Game Honors Roy Campanella, May 8, 1959
May 8, 2009 | 8:00 am
Los Angeles Times file photo
May 7, 1959: Between the fifth and six innings of the benefit game for Roy Campanella, the lights at the Coliseum were extinguished and spectators struck matches and lit cigarette lighters as a tribute to catcher, who was paralyzed in a car accident. "The flames winked like swarming fireflies in the darkness of the cavernous Coliseum," The Times' Frank Finch said.
The Times' Al Wolf and Frank Finch had some debate over the details but they agreed the crowd overwhelmed the old ballpark. Wolf said about 20,000 people without tickets stood outside the Coliseum. Finch said the crowd decided not to wait and "overflowed onto the playing field itself."
John Hall, then writing for the Mirror-News, had a much more detailed account. "It was the meanest, most unruly, worst crowd I've ever seen at the Coliseum," said Chief John G. Degenkolb of the stadium's Fire Department. "There was a gang element."
Hall described "fence pushing, forced gates, broken fences, jammed ticket booths and a stampede from the peristyle to the right-field screen." The Mirror-News headline was "Brawls, Riots Mar Game" but that seemed a little stronger than Hall's story.
The mess reminded me of the Dodgers' return to the Coliseum to play the Red Sox in an exhibition game before the start of last season. The game drew an incredible 115,000 fans. My sons and I didn't see any trouble that night, but we arrived early, left early and took buses provided by the Dodgers from Dodger Stadium to the Coliseum. No facility, no matter how well-staffed or prepared, can easily handle that big a crowd.
The Campanella game was a wonderful tribute that raised a lot of money for the paralyzed former Dodger catcher. But those sort of events require very large doses of patience to survive.