Someone has to say something, and never one to be shy to voice an unpopular take; I guess it will have to be me.
The Dodgers, as we mostly all know, have been playing good baseball, especially the past 7 games. There is pre-summer excitement, of course, as LA sports fans love their Dodgers – well, unless the Lakers are doing well, which they haven’t been for some time. At one point, the Dodgers owned the city. It’s been a rocky time since as Dodger games seem more a diversion, a thing to do, a place to eat soggy, overrated hot dogs and shake to bad pop music at high prices. There are serious Dodgers fans, diehards even, but many of the folks who come through the gate each year are there for a little baseball, but more a warm weather diversion. The fact the Dodgers are always near the top, or at the top, in attendance has a lot to do with the legions of people living in LA and its surrounding areas (just look at the traffic all around LA, if you don’t believe me), as much as an interest in baseball, or more specifically, the Dodgers.
I am fed up with the way this latest bad step parent has treated we actual Dodgers fans, and I know many people who feel the same. In a nutshell, here’s how it seems to have gone…
After decades of family ownership, the O’Malleys decide to sell, partly annoyed with not getting an NFL deal, partly for inheritance tax reasons. They pass this baseball crown jewel to Rupert Murdoch’s Fox Corporation.
Fox, not interested in baseball at all, but having eyes on building a Southern California sports presence on TV. Fox hires a desperate to please his new employers GM, who immediately fucks things up, and allows entertainment executives to trade Mike Piazza to Florida, mostly for Gary Sheffield, who they could have gotten for third tier prospects since the Marlins were desperate to unload Sheffield’s contract.
Fox runs the team into the ground, not allowing their better GM – Dan Evans – to spend a red cent. After an underfunded team failed to make the World Series, and having what they came for in terms of a new TV presence, Fox funds a “sale” to Boston parking lot heir Frank McCourt.
McCourt is worse than a faceless corporation – much worse – which would seem hard to do. He and his wife use the Dodgers and the fans for personal gain, bankrupt the team, injure and cripple fans and finally – after a long, painful, disgusting drawn out process, sell the team to a Dream Team “led” by the smiling, familiar face of LA’s own Magic Johnson.
Guggenheim, the financial arm behind all this, makes a plan, fails to win a World Series, changes the plan and along the way, makes a fortune with a new TV deal. The Guggenheim folks, flush with cash, don’t mind that 70% of the team’s fans can’t watch games under the new TV pact and all-Dodgers programming. The money is in their hands, why care?
There apparently is still a need, however, for butts in the seats – after all, why not? $8.5B from the TV deal is sweet, but a massive gate, selling soggy dogs, expensive beer, pricey merch, etc., is nice too. Oh, don’t forget the raised parking prices. To ensure fans will come to games, Magic Johnson, who had disappeared somewhere between plan one and now plan two, pops up to tweet out some nonsense (his intern, I guess, actually does the tweeting – Magic knows nothing about the game or the fans), urging fans to come to the stadium since it’s the best way to watch the Dodgers. He doesn’t mention that it’s the ONLY way to watch. Just days before, actually, Magic tells the LA Times that the team’s brand is strong and there’s no problem with the games not being televised.
You may be a Sabermetrics devotee or love Magic for his great exploits as a Laker, but if you don’t agree this is all bullshit, you’re deluding yourself. The greed is palpable and beyond offensive. As I noted, there are people who just like to go to a game after a long day at work, chug down some beers, hang out, maybe see a celebrity sitting in better seats, etc. But… there are also actual baseball fans, real devoted and long-abused Dodgers fans, who are put into the position of going, paying more, enabling, and helping Guggenheim get even richer, or not see the games at all. After decades of being kicked, lied to, screwed over and dissatisfied, the fans are now told literally to drop everything and come to the stadium to watch a team that in all honesty won’t be the same team, by a longshot, even next year.
