For Baseball and the Dodgers – The Times They Are a-Changin’
When it comes to the Dodgers, and probably Major League Baseball as a whole, the famous Bob Dylan song comes to mind – the times they are a changin’.
This is a good time to be a Sabermetrics or modern fantasy baseball nerd, not so much a purist of the game. The “progress” baseball is going through is summed up as keeping in touch with what the fans want vs. what old people want. I fully acknowledge that pop culture, music, TV, fashion, and just about everything else is moving in a different direction in today’s fast-paced, social media fueled society but my feelings on baseball are the same today as they were when I was 12. I don’t think baseball – or how it always had been – is something that necessarily needs to evolve over time.
The beauty of baseball has always been the timelessness of it. The game, more or less, was what it was in 1990 as it was 1950 or 1900. Unlike other sports, there was no clock and announcers told stories and fans lapped them up. You didn’t watch a baseball game expecting gimmicks; you watched a beautiful, perhaps perfect, chess game unfold.
For the Dodgers, ushers wore straw hats, organ music played, and Americana reined much like it does at Disneyland. Children didn’t question it, nor did teens. They sat alongside their parents and grandparents and accepted that when you watched baseball, you put everything else on hold. You ate a hotdog, had some cotton candy perhaps and just took a break from anything faster paced or stressful. This experience was worth the price of admission. How much would you pay for total peace?
Fox took over the Dodgers and decided an entertainment makeover was needed to make the stadium and product more hip. Up until this time, the players on the field, and their connection to generations of Dodgers that came before them, was all fans wanted and needed. Suddenly Fox TV and movie tie ins were displayed in lights on Diamond Vision and entertainers like Snoop spoke to the fans from the scoreboard. Contemporary music replaced most of the traditional organ songs and the focus was on bringing our lives’ outside baggage and interests into the park. The stadium and game were no longer looked at as a pleasant escape from the norm.
This continued under Frank McCourt and now Guggenheim. Secretly, I imagine, talks have happened anticipating Vin Scully’s retirement or even death. What cool voice can they bring in that younger fans would more relate to? Fireworks, bubble dancing, pre and post-game concerts – Wi-Fi. The point is now that you go to the game to multi-task – you can talk data with friends, send out tweets, post to Instagram, take selfies, rock out to your favorite pop songs, etc. It’s no stretch to say long ago the Dodgers lost connection with the fabric that is over 100 years of history that fans used to know like their own family’s story.
When Frank McCourt threw out Dan Evans (ironically, very much a data person himself – just not a personality-deficient geek like most baseball executive are today) in favor of Oakland A’s front office sidekick Paul DePodesta, fans were treated to one of the worst collection of baseball players ever put onto a big league field. Most nights people didn’t know 3/4 of the players in the lineup – and that’s not an exaggeration.
That experiment failed (Moneyballers would argue it needed more time) and a more traditional face was brought in to win back angry fans. Now the Dodgers are reverting back to the stats-heavy approach and have 5 or so “general managers” creating a team that 70% of Los Angeles won’t be able to watch on TV anyway. The new team is sort of a Giants light approach – addition by subtraction, ditching some of the personality issues like Hanley Ramirez and Matt Kemp, adding more rational players like Jimmy Rollins and Howie Kendrick, but in the process wheeling and dealing in a way only 5 “general managers” could, cutting off pieces that were perfectly serviceable, even well received, just to show they are smarter than the previous regime. Oddly, the previous regime is still employed and in some capacity working on this 2015 Frankenteam called the Dodgers.
It remains to be seen, of course, whether the 2015 Dodgers are better than the 2014 edition. It’s almost irrelevant as a good many longtime Dodgers fans I know have given up. They can’t see the games on TV due to a botched deal the Guggenheim group made to score over $8B for their $2B initial investment, and they don’t know who most of the players wearing blue this summer are anyway. And worst, at least long-term for the Guggenheim gang, is they don’t care. After decades of drama and abuse in one form or other, most are saying they’ll watch college baseball instead, or other teams, or just stop following baseball altogether.
