youngest City Councilperson in the history of Los Angeles, Rosalind Wyman, made that statement, filled with hope that she and a cadre of local officials could woo Walter O’Malley and the Dodgers westward, providing he paid to build the stadium. It was one of the biggest gambles in the City’s history, but one, once achieved, that proved to be the mother lode of risk-taking success.
Wyman was right in the middle of the achievement and turmoil. Los Angeles voters, in fact, had rejected a ballot measure to fund a $4.5 million bond to build a baseball stadium on May 31, 1955, meaning any team relocating there would have to privately finance a ballpark.
Initially, she wrote a letter to O’Malley on September 1, 1955, asking for a meeting with him to gauge his interest in relocating. One year prior to that, the City Clerk, per approval by the Los Angeles City Council, sent a letter to major league baseball team owners asking them to consider L.A. as a site for their team. Officials, who were convinced that it was only a matter of time before one of them accepted the offer, were making preparations to review possible locations for a ballpark. Los Angeles played home to two Pacific Coast League teams, the Los Angeles Angels who played at Wrigley Field at 42nd and Avalon and the Hollywood Stars, who played at Gilmore Field on Beverly Boulevard. But, that was minor league baseball, not the majors.
O’Malley responded to Wyman on September 7, 1955 that “I doubt very much that I could see you during the period when you will be in New York as we will all be preoccupied in concluding this year’s pennant race and preparing for the World Series...Los Angeles at present has two teams in organized baseball and we would not want to be a party to any publicity which might be construed to be detrimental to their franchises.”Letter from Walter O’Malley to Roz Wyman, Councilwoman — Fifth District, Los Angeles, September 7, 1955.
His focus was clearly on working out a solution to aging Ebbets Field in Brooklyn by building a new domed stadium, the first of its kind in baseball, at the intersection of Atlantic and Flatbush Avenues. He had begun the process of addressing Ebbets Field as early as 1946, four years prior to becoming President of the Dodgers, and continued his painstaking work over the next decade with elected and appointed officials to bring about a resolution at the site he preferred in Brooklyn.
But, the Los Angeles contingent of Wyman, Mayor Norris Poulson and legendary L.A. County Supervisor Kenneth Hahn were persuaded that a major league baseball team was necessary in order for the city to finally gain the status it was looking for in the 1950s — big league in every way.
Playing with the “big boys” in an era in which women were beginning to advance into politics, never stopped pioneer Wyman from realizing her dreams and the early shaping of Los Angeles as one of the premier destinations and places to live.
“I think the government needs women,”Anne Norman, Los Angeles Times, Roz Wyman Has Simple Method to Win Votes; She Rings District Doorbells and Gets to People, April 7, 1957. she said in 1957.
During the summer of 1957, Mayor Poulson dispatched Harold “Chad” McClellan to New York as the official negotiator on behalf of the City and County of Los Angeles to meet with O’Malley and the Dodgers. As negotiations progressed, it was crystal clear that O’Malley wanted to privately-finance, design, build and maintain Dodger Stadium. He was looking for a site to build his dream stadium.
McClellan said in the Los Angeles Times on September 17, 1957, “If the Dodgers accept the plan and build the stadium this will be the biggest bargain any city has had in getting major league baseball in 20 years.”Paul Zimmerman, Los Angeles Times, Deal For Dodgers Gets L.A. Council Approval, September 17, 1957
That was because public funding was necessary for ballparks built in Milwaukee (1953), Kansas City (complete ballpark renovation in 1955) and in San Francisco (in order to relocate the New York Giants for the 1958 season). Major League Baseball officials would permit the Dodgers and Giants to move in tandem, if at all, and it was O’Malley who mentioned to Giants’ owner Horace Stoneham to explore San Francisco instead of Minneapolis-St. Paul. The two teams’ longtime rivalry would continue, while scheduling and air travel to the West Coast would be more feasible and less costly. When the City Council passed the September 17, 1957 resolution, 11-3, to offer a definite deal to the Dodgers, Wyman spoke of the fact that the Dodgers would not increase taxes in Los Angeles, but would put the hilly Chavez Ravine area on the tax rolls. Since the dissolution of a public housing project in the early 1950s, in which the residents received compensation through the public court system for their properties, no tax revenue was being generated on the property, despite a few residents who were living illegally there. The City of Los Angeles would initially receive nearly $350,000 a year in real estate taxes (which continued to increase beginning in 1963) from Dodger Stadium.
As part of the negotiations for the land on which to build and maintain the ballpark, O’Malley was legally bound to privately finance and construct 50,000-seat Dodger Stadium. Also, the Dodgers exchanged land at Chavez Ravine for Wrigley Field, which O’Malley had acquired on February 21, 1957, with its estimated value of $2.2 million. Additionally, O’Malley was contractually obligated to fund a youth recreation area near the adjacent Police Academy with an initial investment of $500,000 plus annual payments $60,000 for 20 years.