This isn’t to argue that the 2015 edition of the Dodgers aren’t good, or are. It’s to make a statement about how fans of the organization have been mistreated for a long time, by multiple owners. It was pretty evident that once Peter O’Malley sent us to live with evil Uncle Rupert, that it wasn’t an ideal situation. Frank McCourt was apparent from day one, for anyone with a brain, as being a phony out of towner who just wanted to parlay “ownership” (Fox funded his antics just to quickly get out of the baseball business – and MLB commissioner and scumbag Bud Selig allowed it to happen) into vast riches. But when the latest owners came in, they used a Trojan horse to gain access to the city and fans’ hearts. Using Magic Johnson was a dirty trick, and selling their ownership as different, and a return to Dodgers greatness, was inaccurate. It’s hard to say they’re better than Fox or Frank McCourt. While not bankrupt, at least games were on TV. That may be a stretch, of course, since under the last owner, it was too dangerous to even attend a game, if you dared. But, you get my point. Another owner, a slicker approach, a familiar smile, but the same horse shit as ever before.
My last article I spoke about how Dodgers fans have been reduced to quarreling with one another – the pro-Moneyball fans, the casual folks who like to chill and hit a beach ball occasionally, and those who are fed up. If you go on Twitter, you will see the bickering left and right. In theory, fans should get along because they’re all supposedly in love with the same team. But data is thicker than water, so the nouveau hotshots point out how longtime fans of the game know nothing – they can’t, it has to be this way for their statistical love to make sense. With everyone fighting, most not getting TV access to games, and now Magic Johnson pulled out of mothballs to tell us how wonderful everything is and how we should hand over our children’s’ college savings to Guggenheim, it’s become unseemly business being a baseball fan in LA.
My hope is that the new ownership group steals everything not nailed down and get out of town like Fox did. I don’t feel warm and fuzzy about the Dodgers anymore and they’ve managed to sap a lot of fun out of what was a seasonal reason for living. Baseball isn’t fun in LA. You can’t come home, turn on a game and relax. You can’t discuss baseball without pro-Andrew Friedman fans attacking you, telling you why you’re wrong. It’s the latest chapter in a 30 year problem that doesn’t appear to be going away anytime soon. It’s why I started Dodger Therapy – a place for fans to talk it out. I try to ignore the jackasses who favor snarky executives and corporate wealth over the average person’s need to have a pleasant distraction. They’re too far gone to save.
The 2015 Dodgers season is about to get underway and there’s a mixture of giddy optimism and disinterest among longtime Dodgers fans. The excitement breaks into two camps – those who love the fact Moneyball style “geniuses” are calling the shots for the team, and those who would cheer a Dodger themed diaper sitting on the side of the road. The disinterested fall flatly into one group – those who have been screwed over, lied to, ripped off and left for dead for the better part of 33 years. On with the show…
If you watched the HBO Scientology show, “Going Clear,” that aired this past weekend, you will understand the mindset of this group. Watching that documentary, as a sane person, you thought – how is this happening? Why do they allow it to happen? Why are they so clueless and even stupid that they buy into this shit show? Why does this obvious charlatan (L. Ron Hubbard or his successor, David Miscavige) have such a hold over all of these people?
Whether they’re fans of data or just will root on anything blue, no matter what form it takes, it’s more a case of brainwashing, mass hypnosis, Stockholm Syndrome and perhaps a huge jolt of arrogance (calling Tom Cruise) that fuels these people. Like Scientology, there is no fact, evidence of any kind, or reason to firmly believe, yet they do. Like Scientology, the hold is powerful. If someone disputes the team or its resident “geniuses,” they attack and ostracize. Like Scientology, a person who criticizes the current Dodgers, cites history of questionable or plain crazy treatment, or heaven forbid, comment against the Svengali like leader – in this case, Andrew Friedman – they are labeled an SP, or Suppressive Person. They also cut ties with those SPs, since it doesn’t fall logically into their rosy view of life.
