I don’t typically find myself commenting on current events or engaging in discussions regarding controversial issues impacting the world today. But I felt I would be remiss if I didn’t comment on the current status of the Los Angeles Dodgers. My feelings for the Dodgers have never been a secret; in fact, it creeps into my posts periodically with affection. So the events of the past week, with Major League Baseball wrenching control of the franchise from its current owner, was something on which I could not remain silent. I can say that I am at polar opposites– embarrassed and excited.
The Los Angeles Dodgers are a storied franchise, for whatever that means. I mean, seriously, every team has stories, right? Victories and losses, colorful characters and scandals… every team has them. Whereas I can tell you that my love for the Dodgers began solely because I lived in Los Angeles, it has continued because of what the Dodgers mean and have meant to baseball and to the world. I might even say that it is my love of history that has fostered my love for the Dodgers.
The Dodgers have been underdogs and superstars, trailblazers and models of consistency over the past 70 years. Starting with their rise to some prominence in Brooklyn in the early 1940’s (their history prior to the 1940’s was comical at best), the Dodgers have been consistently on the map. First and foremost, of course, is the breaking of baseball’s color lines. At a time when the Jim Crow south was still in full swing and bigotry and hatred lurked around every corner, the Dodgers took a stand and introduced Jackie Robinson to the world as the first African-American baseball player. Over the next two years, the Dodgers expanded their roster to include three more African-Americans. The Boston Red Sox, by comparison, did not sign their first African-American player until 1959, 12 years after Jackie Robinson.
While it may have been devastating to the people of Brooklyn in 1958, the Dodgers’ move to Los Angeles brought baseball for the first time to Americans west of Kansas City and truly made baseball the national pastime. The Giants, by the way, followed the Dodgers out west on the urging of the Dodgers’ ownership.
Over the next 30 years, the Dodgers were a franchise of consistency and success. Numerous pennants and 5 world championships created and cultivated a love affair with this city. Fans of the team knew that every year the same players would be in their familiar positions and ownership made it a point to ensure that the fans were kept happy by putting a product on the field that would compete consistently.
Over that time, the city grew to love the team and devote themselves to it and the Dodgers continued to chart the course for the rest of the league. Whether it be Sandy Koufax refusing to pitch on Yom Kippur, the record-setting infield, the two separate streaks of four straight rookies of the year, Fernando-mania, Hideo Nomo as the first Japanese player, Chan Ho Park as the first Korean ballplayer, and consistency of ownership and management (only two managers over a 42 year span of time — take that Yankees!), Dodgers fans knew that they had something special in their team.
All of that began to change with the sale of the team in 1998 to an international media conglomerate. The Dodger family was no longer; it was now a business.
Look, I am not naive; I know that baseball is a business. But I am susceptible to being fooled. And so long as you openly promote a focus on the fans and maintaining a level of pride, I don’t really care that it is a business. But when it became more about the business than anything else, the mystique begins to fade.
So with the purchase in 2004 of the Dodgers by the McCourts, there was optimism and hope. Could the Dodgers return to the glamour and dignity that had made them Los Angeles’ team for so long? It looked promising, but alas, the final word is no. Whereas the family ownership of the O’Malleys was one of innocence and anonymity, allowing the play on the field to define the team, the McCourt ownership has been one of decadence and self-promotion. The play on the field and the history of the team, has been overshadowed and overtaken by gluttony. The attraction should be the team, not the train-wreck running it.
So with the latest developments, I am sorely embarrassed. In 2008 when Manny Ramirez came to the Dodgers, Los Angeles became relevant yet again, wrenching attention away from the east coast. For a glorious two-month period, the Dodgers were front-page news because of what was happening on the field. Since then, they have been front-page news for what has happened off of it. And it is humiliating. The history and glory of the boys in blue has been all but forgotten and the challenge now will be to re-build what was all but destroyed and return to being one of the, if not THE, most relevant and important franchises in baseball.
For that, I am optimistic and excited. Hopefully the team will be sold and perhaps it will be sold to an owner or group who understands the history of the team and its great responsibility to Los Angeles, to its fans, and to baseball itself. The team needs to return to prominence as a model of consistency, success, and more importantly as pioneers. As many of you may know, my daughter’s name is Brooklyn because of the Dodgers and their history in that borough. It was a conscious effort on our part to not select a name that had ties to the current team, for the history of the team has not yet been written, whereas the history of the team in Brooklyn has been completed. It cannot be changed. The heroes of that team, Brooklyn’s place in baseball history is unchanging.
The question is: what will be the history of the Los Angeles Dodgers and what will this team’s impact be? Will the consistency and accomplishments of Koufax and Garvey and Hershiser and Gibson be lost in the annals of baseball lore as mere apparitions in favor of the destruction of a team and its fans, or will it be a minor speed-bump on the road to euphoria?
I sure have my fingers crossed.
Have a great week.