Monday, August 28, 2006

When the Beatles Rocked Dodger Stadium

In the 44-year history of Dodger Stadium, many great moments are indelibly etched in memory — the 1963 Dodgers, who won the first and only World Championship on their home playing field by sweeping the rival New York Yankees; a perfect game by Sandy Koufax on September 9, 1965; and the magic of Kirk Gibson with his dramatic game-winning home run in Game One of the 1988 World Series against Oakland, to name a few. Yet, none of these are able to approach the sustained decibel level of another famous event held there 40 years ago.

On August 28, 1966, some 45,000 fans screamed ceaselessly, hysterically...basically, taking constant noise to a fever pitch. It was not for a baseball game, however. No, on this Sunday night at Dodger Stadium, a concert was held featuring “The Beatles”. Warm-up acts included soloist Bobby Hebb and bands “The Remains,” “The Cyrkle,” and “The Ronettes.” But they proved to be no match for The Beatles, the pièce de résistance, clean-up hitting, sizzling main course of British imports from Liverpool. Shrieking teen-age girls overpowered the 2,000-watt public address system with some 27 speakers that surrounded the baselines. Some girls worked themselves into such a frenzy, they fainted and had to be carried away.

But, John Lennon, Ringo Starr, Paul McCartney and George Harrison, the famed quartet who comprised The Beatles, did their job and pleased the crowd, performing 10 of their songs in a 30-minute period. The deafening crowd noise, though, prevented the majority of fans from actually being able to hear any of their music.

“The flat stage (decorated in blue and white), probably four feet off the ground, was set up at second base. We sold out all of the seats in the stadium, other than the Pavilions. The ends of the stadium were sold for the first time. With a flat stage, they could move around and the people on the far ends of the Reserved Level or Field Level could still see them. The promoters gave tickets to people who were blind to sit in the Pavilions.

“Another change was we hired a lot of the off-duty Long Beach police officers. They were in uniform. They turned out to be a great move.”

One of the primary operational concerns was to find the quickest route to get The Beatles out of Dodger Stadium following their brief performance.
“From the stage behind second base, we had a large tent set up and in that tent we had parked two limousines,” said Smith. “The purpose of these limousines was when the show was over, The Beatles would come off the stage, go into one of the limousines and the center field gates would open. The Beatles would be in one car and I think the manager and a couple of guys in another car. Before anybody realized what was happening, we would have The Beatles out of the stadium and gone. It didn’t work out that way.”

The logistical nightmare was just beginning for Smith and his co-worker, an off-duty Los Angeles Police Department officer named Sheldon Combs who headed the Dodger Stadium security force. The Beatles arrived on the eighth level of Dodger Stadium around 4 p.m. and traveled down the elevator to the dugout level. They dressed and prepared for the concert in the Dodger clubhouse. The same clubhouse which was home that 1966 season to four eventual Hall of Famers — Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, Don Sutton and Manager Walter Alston. The other bands used the old Los Angeles Angels clubhouse (used by the Angels in 1962-65), adjacent to the Dodger shower area (on the left field side) as their dressing room. Only Smith, Combs, the promoters and close friends of The Beatles were permitted inside the Dodger clubhouse with special passes.

“The tent was covered — it had a top on it and side curtains. We had ‘Beatles Dressing Room’ on a big sign on the tent,” said Smith. “We had three different plans. The first was, when the show was over, that they would go into the tent. We had a guy in center field and once we said to open the gates, the gates would open and out they would go in the limo. Then we had another plan with a Brink’s Armored truck in Parking Lot B (near the top of Dodger Stadium). We would get them to the elevator up to the eighth level to Lot B and out of there. Then, the third plan we had an ambulance in the tunnel down the left field side, placed there long before the gates opened. That tunnel was sealed off where nobody could go through it or exit or anything.”

During the concert, Smith divided his time between the Dodger dugout and the Press Box on the Club Level. With the help of the Long Beach P.D., Dodger security formed a ring on the field level, some three feet apart, around the stadium. Security supervisors monitored the Dodger dugout, where The Beatles made their entrance from the Dodger clubhouse to the field and ultimately on stage.

As far as the concert itself, Smith said he was less concerned about listening to the foursome’s music than he was making sure that everyone was secure and everything stayed under control.

“From the time they came on the stage till they went off, it was continuous screaming in the stands,” said Smith. “It was so loud. I don’t think you could understand what they were saying because it was so loud. The screaming would be above the music, and they kept cranking up the music. But, all the people were standing up, jumping up and down and screaming. I think compared to baseball, baseball was pretty calm compared to this. The Gibson home run was something similar to that, but it didn’t last as long as when The Beatles were there.”

The noise from the fans wafted from Dodger Stadium all the way to down to Sunset Boulevard, according to Smith. As the thirty minutes of pure pandemonium and exhilaration ended, he was prepared to implement the exit plan.

“When the show was over, all The Beatles but Ringo Starr did exactly what they were supposed to — they came off the stage and went in the tent,” said Smith. “Ringo is on the stage waving a white towel. He won’t come off. It took him maybe an extra five minutes. So now, when the first Beatles got in the limo, the center field gates open. Fans realize what’s happening. Everybody spills out of the stadium on the end of the building and they all head to the center field gates. So, the limo starts that way. The front limo runs into the batter’s eye screen post. There were so many people. We had put white tape up there, so if it got crowded, the driver would just aim at the batter’s eye. He hit the post head on, going two or three miles per hour. Now, the people are all over the car. We are trying to reverse and get the limo back onto the field.