If you have the MLB app and follow the Dodgers on there, you can read an article about all the new faces the team has brought in this off-season and who they expect you’ll be familiar with the spring. I looked at the article and forgot most of this acquisitions and while some might do perfectly well, it’s more like the DePodesta era – at least as of right now – that an impressive hot stove season that should have Dodgers fans counting down the days until pre-season action begins.
I listen to MLB Network Radio and most of their pundits are curious about the Dodgers who assembled a large amount of bodies, but still have question marks in the bullpen, a weaker offense on the face of it, and several starting pitchers that could hit the DL even before opening day begins.
Then there’s talk about Cole Hamels, which seems insane considering Andrew Friedman and his merry men collected “no-brainer” starting pitching depth like Brandon McCarthy, Brett Anderson, Erik Bedard, Juan Nicasio, etc. Unless the plan is to deal precious prospects for Hamels and then move Zack Greinke, who had the gall to question some of the off-season moves and who plans to likely opt out of his final years in order to get a bigger payday, why? And would the Dodgers be better with Hamels than Greinke? Could either ensure the pen will be better, the offense enough, the catching solid?
I’ll go on a limb here and say that the Dodgers should be better in 2015 in terms of professionalism (though Adrian Gonzalez has said he hopes the dancing bubbles come back – makes me question his professionalism) since they’re copying the Giants model, but can they win more than 94 games? Can Clayton Kershaw get tough in October and not fold like a rookie in over his head? Will PED cheat Yasmani Grandal be the big bat behind the plate the new general managers think he can? And do they know that his defense is worse than AJ Ellis’ in every aspect except the suddenly in vogue “pitch framing”? It’s true – “fans” blasted AJ last summer for passed balls – Grandal led the league in them. Throwing out runners? Not Grandal’s business.
So the Dodgers need to either win more than 94 games (probably won’t happen, especially with a more competitive NL West) or advance deeper into the playoffs than last year’s cuckolding by the Cardinals. If that happens, the new big brains know what they’re doing and fans will just have to adapt to the selfie taking and Instagramming and get to know all the unfamiliar faces on the field. And of course you will have to go to the field since there will not be any TV coverage for most of us.
I know something about marketing and I’d say the Dodgers, whether it was Frank McCourt or this new group who pretend to want to make everything right, do not get it. They are focused solely on the in-stadium experience, one might argue lowering themselves to the lowest common denominator and trying to ensure the game at Dodger Stadium is familiar to the distracted fans, rather than elevate the proceedings and make the stadium a safe haven and chance to get away from the superficiality of everyday life. One wonders when the new geniuses will have a vape pen giveaway or hookah night.
The types of “fan” I’m dismissing will write my comments off as those of a clueless old person who doesn’t get it. As I said, I felt this way when I was 12. Even if the technology was available then, I understood that when you went to a baseball game, you escaped. You listened to Vin Scully, heard the organ music, could logically tie and compare the Dodgers on the field to those from decades past. It was fun. You didn’t need the trappings from outside to enjoy baseball. Now, it’s not only the Dodgers who are guilty of it, but Major League Baseball and their new commissioner. They are trying to chase after a demographic that just isn’t made for the game. And if they did things the way they always had been, without enabling or changing their own ways, the hipsters and gang types would have come anyway and behaved themselves. It always worked before. I don’t think being “young” is any new development in our history. Empowering distraction, catering to multi-taskers and creating some “cool” haven that is like some lounge or Starbucks the “fans” feel comfortable in just isn’t baseball, and it’s not the Dodgers.
On the field, I can’t see anything quite yet that has me impressed. I don’t view free-agent to-be Howie Kendrick as an upgrade over Dee Gordon. I don’t understand dealing with the Padres to get so little back while improving a division rivalry. I don’t get paying the salary of almost every player dealt. I don’t see injury heavy pitchers as sure things we can count on. I don’t know if an elderly shortstop is the improvement we needed at the position. I don’t see how the bullpen will be markedly better than it was. I don’t even know how Donnie, whose “strength” you could argue was taming his collection of divas and goof offs, will fare with a group perhaps a little less self-aware. Time will tell, but if the games are unavailable, I’m not sure who will be watching.