Spending the night of the L.A. riots at Dodger Stadium

Twenty years ago, I was in between. I had left my full-time sportswriter job at the Daily News in March and was headed to graduate school in Georgetown in the summer, but for the time being, I was mostly killing time with a little occasional freelance work and a lot of sitting around. I had a destination and was adrift all at once.

Not surprisingly, I spent a lot of time at Dodger Stadium that spring. The 1992 Dodgers were dismal, losing 99 games (the most by the franchise in 84 years), but they started the season 9-9 before dropping three consecutive one-run games, two in extra innings, from April 26-28. The outfield of Eric Davis, Brett Butler and Darryl Strawberry all hit the ball decently in April, and rookie Eric Karros – a surprise starter at first base – was also off to a solid start. The starting pitching, perhaps surprisingly, was the shakiest part of the roster in April.

On the afternoon of April 29, I was in front of the family room TV in my parents’ Woodland Hills house, watching the verdict announcement in the trial of the four police officers charged in the Rodney King beating case. As it was being read, in formal, almost bland, tones, I remember most of all not being sure I was understanding it correctly.

Soon, I would really realize how little grasp I had of what was happening.

My friends and I had plans to see the Dodgers play the Phillies that night, a Wednesday. I don’t believe it occurred to me not to go, other than to perhaps stay home and watch more reaction to the acquittal of the officers. We knew there was anger, we knew there were protests, but we didn’t know how they were going to unfold. Our drive to Dodger Stadium was without incident. When Reginald Denny was being dragged out of his truck, at approximately 6:45 p.m, we were inside the ballpark and insulated from most news of the outside world.

The game wasn’t memorable. Orel Hershiser fell behind 5-0 in the fourth; the Dodgers made four errors and lost, 7-3. It would have been completely forgettable if not for one thing: the warning from the public address announcer not to take any of the southbound freeways away from Dodger Stadium. That certainly got our attention.

By the time we reached home – heading directly west – we fully understood what the deal was.  So would the Dodgers, who canceled their remaining home games that week, forcing them to play doubleheaders on July 3, July 6, July 7 and July 8. That night, I drove back to the Daily News office, an outsider there now as well as just about anywhere else. But in this pre-Internet era, I wanted to see the news coming in. Feeble as it was, that was the only way I knew how to feel connected.

During a recent conference call promoting the documentary Harvard Park, I asked Davis and Strawberry their recollections of the day. Both were in the Dodger starting lineup as the events of April 29 unfolded.

Davis:

It started out as a normal day. With any news of that magnitude, we were watching and paying close attention to the verdict. Unfortunately we had started to play when the verdict came down. And some things started to transpire that we weren’t aware of. And at the end of the game, the sheriffs came into the clubhouse (and told us) that the city was in an uproar and they kind of routed us home, as far as what freeways to take.

Going south out of South Central, the city was in a blaze. There was a lot of anger, there was a lot of hatred that was going on in the city at that particular time because of what had transpired. We actually went home and turned on the news and saw the city being in a blaze.

At that time, Darryl and myself had a store on 84th and Broadway, called All-Star Custom Interiors. The next day we got a call that the games were cancelled. And we were like, ‘Wow, this is really serious, they are canceling games.’ So, we went down to see the store and everything around it had been burned and vandalized — except our store. So it was like we had mixed emotions, because of the total chaos that was going on in the city but the upmost respect for what Darryl and myself had meant to that particular area as opposed to other areas that our store was not vandalized.

And then the time that we brought Rodney King down (to Dodger Stadium) … I had known Rodney’s attorney, and our thought was that it was a healing process and that here’s a man who was getting abused for getting beat. And when he came to Dodger Stadium, it was more of a comfort zone – from what Darryl and myself – to say, let’s try to move forward. But the response we got from some of the people at Dodger Stadium was like this guy was Charles Manson or somebody. It kind of hurt then, because of the fact that he was still being treated as an aggressor, or that he did some wrong outside of getting beat.

So I had mixed emotions about that.

