Why I’m bitter.
I was young and impressionable.
There was Leo Durocher with Herman Munster, and Wes Parker shacking up with Greg Brady’s teacher. I fell in love with that blue cursive insignia on the front of the uniforms, and the almost pornographic promise of a real-life Farmer John Dodger Dog – “Eastern-most in quality and Western-most in flavor”.
On the diamond there was The Infield. There was Dusty and Yeager, Mota and Sutton. Messersmith and Marshall. In the dugout was Walter Alston and then Tommy Lasorda. We were seemingly always in the World Series and we hated the Giants. Life was simple. It was seductive.
Being a Dodger fan even came with a proud history. A nice Jewish boy like me could not help but be fascinated by Sandy Koufax. We were the team of Jackie Robinson – aligning us with the good guys in the civil rights narrative. Being a Dodger fan also somehow connected me to Duke, Pee Wee, Gil – I learned of the boys of summer from the warm, nostalgic sepia toned voices of Vin Scully and Jerry Doggett. I’d been indoctrinated.
I didn’t land on Dodger Stadium. Dodger Stadium landed on me. But it felt good for a long, long time… so I bought it all hook, line and sinker.
Looking back, there was always a dark side. Some spoke of never forgiving the O’Malleys for tearing the heart out of Brooklyn. This was easy to forgive as it mirrored the move west made by my own family. Every now and then someone spoke bitterly about a poor Elysian Fields neighborhood destroyed in order to make room for a then state of the art stadium. I’d ignore these complaints as if they came from a Giant’s fan’s mouth. They were incongruous. The Dodgers were the good guys. End of debate.
Exactly when the bloom started coming off the rose, I cannot tell you. Perhaps it was the night Al Campanis had one too many before appearing on Nightline. Maybe Gibson’s ’88 home run was so epochal that it ushered in an era of darkness. Maybe God judged us unfavorably for trading Pedro Martinez for a guy who wore his socks funny. For all I know Jody Reed practiced the dark arts on us. I dunno. Maybe I simply grew up and started seeing the ugly side of things for what they were. I did not have a child’s ability to ignore inconvenient truths anymore.
The once history-laden franchise became leaden. Our scouting department (once the envy of baseball) began producing flawed players (though often incredibly impressive in one or two aspects of their game) and made a habit of cutting corners, forging birth certificates and drafting carelessly.
More disturbingly, the O’Malleys began to seem complacent. After 1988 it seemed that they were satisfied to field a team that was sorta kinda good enough – never getting that final piece again as they had with Kirk Gibson. Even with five consecutive flawed but talented rookies of the year and a roster full of young overachievers like Ismael Valdes, Darren Dreifort and Chan Ho Park – the front office failed to provide the proven talent needed to augment that inexpensive nucleus. In retrospect it was clear they were preparing for a sale – so we fans suffered.
Our suffering ought to have ended with the sale of the Dodgers. Orphan franchise gets adopted by loving new parents and all is well. But this story was being written by Charles Dickens and we were sent packing to Rupert Murdoch and Fox. I suppose they could have had good intentions for us. After all – they were willing to invest and wanted a winner. But they knew nothing about baseball yet still meddled in baseball decisions.
The nadir came when they bypassed our own GM to trade our franchise player for another team’s salary dump. Then needing to hire a new GM, they chose yes man Sheriff Kevin Malone – the only person desperate enough for the job that he was willing to attempt their absurd mandate – to try and buy a championship in a single mediocre free agent market. The payroll exploded. The team fizzled. Fox lost interest. Malone was fired.
So we endured years in the wilderness as new GM Dan Evans was left with the thankless task of running a team with virtually no payroll space to make moves, few players with any trade value, and nothing much of value in the minors. Long term contracts to the likes of Todd Hundley ensured that it would take years to clean up the mess. But slowly and methodically he rebuilt the roster, the farm team and the scouting department into good health. But lacking support from the ownership his teams were left to twist in the wind. Again.. we fans had waited patiently for the franchise to heal from its many self-inflicted wounds. We focused on the better days around the corner and were stoic as teams that had the potential to contend were wasted. When we needed a big bat we got Jeromy Burnitz and a ticket out of the playoffs in the first round. Like any good Dickens novel we were about to be sent off again to another dysfunctional situation. Fox was preparing to sell. Enter Frank McCourt.