“Chris Duca, the head of the field crew (of the Dodgers known as ‘Dukie’), runs in and he’s trying to get the big gates closed all together and we keep trying to get the limo back on the field. Sheldon Combs, the LAPD guy, got his shirt ripped off and hurt his leg. The Long Beach Police were holding everybody back. Really, they (Long Beach P.D.) saved the day for us, I think, because there were so many of them and they just happened to be in the right location. Kids were breaking those big barricades. They started fighting with police. One of the guys swung at one of the police and he ended up hitting one of his friends right above the eye when the cop ducked.

“We got ‘Dukie’ and got a big rope around those gates — those kids were pushing those gates and they were rocking pretty good. In Parking Lot 8/10 (behind center field), there must have been about 25,000 people out there just milling around, a lot of them still screaming. They wanted to get back in, because they said, ‘The Beatles are in the ballpark!’ We finally got The Beatles back on the field, brought them to the Dodger dugout and the stands were still probably a third full or more, because they were watching what was happening out there.”

Smith then got a call that he could eliminate the second plan.

“We got them back in the dugout and now we said the plan in Lot B is gone,” Smith said. “Some of the fans thought the Brink’s truck in Lot B might be a plan and they let the air out of the tires on the truck. So, that foiled that.

“I was right in the middle of it. The promoter was staying right with The Beatles at the time. We get them back into the Dodger clubhouse. Then we decided we’ve got only one area now and we’ve got to try to get them down through the tunnel, up the stairs and into that ambulance. The Beatles are starting to cooperate pretty good, because they are a little frightened.

“Now, we get them up and in the ambulance and we had two security guards we placed in the ambulance with them to kind of make sure to hold the doors. Here comes the ambulance and you’ve got your red lights and siren going. As the doors opened, the people kind of stepped back and the ambulance went right on through. They got over to Gate B exit at Scott Avenue. Two kids swung one of those paddles that closes the gate. They pushed it and the ambulance driver hit that. Well, that hit the headlight and knocked the battery. The battery ends up in the fan of the ambulance and it starts to overheat. They get them over to Elysian Park, where the baseball diamonds are at. So, now we get a call that that’s where they are stuck. We jump in our cars and head over there. By this time, we are calling for another Brink’s truck. The guy in the Brink’s truck in Lot B with the flat tires had his company send a driver from headquarters to Elysian Park. It must have taken a half hour. The Beatles are sitting right there in this ambulance under the palm trees in the park!
“The security people are almost trying to fight to hold people down. There were quite a few people who said ‘I bet The Beatles are in there (the ambulance).’ We had gotten over there in about 10 or 15 minutes and waited for the Brink’s truck. We stayed away from the ambulance. We didn’t want to create too much of a scene. When the Brink’s truck shows up, we get it close enough to the ambulance. We get the back doors open and the Brink’s guys open that. More or less, the security guards grab The Beatles and threw them in the Brink’s truck. The ambulance driver was sweating pretty good.

“Still, to this day, I remember when they were trying to close the doors of the Brink’s truck, one of The Beatles grabbed some fan’s hair and a wig came right off and when the doors were closed, the wig was still sticking out of the door as the truck left. When that Brink’s truck pulled out of there, cleared the crowd and was on the road, then I could kind of breathe a sigh of relief.”

But, Smith’s night was far from finished.

“We went back to the stadium,” said Smith. “There were some injured people at First Aid, nothing major. Most of the people were injured in the excitement out beyond center field. They just milled around forever. We were making announcements that The Beatles have gone. A lot of people wouldn’t believe that. They’re chanting, ‘The Beatles are still in the ballpark.’ It went on that way. People finally started leaving two or three hours after the event was over. Then, after that 12 o’clock, one o’clock, two o’clock, we still have got a lot of people there.

“People had dropped off their kids and now they are still trying to get back in and pick up these kids. Sometime around two or three in the morning, we moved everything to the Union Oil station. Instead of parents trying to find Lot A or the Security office, that’s where we set up a command post. People were still coming in all night long. I’m still there at daybreak. We called juvenile hall. They sent up three or four buses to pick up close to 200 remaining kids. We would call people as far away as San Diego or Santa Barbara and these people were mad because we would tell them their 15-year-old daughter was still at Dodger Stadium. Then, if they wouldn’t come and get them, that’s when we called juvenile hall. The sun was up over Dodger Stadium when that last bus pulled out of there.”

One of the most satisfying accomplishments for Smith and his staff was that the fans were unable to compromise the playing field. “We always were kind of proud of that,” said Smith, who had ringing in his ears from the noise for several days following. “That at least we didn’t let them take over the field like they had a couple of other places. There were a lot of loose seats, where they were jumping up and down. It was just another special event in Dodger Stadium. I have always thought that the World Series is one of the biggest events that we ever put on there. This was something that we didn’t know a lot about (staging a concert), but I think we prepared for it knowing what happened at the other stadia and we had a lot of extra help and everything. It was much different than a game. This crowd was probably in the 14-18 range, most of it girls.”

The Beatles moved on to San Francisco’s Candlestick Park for their last live public concert the next night before a crowd of 25,000. Their 14-city tour concluded, earning an estimated $1 million.

Smith later ran Stadium Operations for the Dodger organization, first as Director and later as Vice President, spending more than a 30-year career at Dodger Stadium, staging eight World Series, one Major League Baseball All-Star Game, the Olympic Baseball exhibition tournament and a Mass celebrated by Pope John Paul II.

“Never had I experienced something like that at Dodger Stadium and never again,” he said about The Beatles concert. “It was quite a night!”

Recalling that historic event as “A Hard Day’s Night,” Smith remembers it as if it were “Yesterday.”


Post a Comment

<< Home

Online Degrees