I find it funny when young fans that have little sense of history and are merely fueled by today’s need to be smarter than everyone and “right”, will question your thinking, dismissing you because you are not young and therefore relevant like they are. Baseball fans that understand the history of the game, and know no matter who plays, who comes, who goes, the game has largely remained the same since its inception. This kind of thinking, and the rules that govern how the game is played, basic concepts, etc., are outdated to the nouveau and being old, can’t possibly be right. Yet, somehow this mindset tries to lead us to believe they have a respect for Vin Scully, or perhaps Tommy Lasorda, both older than most anyone on the planet and certainly within the Dodgers universe. Newsflash – they do not like or respect Vin or Tommy – both are “old fools” and don’t get it. But they know that if they take that one extra step and condemn them, it will be going too far and likely get them torn to shreds by the masses. So, they nod, placate us with rhetoric that they love these guys and therefore try to justify their loyalty as true Dodgers fans.
There’s also the blind faithful I alluded to, which are less douchey than the first chunk of the giddy, but in their own way enabling and part of the greater problem. Being a fan, good or bad, is certainly not a terrible thing. It’s admirable, as any Cubs fan will tell you, to root, root, root, no matter what the final numbers say in the standings at the end of the season. That said, its one thing to be a fan and love the team – history, memories, and geographic allegiance – yet another to suggest everything is ok, when clearly it is not.
These people are either pedestrian fans who watch X number of games per year, just don’t care that deeply, are naive, or want desperately to assume no matter who owns or runs the team, that it is the very same Dodgers team they grew up enjoying. This has proven NOT to be the case when Fox owned the club, and of course NOT the case when Frank McCourt was its figurehead. Now there is the much beloved Guggenheim Group, who have largely disappeared once ink was put to the lucrative Time Warner Cable TV deal. There are no more Dream Team partners, no more smiling Magic, and we all know, no TV deal. The Dodgers twitter feed and sycophants laud the 24/7 new all Dodgers TV channel, and the radio guys have been gotten to and smile and not, positively (like Scientologists), and make like everything is great. Why would anyone criticize the team/ownership/leaders when all this good is happening? It would be un-American to think this way, and positively anti-Dodgers. So the two factions of the giddy are in alignment, and anyone not on their side, even with evidence to the contrary that perhaps all is NOT well, are labeled the baseball fan equivalents to the dreaded SP.
This group is based on people weary of being beaten and occasionally snap back. Many, too tired to snap, merely have checked out and engage in other activities – perhaps other teams, or have abandoned the sport entirely. Baseball lost fans after all their work stoppages; lost others after various cheating scandals; and now are losing fans of one of their flagship franchises due to horrible mismanagement that has lingered in some form or other since the final days of the O’Malley family’s tenure.
The Guggenheim team came in with bold promises to win the fans back. It took years of neglect and physical abuse at the hands of the McCourt era for many to finally tune out. People stopped going to the games and the Dodgers were no longer LA’s darlings. There was a time in the city when the whole town was blue – and the Lakers games were relegated to tape delay airings late at night. It took quite a lot of mediocrity and bad leadership for the tumble to happen, but it did. Now, beginning the 2015 season, there is the euphoric delight of the aforementioned giddy, and the disgust of the disinterested.
While the data crowd will crow loudly for its Moneyball heroes, and the mindlessly happy loyalists will cheer anything at all, there’s reason, certainly, to question another re-org, as it were, of the Dodgers. A new plan was brought in – the old one scrapped after just a few seasons – and a new leader came aboard to replace the old leader, also touted as a “genius.” The new “genius” brought in more “geniuses” because as any fan of corporate America knows, you can never have too many levels of highly paid management around. Of course it remains to be seen what 2015 will bring, or for that matter, 2016, 2017, etc. I think it is safe though to point out a few things, much to the chagrin of the giddy factions, purely based on educated hunches.