Prior to the council’s final vote on October 7, Wyman spoke with O’Malley on the telephone, as a nervous Mayor Poulson was unable to talk to him and handed her the phone. Although O’Malley never told her officially he was going to accept the Los Angeles offer if voted favorably by the City Council that evening, Wyman was not asked by fellow members and she did not relate that O’Malley never said for certain he was headed to Los Angeles. The council adopted ordinance 110204 that night by a 10-4 margin. The next day, the Dodgers announced, “In view of the action of the Los Angeles City Council yesterday and in accordance with the resolution of the National League made October first, the stockholders and directors of the Brooklyn Baseball Club have today met and unanimously agreed that the necessary steps be taken to draft the Los Angeles territory.”
Wyman had a feeling of unbridled exhilaration and accomplishment, as the Dodgers, one of the most storied franchises in baseball history since 1890, were packing their bags for Los Angeles and the 1958 season. She was one of the members of the official welcoming party which greeted the Los Angeles Dodger Convair-440 airplane at L.A. International Airport on the chilly night of October 23, 1957. Several thousand cheering fans met the plane on the tarmac, most of them friendly, but not all.
Elation would turn to frustration as a damper was put on the Dodgers’ arrival when a group of dissidents rallied support for a petition by the end of 1957, forcing a referendum known as “Proposition B” on the June 1958 ballot. A “Yes” vote meant the contract between the City of Los Angeles and the Dodgers was to be approved and in force, while a “No” vote rejected the previously signed contract. Sentiment was running high in both camps and O’Malley was caught in the middle of the politics, even stating, “I was not aware of a thing called a referendum. We don’t have them in New York.”Boston Globe, Sports Plus, July 28, 1978 Wyman would comment years later, “We didn’t know who was supporting the opposition. It took us a while to figure it out.”
Even as O’Malley and the Dodgers struggled with a temporary place to play in Los Angeles when the team first came west, “Proposition B” might have derailed all of his plans. However, as the city representative for the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum Commission, Wyman again stepped forward and was most influential as one of the prime leaders for the City of Los Angeles in resolving that issue. While the Dodgers briefly explored the possibility of playing at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena and rejected Wrigley Field because of its limited seating capacity (22,000) and even more inadequate parking, only the massive Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum remained as a viable solution. But the Coliseum did not come to the Dodgers without major modifications and an initial cost to them of $300,000, plus $600,000 for rent in the first two years, for laying out a baseball field in a stadium designed for football and track and field. With the Dodger rental fees, the Coliseum redid its seating, adding backs for the first time. Also, the first outside escalator was added, among other improvements.
Wyman and Mayor Poulson assisted in designing a plan to use this alternative site, which for baseball held more than 90,000 fans, while the hurdles mounted in efforts to begin construction of Dodger Stadium. Legal challenges kept popping up, even as O’Malley and his broad-based band of supporters were able to face each one head-on. A five-hour “Dodgerthon” television program on KTTV Channel 11 in Los Angeles was aired on June 1, 1958 to explain to the public the benefits of voting for “Proposition B.” Wyman was one of the spokespersons who talked about the societal importance of bringing the Dodgers to Los Angeles and why voters should pass “Prop B.” A crucial 1-0 Dodger victory in Chicago’s Wrigley Field prior to that evening’s Dodgerthon helped to build momentum for the “Yes” side.
Two days later, the public favored the City’s and Dodgers’ position passing “Proposition B” by 25,785 votes in the largest non-Presidential election turnout in Los Angeles history, as 62.3 percent of the city’s 1,105,427 registered voters cast ballots.
Still, a series of legal challenges faced the Dodgers and the city, while O’Malley was forced to delay plans to begin construction of Dodger Stadium. In one case, the California State Supreme Court unanimously (7-0) overruled a lower court decision and sided with O’Malley and the City of Los Angeles. The decision stated that the city could “hold harmless” the “public purpose” clause of the Housing Authority agreement deed restrictions (referring to the failed public housing project in the early 1950s slated for the land). On February 11, 1959, the California State Supreme Court reaffirmed its earlier decision in a refusal to reconsider. More challenges were made in April 1959 before an appeal was made to the United States Supreme Court. The appeal request was not heard by the U.S. Supreme Court and was dismissed on October 19, 1959. Meanwhile, on September 17, 1959, O’Malley decided to proceed with groundbreaking ceremonies for Dodger Stadium.