Frank McCourt was one of us. A dumbass baseball fan who thought he knew baseball better than the pros. The prevailing fad in baseball at the time was Moneyball and sabermetrics. Baseball executives loved the idea of winning on the cheap and a new generation of egghead fans spurred on by the echo chamber of the internet suddenly developed a mass case of Stockholm Syndrome and spents all sorts of energy analyzing their team’s payroll flexibility and obsessing on prospects. Never mind that it wasn’t their money (or maybe it was, as baseball owners like McCourt were busily raising prices for tickets, parking, etc…) and most of the prospects fetishized never cracked a big league roster. These fans encouraged Frank McCourt to run the Dodgers as a medium market team. He was more than happy to oblige.
It should also be noted that Frank McCourt was a Boston native fan who bought the Dodgers only after failing to purchase his beloved Red Sox. Like Jimmy Stewart in Vertigo he set out to remake us into the object of his desire – firing the resourceful Dan Evans in favor of Paul Depodesta and his laptop – the Robin to Billy Beane’s Batman and most importantly – a guy who clearly reminded McCourt of Boston’s wunderkind Theo Epstein.
In short order,Paul Depodesta gutted a first place team and inexplicably began yet another rebuilding. His team had to be made to reflect his philosophy – the fact that the team he inherited was already winning was of no consequence. We fans deserved a payoff for our patience, but we were to be denied it in order for the boy genius to prove that he could shock the world with little more than Hee Seop Choi and baling wire. Like Lucy with her football he forced fans like me to do our best Charlie Brown impression as we fell head over ass – yet another rebuilding caused by yet more self-inflicted wounds.
A dismal 71 win season followed and McCourt fwas forced to fire his pet Theo clone to avoid being run out-of-town himself. This time Ned Colletti was hired as clean up man. Which brings us to the last few years, as once again we see the emergence of a potential contender (perhaps the best team since the Garvey/Cey/Lopes Dodgers of my youth) – but virtually no commitment from ownership to get over the hump. You need look no further than the post season just completed a few weeks ago. Our biggest deficit was starting pitching. The two teams that outlasted us had aces that they’d added via free agency or trade for 3009….players we likely could have had (in the case of CC Sabathia- a player who actually waited for us to make an offer for weeks before signing with NY). The Yankees and Phillies wanted a championship and were willing to do what it took to get one. Frank McCourt wanted one too – but he wanted it with minimal investment on his part.
And now we head into this hot stove season. While the fans of the Yankees and Phillies have visions of sugar plums in their heads, we’re all left to wonder if our owner will allow us to pursue even a second tier pitcher. And the announcement of McCourt’s impending divorce on the eve of the NL Championship series was one hell of a buzzkill causing us to have to worry about the next Dickensian turn of events.
So am I bitter? As Sarah Palin would say, you betchya. As long and pathetic as all of the above has been, I haven’t scratched the surface of all of the thousand little deaths I’ve died as a Dodger fan. The big homers to Barry Bonds. Karate kicks. Beaten up water coolers. The closing of Dodgertown at Vero Beach, Daryl Strawberry, Gary Sheffield, the great disappointment that was Paul LoDuca. The dismal fate of Eric Gagne. The phantom appearances of Billy Ashley, Angel Pena and Edwin “Joel” Guzman. The utter predictability of Adrian Beltre and the fall of Raul Mondesi. Sure I’m bitter – I’ve earned my place on this particular couch.
In his introductory post my friend Dodger Fan in New York promises brilliance. I’m sure he’ll deliver as I’ve been lucky enough to enjoy his writing on this subject for years. I’m less of a home run hitter than he is – perhaps more of a Chad Fonville type. Hopefully I can deliver a timely hit now and then . If you’ve made it this far reading this, chances are strong you’ve suffered too. You deserve our best effort and a place where you can feel safe from the next big letdown.
We’re here for you. We understand.