One thing worth noting is – the games are unavailable on TV for the majority of the city. This is the second year in a row that the second largest market in the nation cannot watch its home town baseball team. If you lived in Milwaukee, you could see the Brewers. If you lived in Cleveland, you could see the Indians. If you lived in Tampa, you could see the Rays. If you live in LA, you can see the Angels. Hmm. The checks are being cashed and there’s every reason to suspect Guggenheim doesn’t give a shit what happens – well, perhaps they would if they experienced a McCourt era style boycott, but right now? There’s no reason to panic as the giddy will fill seats and give the appearance that all is right in LA – even though many have checked out, are about to check out and don’t know who the hell the players are anyway, after Friedman’s rash of crazy player personnel moves and mad spending.
Another thing to note is likely at best this year’s Dodgers – if that’s what you want to call them – are yet another transitional group that aren’t worth that much interest anyway. Before you invest in expensive pro jerseys of many of these players, remember that a good many will not be here in 2016. Ask yourself, do you really want to be that guy wearing a Rollins jersey when no one remembers he ever played in LA? If the Dodgers do well and win the West and go to the playoffs, it will satisfy the giddy, and perhaps pique the interest of the disinterested, but ultimately this year’s team will drift into the dusty corners of Dodgers lore along with teams populated with the likes of Tito Landrum, Pat Perry, Enos Cabell and others.
To the disinterested, this act has played before. Lots of promises, lots of pomp and circumstance, but ultimately a con job. Frank McCourt brought in “his Theo” in ego maniac Paul DePodesta, and the fans were treated to one of the most comically bad lineups in Dodgers history. The supporters of DePo cried, if only he had been given more time. More time? To do what, sell us a monorail? When Stan Kasten came in, Guggenheim told us things would be different and the architect of all those wonderful Braves teams would turn the Dodgers around. I could argue how great the Braves teams were – 14 division titles with just 1 World Series trophy, while boasting perhaps the most star-studded pitching staffs in baseball history? The plan was to spend a lot of money, under Kasten, win the fans back with flashy names they all heard of, and eventually move out these placeholders in favor of cheap kids. Well, that plan was quickly scrapped and the next group of “geniuses” came in. A whirlwind of trades and acquisitions, lots of money spent, and much of it foolishly, with players sent packing in all directions while the team continued to pay their salaries. We are where we are today, like it or not.
From where I stand, I know this all feels familiar; there is no reason to be that loyal since I can’t even watch the games; I barely know who’s on the roster due to all the change; and very much I know that pitching is key in baseball and the 2015 Dodgers are a shoddy bunch in that area. Several of the guys Friedman brought in, and his giddy disciples swore would be great, have already failed, gotten hurt or are just gone. It is possible the team does well in 2015, but how much should I care when I can’t watch them play? And how can they do this with a massive payroll and perhaps as many, or more, holes as they had the past couple of years? It’s concerning to me that with a payroll pushing $300M (I don’t care about payroll per se as I am not a guardian of wealthy owners’ wallets, but it is worth noting since all of this spending still amounts to a team with many obvious deficiencies), we still have to worry about a suspect rotation and flimsy bullpen.
The Dodgers – Guggenheim – have continued me being pushed to the sidelines, not to watch baseball games (I can’t), but to scrutinize the larger game happening behind the scenes. Rather than listening and watching Vin Scully, perhaps in his final season in the booth, I have to be reminded – like in Scientology – that all is well and if I can’t watch the game, I can just wave a foam finger and dance to bubbles and blaring music. The sport of baseball in LA is not the action on the field, but the action in offices deep within the stadium. The figures we’re to watch aren’t Joc Pederson or mangled elbow import Hector Olivera, but guys in suits and polo shirts that are slicker than any fielder could ever hope to be.