It was a very tough time in South Central at that particular time. I had never been a part of a racial riot to that magnitude. I mean, I was a kid when I watched riots hit, but to actually be in the middle of that and have something to do with it, it was a very tough time – I’m just glad we got through it.

Strawberry:

Well said, E. That’s so true, because it was a very difficult time. You’re talking about two guys that grew up patrolling up these streets of South Central Los Angeles, and never saw so much hatred towards color. Just the frustration of people and the acting out over something hurt a lot of people.

I remember my brother Michael, he was (with the) LAPD at the time too, and he got his car got shot up during the riot as they rolled by. With a AK-47, he got shot up. He had a helmet on but bullets didn’t even hit him in the head, he could have been dead over the fact that the LAPD had got off this case here after being on (video) shown around America of the beating of Rodney King like he was a dog. It was just an unfortunate time for all of us to have to see that because that’s not what America’s supposed to be about.

America is supposed to be about a place of love and peace, happiness and joy and sometimes it turns out to be the opposite of that because of the color of your skin, and it shouldn’t be that way. We felt like we should have been past that, so that time of our life was very difficult to experience and looking back on it and seeing the guy.

The morning of April 30, 1992, we – those of us who slept – woke to a city on fire. The morning of April 30, 2012, we will wake to the day of new ownership of the Dodgers. The events are more coincidental than connected – even with an African-American as one of the new co-owners. Even if it’s just a coincidence, though, it seemed worth pointing out. It is strange what the calendar brings – acknowledgment of how much has changed, and misgivings over how much has not.

Update: My Variety colleague Andrew Barker, who says April 29, 1992 was the first major-league game he ever attended, points out that Strawberry (and then Davis) batted in the bottom of the ninth with the bases loaded and a chance to tie the score, but made out.

  • Anonymous

    I was working in Beverly Hills at the time (but grew up in the Baldwin Hills/Crenshaw area hence the origin of this screen name).  Anyway, I remember I was out with my family for my brother’s birthday that night and then went back to my apartment in Encino, I turned on the TV and saw a store on fire and thought, that looks like a store near my parent’s home.  It was, though fortunately, no homes in that area were attacked.

    Having gone to high school at the same time Eric Davis and Daryl Strawberry did and from the Crenshaw area, I was much more familiar with how African Americans viewed the LAPD than maybe others.  I have always felt that until you can see the world from other people’s point of view, you may miss why they act the way they do.

    I am not sure things have changed a lot in terms of how people feel in the last 20 years but I certainly hope they have started to change for the better.

  • http://www.linkmeister.com/wordpress/ Linkmeister

    NPR had a story about the rise of Koreatown as a result (or at least side-effect) of those riots. It was pretty fascinating to somebody like me, geographically removed from LA as I am. It’s a good backgrounder.

    http://www.npr.org/2012/04/27/151524921/how-koreatown-rose-from-the-ashes-of-l-a-riots

  • Onlyatriple

    I lived very close to the Fedco that was looted (now a Target) and remember watching looters walking down my street with shopping carts filled with electronics and clothing. I also recall climbing to my roof and seeing all the fires burning to the east of me, the sky filled with red flame and dark smoke.  My future grandfather in law, who is Japanese American, was pulled from his car at the corner of Rodeo and La Cienega and beaten, but then rescued by a neighbor who recognized him.  

    Anyhow, my baseball memory of those dark times was the above referenced doubleheader of July 6 against the Expos.  It was insanely hot and humid that day, and the games seemed to stretch on forever (although in fact they were each 3 hours).  Delino DeShields went 3 for 4 with an SB (and 2 errors) in the opener, and 3 for 5 in the nightcap.  My friend and I were very impressed with him and thus were perhaps unduly satisfied with the later trade that brought him to the Ds.  Jim Gott and Roger McDowell pitched in both games….

  • KT

    I was in the military for almost 4 years and I was finally going to go a foriegn country besides my visit to Mexico years ago. I was looking forward to the Lakers playoff game. Our ship was pulling into Sydney Harbor when news spread through the ship like the fires through L.A. I was very worried for the town and all my family and friends. It was a bad time that I hope never repeats.

