For Too Trusting Dodgers Fans, it’s Time to Squint and Use Your Imagination
The off-season used to be my favorite time of the baseball year, which is odd since that’s when the teams aren’t playing. I think it was my constructive way of making the cold stretch between playoff baseball and spring training more bearable. Nowadays baseball is a 12 month sport. You can listen to MLB Network Radio or watch their TV channel and get year-round coverage. In the past, you listened on terrestrial radio and hoped some baseball mention occurred between the incessant NFL and NBA talk. We’ve come a long way, baby.
The off-season was a good time for a baseball geek because you could marinate in the months of talk, trade ideas, free-agent possibilities, non-roster invites, etc. Everyone is a winner as the next season approaches, until of course you take off your rose colored glasses and realize your team, possibly, isn’t that good. Being a large market team, one with much past success, a Dodgers fan generally has had reason to be optimistic. Even in lesser years, the downside wasn’t as bleak as those of other teams in smaller markets.
When Frank McCourt was allowed into town by corrupt commish Bud Selig, Dodgers fans were exposed to a reality fans in many of MLB’s markets had to cope with each year. For us, the spoiled and somewhat entitled, it was quite a rude awakening. A Dodgers team cash poor? A relatively dry farm? Bankruptcy? Bounced checks to stadium personnel, including beloved icon Vin Scully? Stadium beatings? What was going on?
McCourt was forced out and a slew of possible owners were trotted out. The group who bought the Dodgers were a global investment firm with deep pockets and selling their plans with the big smile of Los Angeles’ favorite son, Magic Johnson. Fans were so happy to be rid of McCourt and his pathetic reign as owner that they wanted to believe wholeheartedly in the Guggenheim Group who used loveable Magic as their mascot. Magic wouldn’t do us wrong! That’s what long-suffering, brutalized Dodgers fans wanted to believe. Magic played basketball, and pretty much only talks about basketball, but hey, he knew Tommy Lasorda and went to some games, so that’s close enough.
Well, after some immediate maneuvers to get butts (dollars) back in the seats, and after several different plans, different architects, it’s beginning to look a lot like the same old, same old, just in a different package. Instead of Frank McCourt and his now ex-wife using the team and fans as their own personal ATM, we have Guggenheim reaping huge profits from a large gate and even larger, record TV deal. $8B is a lot of money, and more obscene when the majority of fans in the LA area cannot watch the games, and are only “treated” to Vin Scully for three innings on radio (in these Scully’s last years behind the mic).
Each plan was foolproof, until it wasn’t. Now the Dodgers have doubled down on well-regarded executives, while ignoring most aspects of on the field talent. If the Dodgers faced off against other teams with executives, they might have a reasonable chance of winning. As it is, a portion of fans are still desperate to believe (and have to believe), while others, myself included, are tired of being played.
The plan is genius – turn the fans on themselves while Guggenheim and the executives all get rich. Let fans bicker and call one another names, while logically they should all be unified since they have the same common goal – a good, entertaining and championship quality Dodgers team. Like America itself, due to social media and brains warped by technology perhaps, the fans are angry and divided. Half are angry at those fans who are not “real fans” (i.e. have the exact same opinions as they do) and the rest are angry at the snow job they’ve endured for about 3 decades. If one knows anything about the Dodgers, they will realize that this drought is especially shameful for an organization that has championships and history on its side. The Dodgers of 2016 are not the Dodgers of the 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s or even the past decade plus.
In all my years, I haven’t seen a situation like this as a Dodgers fan. Oh sure, McCourt’s era was worse on many levels, but the consistent drubbing we’ve been asked to endure since the end of the O’Malley era, through FOX, and even today, is beyond explainable. Fans should be mad as hell and bright enough to realize when you have the largest payroll in baseball you should have good enough a team to at least participate deep into Oct. Fans should understand that when you’re given a window of opportunity to win now, you need to seize it. When you’re given Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke in their prime and “unlimited resources”, you have to keep that together and win a few titles. At least one.
What has happened the past few years especially is sad. That half the Dodgers fan base is more impressed by slick operating “suits” than talented players like Dee Gordon is mystifying. Throughout my years following the Dodgers, my friends and I, and fans we encountered along the way or at games never had more allegiance to executives than the players wearing the uniform. There were a few cases where some idiot disrespected the uniform and we wanted them gone, but those incidents were rare. When Al Campanis, a good longtime Dodgers face made indefensible remarks on “Nightline”, we understood that all his years of loyal service did not make him exempt. We did not root Campanis on, we wanted a winning ball club. We got one in 1988, and Campanis has seldom been thought about since.
Nowadays it’s all about the executives. The Dodgers main genius is Andrew Friedman, who did remarkable things in small market Tampa but has been churning his wheels here on the big stage. He spends like a demon, yet is frugal at other moments. He buys items one wouldn’t buy, and passes on obvious ones. His supporters point this out as brilliance and align with him to catch some of the moonbeams that run off, but so far there is nothing to show for all this expense and odd logic. I argue, and half of the fans agree, that the team is going backwards. I think many could understand taking steps back if it were necessary. For example, Houston cleaned house, rebuilt and became very good last year. Philadelphia is reloading after riding out the veterans for too many years. Colorado, perhaps, will get it and clear out some of the familiar names to acquire the pitching they desperately need. None of these cities are Los Angeles, however. The Dodgers are rebuilding while still riding the largest payroll. That could be a smart approach if the money being spent amounted to terrific players. You could then say “We have all these great players to win now, plus we’re setting ourselves up to win for years to come.” A dynasty, if you will.
