Beyond the Dugout: Five Important People In Dodger History Who Weren't On the Field
Much of what is known about the early life and final days of “Howlin’ Hilda” Chester remains unconfirmed. While notorious for her loud-mouthed love of the Dodgers, she was tight-lipped about much else. In a 1943 interview in The Sporting News, she offered up a rare look at what drove her toward her fandom, saying, “I haven’t had a happy life. The Dodgers have been the one bright spot. I do not think I would want to go on without them.”
Pain and difficulty gave Hilda the need to find something to cheer for. And cheer she did. She cheered so hard and so loudly that she earned the title “America’s No. 1 baseball fan”.
Her fandom began in her teen years, and though she couldn’t afford tickets to Ebbets Field she was resourceful enough to get comp tickets from sports journalists, then get a job sacking peanuts before games, then endear herself so much to the team and their managers that she got her bleacher seat for free. She would hang her “Hilda Is Here” sign and shout support and jeers in her thick Brooklynese accent.
In the book “Bums: An Oral History of the Brooklyn Dodgers” Peter Golenbock describes her as a “plump, pink-faced woman with a mop of stringy gray hair." According to The Los Angeles Times “She'd scream like a fishmonger at players and managers, or lead fans in snake dances through the aisles.”
After her first heart attack, Hilda was reportedly told by her doctor that she wasn’t allowed to shout. Undeterred, she showed up to games with a frying pan and a ladle to make some noise. One has to think that when the Dodgers gifted her with what became her signature cowbell, the gesture may have been partially born from the annoyance of the sound of that clanging frying pan.
She remained mostly faithful to the boys in blue throughout her life, sending birthday cards, traveling with the team to away games, and even perjuring herself at a Leo “the Lip” Durocher assault trial. She was heartbroken when the Dodgers left Brooklyn.
Though her legacy lives on in the musical “Howlin’ Hilda”, in multiple films and books about baseball and in a yearly award given by the Baseball Reliquary, at the time of her death in 1978 she was indigent and alone.
She will always be remembered as the greatest fan in the history of baseball, and on the second floor of the Baseball Hall of Fame, you can find a statue of Hilda and her bell.
Vin Scully came to the Dodgers in 1950 when they were still in Brooklyn. His list of awards and recognitions is vast, and he’s known nationally as one of the greatest baseball broadcasters of all time. He even has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
What makes Scully so special and easy to embrace by Dodgers fans despite the fact that he’s a lifelong Giants fan? With a literature degree from Fordham University and an almost unreal ability to recall facts, for 67 seasons he wove games together with off-the-cuff stories perfectly intertwined with play-by-plays that painted an exact picture of what was happening on the field.
He had a knack for interesting turns of phrase and left us with some of the most memorable quotes in baseball history. It’s difficult to imagine a Dodger game that does not begin with a perfectly intoned, “It’s time for Dodger Baseball!” and hearing this quote from game one of the 1988 World Series: “In a year that has been so improbable, the impossible has happened,” brings fans to tears. Even his intentional use of silence to uplift the sound of a roaring crowd was brilliant baseball broadcasting.
Though he retired on September 24, 2016, Vin’s voice can still be heard in the stadium and in promos and recaps highlighting exciting moments in Dodger history.
Nancy Bea Hefley
While organist Nancy Bea will be forever remembered for her 27-year career as the organist for the Los Angeles Dodgers, what she stands for is also the dying art of stadium organists everywhere. The introduction of organ players to Dodgers games began in 1942, and the sound of organ music has become as auditorily tied to baseball as the crack of the bat.
Fans fell in love with Bea the same way that Bea fell in love with baseball. She played her standard ripples of “Charge” and “Let’s Go Dodgers” throughout the games until “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” during the seventh inning stretch. But it was the variety of pop and classic songs she’d play in reaction to what was going on during the game that would really delight people in the stands. She was sharp and creative and brought a playful humor to the game. Even if you love baseball, at times you can go hours without seeing any action on the field. Bea’s organ playing helped to liven things up.
As modern times introduced the playing of recorded pop songs and gimmicky games and videos in between innings, organ music has become a far less featured part of baseball. Fans young and old still love to hear the sounds of that organ prompting them to keep the energy high in support of their players.
Nancy Bea retired at the end of the 2015 season and was replaced by Dieter Rhuehle, who manages to uphold the brilliant humor of a well-chosen song for every occasion.
Roz Wyman’s involvement in bringing the Dodgers from Brooklyn to LA is a mixed bag, sullied with the dissent of a community that once called Chavez Ravine their home. While her decision had everything to do with bringing money to local businesses and nothing to do with a love of the sport, the existence of the stadium on that land continues to be a topic of controversy.
Wyman, the youngest person to ever be elected to the city council, had business on her mind and the one thing she thought the city was missing was a sports team. In an interview with KPCC, she said, "I thought it was important for Los Angeles to have major league sports. I looked at New York with the Yankees and Giants, and I thought, 'How could we be major league in a city like LA if we don't have major league baseball?’”
So she wrote a letter to Walter O’Malley, kicking off an aggressive two-year campaign to show him that this would be the perfect place for his team to call home. Initially O’Malley had no interest at all, and Wyman says that the eventual selling point was that there wouldn’t be any rain-out games. (She was mostly correct. There have only ever been 17 rain-outs since 1962.)
Wyman, who still holds onto her yearly season tickets, went on to be a strong figure in California politics and was chair and CEO of the 1984 Democratic National Convention. She was a trailblazer for women in politics and had her hand in many major political campaigns, including the presidential campaign on John F Kennedy.
Through the years she’s watched this city embrace their team and seen the Dodgers become an integral part of the LA identity. While frequently brought up to throw out the first pitch, her real first pitch came in the form of writing a letter.
There are many men and women who walk the stands at Dodger Stadium offering chocolate malts, churros, cotton candy, most recently beer, and of course, nuts! While many of these vendors deserve recognition for their personalities, wise-cracks, and ability to expertly toss food at fans, one purveyor of stadium nuts stands out from the rest.
“The Peanut Man” Richard Aller started working at Dodger stadium when he was 15 years old. Fans who knew about him would go out of their way to purchase tickets in his section. He was on a first-name basis with season ticket holders. His vaudeville-esque performance made him a fan favorite. Much like another notable peanut man, Roger Owens, the people in the stands expected his banter on game day.
When he wasn't rallying the crowd to chant “Nuts! Nuts! Nuts!” he was a high school teacher in Compton with an obsession with racehorses. He and his wife, who also worked at Dodger stadium, have one daughter.
In 1997, there was a major upset in the charismatic Peanut Man’s world. Vendors are provided meal vouchers to spend at the stadium, and two other vendors used their vouchers to buy peanuts, which they sold to Aller for $2 a bag. Aller then sold those peanuts for $3 a bag. According to Aramark, the outside company that provides food and beverage services at the stadium, this was against their policies. A $2 profit turned into a shameful firing and local headlines to the likes of “Vendor Sacked Over 2 Bags of Nuts”.
Fans and other vendors protested the firing. Aller himself felt a lot of remorse and embarrassment over what he’d done. After negotiating with a union rep, Aller was able to return to his position nearly three months later.
Richard Aller retired from his peanut vending position after 49 years, but his story is a strong testament to what it means to be a part of the Dodger community. Every person there, from the fans to the players, to the peanut men are a vital part of the ballpark experience.
Honorable mention to Thomas Arthur, creator of the Dodger Dog.
Are there other people essential to the history of the Los Angeles Dodgers? Tell us about them in the comments.