  • Anonymous

    Jon- I too was at the ravine that night.  I was so oblivious I left the game and popped in a CD.  I got halfway to Westwood on the 10 when I finally noticed fires ranging on both sides of the freeway.  And I made it to one of the makeup July doubleheaders as well.  A few odd footnotes to a dismal season.

  • peter drysdale

    I lived in TN so I can’t imagine what that was like. It’s hard to believe people can get that upset over a verdict. I’m sure it’s similar to when people riot after a championship and things get out of hand. Then you get people who take advantage of the situation.
    BTW, I had a T-shirt with Butler, Strawberry, and Davis that said Triple Threat. They weren’t much of one. Mostly a single threat with Butler.

    • Anonymous

      “I’m sure it’s similar to when people riot after a championship and things get out of hand. Then you get people who take advantage of the situation.”
      Yeah, no.

      • Onlyatriple

        “Yeah, no.”  Perfect response Frip.  

  • Anonymous

    I was living Toledo.  Me and some buddies caught bit of it on tv, then went to bed.

  • Anonymous

    I was watching the Lakers playoff game on TV and the P.A. announcer gave VERY detailed instructions for how people should leave Inglewood.

    The Lakers finished their playoff series in Las Vegas. The Clippers were in the playoffs that year and played their games at the Anaheim Convention Center.

  • http://www.linkmeister.com/wordpress/ Linkmeister

    MLB Network says they’ll have the game. What they don’t say is “unless you live in one of the blackout areas.” It’s a good thing Prime Ticket has it or I’d be an unhappy camper.

    I wonder how many dozens or hundreds (or thousands) of letters Selig and his TV people get griping about silly blackout rules. C’mon, I’m in Hawai’i. I’m not going to decide at 1:00pm that I want to see the game live at DS or any other West Coast venue at 7:00pm tonight.

    • Anonymous

       It’s *because* Prime Ticket has it that it’s blacked out for you. PT pays a small fortune – very soon to become an immense fortune – for the rights to carry the game. It’s because you’re in PT’s area that MLBN is blacked out when carrying a PT game. If they weren’t in your area, it wouldn’t be blacked out. Ar least. that’s how it’s supposed to work,and does for you. We’ve heard enough about really absurd situations where people can’t get the game at all that are genuinely worthy of criticism.

  • KT

    Billz looking sharp today so far

  • Anonymous

    A guy like Harper is probably going to stumble in this early a test in the Majors, and get sent back down for a while. But tonight—his first call up—he is likely to get 2 Homers and nother hit—just to establish his bonefides, Darn

  • Anonymous

    We will always have Harper’s first at-bat.

  • Anonymous

    Beauty of a pitch by Strasburg

  • KT

    Nice hit James

  • KT

    right on the elbow…suck it up Juan
     
    Come on AJ

  • Anonymous

    I remember commuting on the UCLA vanpool when the violence broke out.  I recall seeing cars on the freeway packed full of clothing as if people were evacuating a war zone with all their belongings.  For fear of violating rule 5, I’ll just say it was a sad time for our city.

    It also forced the Dodgers to play multiple double-headers against the Expos.  To this day Vinny still says Delino played that series like Rogers Horsnby.  I can only imagine what would have happened if Delino had struggled in those double headers.

  • KT

    Fantastic PLAY by Jerry!!!!

  • KT

    Need a K here

  • KT

    That will work…Let’s get werth

  • KT

    Good play James to save the run

  • Anonymous

    at some point you`d think Kemp and or Ethier will figure Strasburg out, but it`s always absolutely fascinating watching the process before hand.

  • Anonymous

    the game with in the game…

  • http://underdog.typepad.com/ underdog

    What an outstanding game so far. Just catching up live after watching it delayed and me oh my, this is even better than expected. Some terrific D, too, including Strasburg. Dodgers hit some screamers that were caught. But wow, he’s terrific. Bills has been as well. This game is a pleasure, with Vin added on top of it. Super. Let’s get two runs and call it a night. ;)

    Be a bummer if Bills loses 1-0 but given the opposing pitcher…

  • Anonymous

    I can`t even imagine being 19 & playing major league ball & getting a double off of Billz.