There are talented kids on the current roster as well as in the farm, not so much thanks to Friedman and his group though. These players mostly came into the system via Ned Colletti and Logan White, who ironically were pushed aside and out. And mostly I go back to the money being spent – on payoffs for players to go elsewhere, Cuban players who never amount to anything, and overspending on marginal big leaguers that could have been had for much less. While this money is being wasted, corners are cut elsewhere, whether it’s letting Greinke go, not signing free-agent relief pitchers of note (they did sign Joe Blanton, who might turn out to be a decent pick up based on last season’s relief role, but there were other, more proven options), bats, etc. I am not sure what the Dodgers payroll will be when they open the season, and to me it’s just a number at this point – Guggenheim is loaded and should be paying a lot – but I do know I look at the roster and don’t see the value.
As I said at the top, the off-season is a fun time as any team still has a chance. Could the Dodgers and their large payroll win in 2016? Maybe. But in honesty I see a team with all the problems of last year’s unit with more weaknesses beside. The Dodgers fortunes rest on good luck happening, which is ok if you’re a fan in Tampa, Houston, Milwaukee, etc. but it shouldn’t be the case for fans with the largest attendance in the league and deepest pockets. When your owners ink an $8B TV contract, you shouldn’t be hoping they “save some money” and not re-sign Greinke, or not get a few solid relief pitchers, a big bat, etc. When Guggenheim collects all the money they have been since coming into town, as fan you should DEMAND the best talent possible and yes, a championship team. Whenever I hear Moneyball and geeks who made it work in small markets come in, the hairs on the back of my neck instantly ride up. Paul DePodesta’s worth in Oakland is a nice story, as is Friedman’s in Tampa, but Los Angeles is a big market and hello! the fans here deserve a winner after a nearly 30 year dry spell. i.e. there is urgency here in the City of Angels that there isn’t in Oakland or Tampa. That’s why I think they hired the wrong guys for the job – again. Guggenheim either ignored history or are stupid. The Sabermetrics first philosophy failed when DePodesta assembled the most laughable roster I’ve ever seen as a Dodgers fan, and now the mistake is happening again. I just wonder if the NEXT owner will learn from this latest turn.
If the Dodgers get freak like production from Corey Seager and electrifying stuff from Julio Urias, and get very lucky with health by known brittle players, and maybe the Giants and Diamondbacks suffer some setback, it’s quite possible the Dodgers can sneak in. Again, I’d say a lot has to break right for this to happen. If it does happen, it would be even luckier if it played in October. The true Moneyball philosophy Billy Beane has noted several times is using the analytics to fill out a statistical Bingo card so the team gets X number of hits, X number of runs, X number of wins, etc. out of their machine April-September. October, as Beane has said, is “luck” and the algorithm goes out the window.
Ironically the Dodgers already had a division winning team under Colletti, and were in a better position in October as well. Recall, Colletti’s Dodgers, even with McCourt pocketing money left and right, were very close to the World Series – twice. The team has gotten weaker since, in the bullpen especially, and with a lighter, more party-like atmosphere that I would argue winning teams generally don’t exhibit. On top of that, now the biggest October factor – Kershaw + Greinke – is gone. The half of the fan base that buys anything Friedman throws out there, argue the team is deeper now. I would argue, loading up on lesser pitchers with injury question marks is not depth, its quantity. Quantity over quality isn’t a selling point to me, and if it comes in handy, it might April-September, but not October. Going into short series, I would much prefer having Kershaw and Greinke (even with Kershaw’s October jitters of the past) to Kershaw and Scott Kazmir, or Kershaw and Kenta Maeda. So a team that had a formula for winning in the regular season but not in October addressed (“fixed”) the regular season part, not the post-season portion. That’s Moneyball, and why it hasn’t worked in Los Angeles.
We have several weeks now before pitchers and catchers report and a month before spring games begin. The executive loving faithful remain dogged that Friedman will not disappoint, he will make a big trade, or trades, and the Dodgers will be right up there with MLB Network Radio’s mentioned top contenders for 2016 – Chicago, New York, San Francisco, St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Washington and Arizona. I’m not sure that trade or trades are going to happen, but I’d prefer a little less ego and brilliance and a lot more common sense. The top teams in MLB loaded up over the winter and improved themselves. You don’t need a PhD to see how either. Top teams in both leagues acquire talented players. You know the players, you know their production, and you can see how they fit into a rotation or lineup. You don’t need to turn your head like a confused dog and squint to see why they made a great pick up. With the Dodgers nowadays, everything is needlessly complex. A trade often includes several teams, then some players are flipped, salaries absorbed, etc. In the end, you’re told how intelligent the move was, but you just can’t see it. I can see how other teams are getting better, I can’t see it with the Dodgers. I can’t see how a punch and Judy lineup not being fortified is improvement, adding injury risks or sending an ace to a rival is progress. Half of you can, and those of you are like the people who can look at those weird dot pictures in the mall and see a sailboat. Good for you; I’ll just go to the museum and look at real art.
Don’t forget to watch the special video bonus…