With that obstacle cleared and the start of construction on O’Malley’s dream stadium for the Dodgers underway, Wyman helped focus the members of City Council, four of whom had voted against the contract, on the issues presented by the city’s planning director and zoning administrator. Additional roadblocks by those individuals, which would have delayed the construction process for another six months in fall 1959, were resolved by Wyman, who identified a solution to impose a “conditional use restriction” on the Dodger Stadium land. This significantly expedited the planning and zoning problems and permitted O’Malley to immediately secure financing.
In the meantime, Wyman spoke to the Downtown Business and Professional Women’s Luncheon Club on October 22, 1959, stating the fight for the Dodgers was “the battle of the century” and that they were “good for the city.” Wyman also expressed her support for all of the arts and urged City Council approval for The Music Center in downtown Los Angeles as an example of another good business proposition and a place for another kind of entertainment.Norman H. Goodhue, Los Angeles Times, October 23, 1959, “Wyman Cites Value of Music Center”
She was also the driving force behind the Minneapolis Lakers move to Los Angeles in 1960, as a member of the L.A. Coliseum Commission, because of her friendship with Minnesota Senator Hubert Humphrey. He informed her that Lakers owner Bob Short was ill and searching for a new home (the Lakers split time in two Minneapolis arenas) because of sagging attendance. Short recognized the early success of the Dodgers on the West Coast.
Born Rosalind Wiener, the native Angeleno is the daughter of Sarah and Oscar Wiener, who operated a family drugstore on 9th Street and Western Avenue in Los Angeles. Democratic politics ran in her family, as her mother was a precinct captain for Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s first presidential campaign. Wyman graduated in 1948 from Los Angeles High School, where she was the first girl elected as a student body officer. The talented and well-rounded student also played the French horn in the orchestra. She then graduated from USC with a B.S. degree in public administration in 1952. Her first taste of politics came in 1950 as she campaigned in California for U.S. Congresswoman Helen Gahagan Douglas, who failed in a bitter battle for the U.S. Senate to Rep. (R-CA) Richard Nixon. Douglas was the first woman to run in a statewide election in California.
Determined, after the Douglas campaign, Wyman’s goal was to see a woman elected statewide in California so she has chaired all of Senator Dianne Feinstein’s campaigns for the U.S. Senate. Wyman got to achieve her goal. She also presided over the 1984 National Democratic Convention where Geraldine Ferraro was the first woman nominated for Vice President of the United States.
By 1953, Wyman shunned entrance to law school for a chance to campaign for Adlai Stevenson. “I fell in love with Stevenson as a candidate,” she said. “I wanted to be in his campaign.” Wyman, who would have had to take tests again and re-apply for law school admission, decided to enter into politics and, surprisingly, was elected as the youngest council member in the history of Los Angeles at 22 years old. The bold headline in the newspaper exclaimed, “IT’S A GIRL”. She represented the City’s Fifth District and would serve for the next 12 years, working on committees such as finance and budget, recreation and parks, and later became President Pro-Tempore.
On August 29, 1954, she married Eugene Wyman, a prominent Beverly Hills attorney, who became the Chairman of the California Democratic Party and Democratic National Committee Man. Together, they were leaders in fund-raising efforts and campaigns for Democrats in the state. Her idea of moving John F. Kennedy’s noted 1960 “New Frontier” campaign speech from the L.A. Sports Arena to the vast neighboring Coliseum was a stroke of genius, attracting 56,000 spectators to the venue, which appeared full on television, and magnified its status.
Of that night, she said, “I was part of a decision to take the convention outdoors to the Coliseum — the first time since FDR’s nomination at Soldier Field in Chicago in 1932,” said Wyman. “I was sitting with Bobby Kennedy and (Chief Political Strategist assigned to California) Larry O’Brien in a room. The Coliseum held 100,000, and they were dubious. ‘This will be great, we’ll let everybody come, instead of making it so closed,’ I said. Bobby turned to me and said, ‘If we don’t get the people, I don’t want to talk to you again and it will probably be the end of your political career.’ But we did. Every labor union and every Democratic club I ever knew in my life had been called. And it turned out really phenomenal, a great moment.”David Evanier, The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles, July 28, 2000, Cover Story
Since 1952, Wyman has served as a delegate for every Democratic Convention (except in 1968 when her husband attended). Delegates are part of the official nominating procedure and vote for or against the party’s platform.
Wyman’s husband of 19 years passed away suddenly in 1973, leaving her to raise their three children (Betty, Bob and Brad) and continue her career. A former Los Angeles Times Woman of the Year, Wyman remains active in politics and the Democratic National Committee. In 1983-84, trailblazer Wyman was appointed and served as Chairperson and CEO of the Democratic National Convention in San Francisco. Since the 1980s, Wyman has served as a Super Delegate at the Democratic National Convention.