  • KT

    Think it’s broken?

    That sounded nasty

  • KT

    Come on James

  • KT

    That slide into second hurt Jerry’s hand

  • KT

    Come on Juan

  • Anonymous

    Looks like we have something brewing here.

  • Anonymous

    Hairston Jr. you are one tuff hombre.

  • KT

    Come on AJ

    • Anonymous

      AJ has a great eye. woo!

      • KT

        ^_^

  • Anonymous

    oh man!

    1-1

  • KT

    Harper had him but the catcher dropped the balll….All tied!!!

  • KT

    jerry took the ball out of the catchers glove then pushed it away…the ump didn’t catch that

  • T.M. Brown

    Dirty play by Hairston but there you go. Harper threw a laser. 

  • KT

    Let’s go Josh…shut them down

  • Anonymous

    Hairston wanted vengeance.

    • Anonymous

      & vengence he got. but I think the catchers mit hit Hairston pretty hard too.

  • KT

    So if Uribe does his job do they walk AJ or do they pitch to him and he drives in 1 not two cause Loney was the trailer (pun intended) ^_^

  • KT

    Nice Job Josh

  • Anonymous

    lets go Dodgers, lets go [clap-clap]

    • KT

      Let’s go Dodgers, lets go (clap-clap)

  • Anonymous

    Win or Lose – I am glad Chad had a bounce back game and that the Dodgers had the cojones to  answer back against the gigante phenom, Strasburg, in the bottom of the inning.

    The dp by Rivera was a heart breaker.

  • KT

    Very close line scores by the starters

  • KT

    Come on Dee

  • KT

    let’s go Tony

  • KT

    breaking balls vinny

  • KT

    Come on Dre

  • Anonymous

    damn, that pitch by Clippard was nasty to Ethier. Yikes!

  • KT

    I don’t feel comfortable this inning

  • Anonymous

    Uribe surprises me sometimes.

    • KT

      good play…thought Ankiel was going to push that bunt by him

  • KT

    Come on DP

  • Anonymous

    Guerra = war, come on Javy I want to believe in you!

  • Anonymous

    Nice hitting by the washington hitter, rats Harper up next.

  • Anonymous

     Guerra’s recent performance is not encouraging.

  • KT

    no tie and the bottom of the lineup due up…looks like tomorrow gents

  • Anonymous

    guerra is throwing batting practice.

  • Anonymous

    there teeing off him.

  • Anonymous

    we were fortunate to get out of that as cheaply as we did

  • Anonymous

    [turns cap around & hopes]

    • Anonymous

      me, too

  • KT

    That one is just a little bit High…favorite quote from major league

  • KT

    Nice hit Mark

  • Anonymous

    Nice bit `o hitting by one Mark Ellis! woo!

    that`s right!

  • KT

    this guy’s wild…don’t swing james

  • Anonymous

    that was your pitch, james

  • Anonymous

    I have to admit, if I were up there hitting against this guy, I`d be scared.

  • KT

    Why did they hold him????

    Werth had to spin all the way around

    • Anonymous

      It made no sense, as they were never even going to attempt to throw him out at home. But it’s moot now, since Ellis scored anyway.

      • KT

        I agree but it doesn’t matter now

  • Anonymous

    the Dodgers are taking the conservative route, i hope it works out.

  • KT

    Nice Juan!!!!

  • Anonymous

    Vin: “It’s oh Henry alright, but it’s not a candy bar.”   hmmmmm

  • KT

    Come on AJ

  • Anonymous

    The Dodgers have a way of sucking me in & then breaking my heart, i hope that`s not the case tonight!

    [gets excited at the posibility of a come back win!!]

  • KT

    Make him throw strikes AJ

  • KT

    Why Kennedy on deck

  • KT

    Not far enough for loney

  • Andrew Shimmin

    Hey look. It’s Adam Kennedy.