It’s a less than satisfying feeling to have to debate/argue with the giddy who love all this “real life fantasy baseball” excitement and hopefully predict greatness that never really comes. You would think – much like America – that we should be united as one common group, but rather are infighting like members of Congress. The smarmy young fans who were slurping on their baa-baa’s while I was watching games for decades, will tell me how little I know and how it’s idiotic to question the data. The data, they will remind you, never lies. Well, unless it does. Ask Paul DePodesta.
The irony of the data-minded is that Billy Beane himself, their Hubbard, says the data is only good to fill in the circles to get X amount of production at position Y or position Z, therefore, hopefully, “guaranteeing” an overall amount of productivity that should, could, win a specific amount of games. As Beane has said, this all goes out the window come October, when the best and/or hottest teams win, not generic figures who were assembled to perform called upon tasks. This is all well and good, and worked for Beane, often, but not all the way, who was strapped to a small budget by miserly owners. Just getting to the dance, Beane figured, was enough. He did his job. He put together a rag-tag team that got a chance at baseball’s lottery. Of course, oftentimes his teams were quickly brushed aside, but it did not deter him – he accomplished what he wanted to do, and on such a budget, perhaps rightfully earned his “genius” label.
With the Dodgers, however, money flows like wine, and it’s a strange concoction of Moneyball where a $270M+ payroll is still playing fast and loose with the rules and has so many question marks. One would think that for this type of payroll, there would be NO (or very few) stones left unturned. Why are there 3 suspect pitchers in the rotation (counting Ryu’s shoulder damage I noted repeatedly throughout the off-season) and as shaky a pen as there was the past 2 seasons? Maybe because so much money is invested in players being paid NOT to play in LA, and some on teams within the Dodgers division. At any rate, a large amount of money is being thrown around and there are many areas a bright fan would not feel confident about. And if Beane’s Moneyball was to assemble a data-driven group that could get so many home runs, so many hits, so many walks, etc., etc. in order to get a chance to play in October, what is Friedman’s Moneyball about? Spending more than any team in baseball history to not necessarily have any guarantee of regular season success, but maybe overpower teams come October? A reverse Beane Moneyball?
To me the approach is curious because it’s pretty evident that in October weaknesses are exposed even more, and relying on less-than-stellar pitching may be that much more obvious in the post-season. If the Dodgers got to the post-season, which they might not.
To me, a disinterested, put upon fan who has been sold many tall tales, 2015 to me is about the kids. The ONLY interest is seeing how kids perform, which make it, which don’t, who gets promoted, etc. In effect, what will the future look like? I KNOW Rollins, Kendrick, Ethier, CC, AJ, Uribe, likely Greinke, Grandal even, and others, don’t factor in for long. So without TV to see the games anyway, why would I be blindly loyal to a team that won’t be a team for long? If Guggenheim has taken the money and run, why should I care? If I can’t sit down, turn on the TV and watch the Dodgers play throughout the summer, why bicker and fight with others who claim they like the same thing I do? It’s ludicrous.
To me, the two groups are at war – one is blissfully ignorant of anything awry, and will disown you like Hubbard, err, Friedman, wants. The other is just exhausted from all the bullshit and wishes (probably unrealistically) that the team they loved all their lives were still around to be enjoyed. Maybe someday, maybe not, but it would be hard to say it will happen in 2015.
All this said, no matter what side of the equation you fall into, be kind to others, like what you like, dislike what you dislike, but understand we all have a right to our own opinion. Being young, loving data, doesn’t make you a genius. Very few cases of this amounting to anything substantial in baseball terms exist. We can agree to disagree. But the facts are the facts – Fox made a lot of money while owning the Dodgers. McCourt made billions while owning the Dodgers. And now the Guggenheim Group is making even more billions while owning the Dodgers. At least the first two greedy entities allowed us to watch the team play on TV. Now, the data is against them. Better tune in to Netflix instead or peruse social media for Kylie Jenner’s latest selfie. It’s all we can do in 2015.