Weary Dodgers Fly to Japan in 1956

My father and the Brooklyn Dodgers flew on a four-prop DC-7 to Japan in 1956.  Starting at JFK airport (then called Idlewild back then), they stopped in LA, Oahu, Maui, Wake Island and finally Tokyo.  The plane was loud and shook and had to hop from island to island across the Pacific to refuel.  They broke up the 29 hours of flight time with some sightseeing and exhibition games in Maui and Honolulu.  Traveling across the Pacific was a rather arduous journey with four long flights back in the day.

About sixty two years later, I flew direct from LAX to Narita in 10.5 hours in a Boeing 777-300 yesterday.  I could select from a wide variety of movies or play video games on the TV.  My door to door travel time took about 24 hours and the jet was pleasant and the food was pretty good on ANA.  Life has definitely gotten better.

The Dodgers chartered their plane and the players, coaches, many wives and several dignitaries were on board.  Many of the players were ready to blow some steam off after losing the World Series the day before to the Yankees in Game 7.  The story goes that a bottle of whiskey was going around between a few of the players and several of the guys got drunk.  The raucous 20-30 year-olds made a lot of noise and caused trouble until Walt Alston had to shut them up.  Walt was traveling with his wife and many other dignitaries and he wanted to have a civil flight.  When he had enough, he yelled at the players to shut up and got his way.

A few minutes later, Don Newcombe, the Cy Young Award winner and MVP of 1956 with a 27-7 record, came stumbling down the hall towards Walt.  Walt got up and told Don to go back to his seat.  Don had to go to the bathroom and threatened to piss on his Coach if he didn’t get out of the way.  Walt let him pass so Don could relieve himself.  I wrote about this episode in more detail in the book The Last Yankee DodgerI devoted a whole chapter of the book to the Japan Tour.

Another crazy thing that happened on the flight was that Vin Scully fell into a deep sleep in the front of the plane with the owner Walter O’Malley.  Walter, the guy that moved the Dodgers to LA and became the villain in Brooklyn because of it, thought he’d have some fun with Vin.  Walter got a marker and put a dot on Vin’s nose and then a big beard on Vin’s face!  Here’s a picture of the end product:

Walter O’Malley pranked Vin Scully on a long flight to Japan.  Vin told me that Walter was like a fatherly figure to him and that it was just a practical joke.  Vin had been fighting bronchitis before the trip and was exhausted when he started the long journey to Japan.
 Here’s a close-up of the marked up 29-year-old Vin Scully after O’Malley marked his face up.  They put a peach on his arm and dotted his nose too.  

One thing I want to point out is that Vin wasn’t drinking with the players!  I wrote Vin to endorse the book and Vin called me to make sure that I had the story straight. He wasn’t drinking with the players and never had.  His mentor, Red Barber told Vin to not drink, play cards or gamble with the players and Vin said he never did in his 67 years with the Dodgers. Vin wanted to stay objective about the players and is one of the most standup guys around. He gave the book this endorsement:

From Piqua, Kansas, to Tokyo, Japan, with stops along the way in Ebbets Field, LA Coliseum, and Yankee Stadium, Fred touched them all. You will be touched too when you read this book.

—Vin Scully, The Voice of Baseball and the Dodgers for 67 years

I wonder about what else happened on those four long flights across the Pacific from Brooklyn to Tokyo.  Caging up a bunch of young baseball players for that long was going to lead to trouble.

I’ll be talking about some other things that happened on the 1956 Brooklyn Dodger Goodwill Tour of Japan while I recreate some of the journey.

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