  • KT

    get rid of Kenedy now…don’t wait until later

  • Anonymous

    err

  • KT

    dee will be over matched in my opinion

  • KT

    we need a pass ball

    • KT

      Almost…throw it away

    • Anonymous

      You must be one of those spoiled rich kids who always gets what he wants.  

      • KT

        working man 20 years retired Navy…but I use the power of positive thinking…occasionally it works

  • Anonymous

    Would be hard to script a more anticlimactic play.  Loney looked like Herman Munster crossing the plate.

  • Anonymous

    Little Dee can do it, come on!!

  • KT

    YES!!!!

  • KT

    Come on Dee

  • KT

    wild pitch him to third

  • Anonymous

    why isn’t kennedy at 3rd?

  • Anonymous

    is that a record for passed balls! wowsers!

  • KT

    Yes…not what I had in mine as per the 3rd strike

  • http://underdog.typepad.com/ underdog

    Best game of the year so far? If nothing else, it’s one of the craziest, on top of the great starting pitching performances (neither guy with any decision to show for it). And also: A reminder that it isn’t just our closer who is capable of wobbliness. Of course wobbly is putting it mild for Rodriguez. Yikes. But we’ll take it!

    Would be ironic if Kennedy scored winning run given he didn’t really do jack this inning, but again, we’d take it!

  • Anonymous

    squeaze the winning run in

    • Anonymous

       With two out?

      • Anonymous

        yes.  is that a real problem?

        • Anonymous

           It’s not a squeeze then. You’re bunting for a base hit.

  • Anonymous

    Vin: “Rodriguez is going to make an old man out of Davey Johnson.”  …Vin is killing me tonight.

    • Anonymous

       Or “an older man…”

  • Anonymous

    right at LaRoche, Gwynn put good wood on it at least.

  • KT

    tony scorched that ball too bad right at the 1st baseman

  • KT

    Come on Jamie…shut them down

  • Anonymous

    kennedy should have gone to third on the same passed ball that scored uribe. 

    • KT

      1st to 3rd on a pass ball???

      He doesn’t have Dee’s speed

  • KT

    Nice inning Jamie
     
    Let’s go Matty

  • Anonymous

    10thinning > Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier!

  • Anonymous

    send us home Happy Matty!

  • KT

    MATTY!!!!!!

  • Anonymous

    oh my god!!!

  • KT

    record for the most HR’s in April

  • Anonymous

    he just broke Sheffield april home run record of 10 as well!!!

  • Anonymous

    How do you do!?

  • http://www.facebook.com/Vashkan Anthony Forkush

    Pound for pound, one of the most amazing games I have seen in years. I am so very proud of these guys this evening. Thank you, Dodgers!!!!

  • Anonymous

    matt kemp is the MVP.  he is the best player in baseball.  period.

  • Anonymous

    THAT’s why they call him the BISON!

  • KT

    Suprized Davey gave us the game back by leaving his wild closer in when you could tell he didn’t have it..Thank you

  • http://www.mythphile.com/ Blue-eyed Gal (Ellen)

    As the cherry on top of this broadcast, the Disneyland fireworks started up about the time Matt hit it out. I can still hear them rumbling in the distance.

    (Sorry, I know, I should be focused on the rather more important topic of this post, but I was still living in the boonies of Pennsylvania 20 years ago.)

  • Anonymous

    Props to the bottom of the lineup picking up Guerra.

    • KT

      yes definitely…if they didn’t have patience..it would have been over soon

      • http://underdog.typepad.com/ underdog

        Yep including Uribe, with a huge hit that might have tied it if it hadn’t gone into stands for GRD.

  • KT

    Going for the sweep tomorrow

  • Anonymous

    Greatest game in Dodger Thoughts history not to have a dedicated game thread?

  • http://underdog.typepad.com/ underdog
  • Anonymous

    I don’t believe what I just saw. As the late Sam Balter would’ve broadcast, tonight’s game was “one for the books”.

  • http://www.dodgerthoughts.com/ Jon Weisman

    NPUT

  • Anonymous

    so when was the last time we saw a playoff quality game like this…in april?