Carole Lombard loved baseball. She played pick-up ball on the street -- perhaps as a child in Fort Wayne, almost certainly growing up in Los Angeles -- and attended her share of games. (She's shown throwing out the first pitch at a Pacific Coast League game in LA's Wrigley Field, longtime home of the PCL Angels and where their American League namesake began existence in 1961.)
So I have no doubt in my mind that if she were around today, Carole would be thrilled to see the World Series back in the city she loved after an absence of nearly three decades. Tonight, the National League champion Dodgers take the field against the AL pennant-winning Houston Astros in game 1 of the 2017 Series.
The Series is informally known as the "fall classic," but there'll be nothing autumnal about conditions for tonight's opener. An October heat wave is making temperatures in southern California at least 20 degrees (Fahrenheit) higher than normal for this time of year. When LA ace Clayton Kershaw fires the first pitch at 5:09 Pacific time (when it'll be twilight at Chavez Ravine) before more than 55,000 blue-clad fans, it's expected to be 97 degrees -- down from 100 or so a few hours earlier.
This is a new environment for both participants. Houston was in the Series in 2005, but as the NL champion, losing four straight to the White Sox. (The Astros are the first franchise to play in the Series representing both leagues.) As for the Dodgers, they last played in the Series in 1988, surprising the favored Oakland Athletics in five games. It's most remembered for Kirk Gibson's walk-off home run to win Game 1, considered by many the greatest moment in Dodger Stadium's 55-year history (and it has known many).
Since then, there have been many frustrating Octobers in LA, including several defeats in the NL championship series. Heck, even the Angels, now based in Anaheim, won it all in 2002, managed then as now by former Dodger catcher Mike Scioscia.
The 29-year drought between pennants is the longest in Dodgers history, even eclipsing the 21-year span in Brooklyn (1920 to '41) when they often fought the Boston Braves and Philadelphia Phillies for sixth place. Indeed, Los Angeles has drastically changed since 1988. (My first visit was in June 1989, including Old Timers Day at Dodger Stadium June 15.) Consider LA in '88, and now:
* Metro, which has brought rail mass transit back to Los Angeles in a big way not seen since the heyday of the Red and Yellow streetcars, wouldn't open its first leg (the Blue Line light rail to Long Beach) until 1990. (I recall subway construction around Pershing Square in the summer of '89.) Metro now operates "Dodger Stadium Express" buses, taking fans to and from the ballpark from Union Station and the South Bay.
* Two dailies operated downtown in October '88 -- the Times and the William Randolph Hearst-owned Herald Examiner, which ceased publication in November '89. Its offices, designed by Julia Morgan before she became architect of Hearst's San Simeon castle, remains on Broadway, with talk it will be converted into mixed-use as offices and housing:
* During Lombard's lifetime, Los Angeles had a 15-story height limit for buildings other than City Hall. From its observation deck, here's how downtown looked in 1951:
By 1988, the tallest building in town was the 62-story First Interstate Bank building on Wilshire Boulevard, opened in 1972. That May, a fire in the tower killed one and injured 40. It's now known as the AON Center.
Today's downtown has many skyscrapers, befitting the city's status as the economic hub of the Pacific Rim. Earlier this year, the 73-story Wilshire Grand complex was built on the old Statler Hilton site near the Harbor Freeway, complementing the US Bank tower on the LA skyline:
* Tonight's game is on Fox, which in 1988 was a one-year-old upstart best known for its farce "Married...With Children." It wouldn't have a sports division until 1994, and began baseball coverage two years later. (The '88 Series was on NBC.)
* The LA sports scene of 1988 was vastly different. While two NFL teams were in the area, the Rams shared an enlarged Anaheim Stadium with the Angels and the Raiders took the Rams' place at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Now the Rams are back at the Coliseum after 21 years in St. Louis, while the former San Diego Chargers moved up the coast -- not to the Coliseum, their home as an American Football League team in 1960, but to the intimate StubHub Center in Carson.
Come 2020, both the Rams and Chargers (who each won by shutout Sunday!) will play in a state-of-the-art stadium in Inglewood, on the site of the old Hollywood Park race track.
In 1988, Inglewood was known as home of the Forum, now a concert venue but then a sports arena housing the NBA power Lakers and the NHL's Kings, who had just acquired Wayne Gretzky. Both teams would move to the Staples Center downtown in 1999, as would the NBA's woebegone Clippers, then at the Los Angeles Sports Arena near the Coliseum. (They're now eyeing Inglewood as a site for an arena of their own.) The Sports Arena has been demolished and a soccer stadium is now under construction.
Oh, and while Gretzky never won a Stanley Cup with the Kings, he ignited hockey interest in the area. The Anaheim Ducks -- who began in 1992 -- won the coveted trophy in 2007 and the Kings did likewise in 2012 and 2014.
Yes, if a SoCal Rip Van Winkle began his sleep on October '88 and was revived today, he wouldn't know the place. But he would yell for air conditioning.
As longtime announcer Vin Scully would say, it's time for Dodger baseball -- World Series style.