In a few days spring baseball will start in Arizona and Florida. As a longtime Dodgers fan, I am still not used to the Dodgers playing in the desert and not Vero Beach, Florida. I sense the majority of fans like the change; just a road trip away and all that but as everyone knows, I’m an old curmudgeon and like things the way they were. Major League Baseball is not enjoyable as it once was, with fans strangely concerned with the owners’ profit line and micro focused on data. I recall not that terribly long ago when a regular complaint from Dodgers fans was how Ross Porter was awful because he was so obsessed with statistics, giving them all the time and apparently boring listeners with such minutia. I was – and still am – a Ross Porter fan, and I think when his approach was unique, it was a welcome change from every other announcer. Now, with everyone so concerned with obscure numbers and acronyms, it’s a lot less fun.
The world of social media has done much to destroy the world, pulling people apart, having us bicker, more than connect one another. Baseball fans are as abysmal online as political debaters or Kardashian/Jenner commentators. It’s to the point I sense Twitter, once a neat drive by site for information and quick comments, is dying a welcome death. I will gladly surrender my little part of the Internet if the whole thing gets shut down. Years back it started to strike me as strange that supposed fans of a given team could fight like cats and dogs with other fans of the same team. Back then it was baseball message boards, most long since dead. I would make comments about the then current Dodgers team and get attacked angrily for liking certain players, and not agreeing about others. It went well beyond healthy debate. Nowadays, it’s the norm. If you don’t spew the data and suckle at the teat of the owners, you are branded a hater and attacked en mass by a gang of faceless, anonymous bullies. It’s very unhealthy, so I take frequent breaks. Only my love of baseball, and a lifetime love affair with the Dodgers, keeps me returning. But as I’ve stated time and again, the Dodgers are no longer the Dodgers. They are a team that wears crisp white and blue and occasionally makes mention of something familiar from the past – Jackie Robinson, Sandy Koufax, Fernando Valenzuela, etc. – but in no way, shape or form resembles the teams those players went to battle for.
Nowadays the Dodgers are what they have been for decades, a shell of their former self. Various owners have come along and abused the fans and the great brand and most of the way the turnstiles have kept churning money into ownership’s pockets. If you criticize the direction of the organization, which is now three decades into mediocrity, you are bullied and told you are not a fan. It’s a sickness, a perversion that is hard to understand. Why would fans identify more with owners who come, reap great profits, then leave, over their own self interests of seeing a great team win a championship for them? I have no explanation. I have used the term Stockholm Syndrome over the years to define this identification with the one percent who deprives them of happiness, but that doesn’t seem to sink in. I guess the term is out of vogue and unknown to younger people who just root for laundry, as Jerry Seinfeld used to say. Jerry too is probably too antiquated a reference for fans who prefer clubhouse hijinks and handsome looks by the players to dirty uniforms, moving a runner over and stealing a base to start a ninth inning rally. The game of baseball, at least on the professional level, especially in Los Angeles, is dead. I attend college games from time to time to enjoy the more purist form of the game. There you see people keeping score, aware of every pitch, and players standing up for nine innings and rooting on their teammates. I never hear mention of Sabermetrics or Fangraphs predictions that never come true. For under $10 you can watch baseball as it was decades ago and if bored, can take a long walk in the sun on a college campus and not feel you were ripped off. No overpriced tickets, concessions and escalated parking fees.
The Dodgers are in a sad state. There is constant promise that better days are ahead, a return to greatness. We have yet to see it. Save for a fluke in 1988, the greatness stopped after the 1981 World Series win vs. the New York Yankees. Now we have a brain trust of egos running the show for a huge financial corporation, a small market mentality of going cheap with marginal back up players and career minor leaguers, while spending hundreds of millions on unproven or injured players. A bi-polar approach to baseball that supposedly, per head genius Andrew Friedman, should bear fruit in 2018 – ironically the year Clayton Kershaw can opt out of his contract, and will. But what of 2016 and 2017? Fans are being told to come to the games and pay top dollar for a team not prepared to win, since they can’t watch the games on TV anyway. You would think this would upset long-suffering fans, but no. If you point out to them that they should be angry, they turn on you instead. Rooting for laundry, and corporate success, means more than their own selfish goals of seeing their team hoist the World Series trophy, it seems.
So if everything goes according to plan, Guggenheim will make huge profits the next two years with a packed full stadium, and fans can watch their greatest pitcher leave, but in return see a low payroll team of kids competing in 2018. No, this isn’t Tampa, or Milwaukee, or Kansas City – it’s Los Angeles, the second largest market in the country. If all goes well, the team will be full of young players in 2018, the expensive stars all gone, replaced by expensive unproven Cuban and injury-marred players. This is the plan, this is what fans will have to look forward to. If you dare mention this sounds odd, you will be attacked. The Internet bullies will be out in force, telling you why you are wrong, to trust slick talking executives whose pedigrees don’t necessarily merit such trust, as they root on lesser talent to look smart. Meantime, as it always goes, better constructed teams, with top talent, keep winning the titles.
One wonders how long it will take before anyone changes their mind? Will it have to be four decades of mediocrity? Five? Six? If you point this out, they will say, you’re part of the problem. Keep the faith, never question anything, fork over your money, and poo on you if you think “old-time baseball” methods would work in the modern era. You’re a fool if you believe good players should be on the field, or games on TV for fans to enjoy. Remember, if the top does well, it will trickle down to the rest of us. Except when it doesn’t. And it never does. Play ball!
Super Bowl is almost here and that’s great because it puts to bed the NFL and opens the door on MLB spring training.
The Dodgers fans are hopeful because Andrew Friedman keeps adding to his All-Star executive staff. The fans who root for this are the same folks who believe in trickle-down economics and tax breaks for the uber rich. I don’t get this line of thinking at all, but if I say anything, I’m called out as an idiot and someone who just doesn’t grasp the genius of fat cats getting fatter at thin cats expense.
The additions of Greg Maddux and Raul Ibanez are nice, but it would be better if they were as pitching coach and hitting coach. I love both of the former players so have no problem with their being added – just wondering how many geniuses it takes to consider things like leadoff hitter, bullpen and healthy starting pitchers. I also wonder if you have Maddux and Ibanez, two smart former players and stars, why you need Gabe Kapler? Perhaps his job is to flex his rock hard body to keep Friedman and Farhan Zaidi happy, and hey, not that there’s anything wrong with that. Don’t forget Ned the often maligned and bald eagle Stan Kasten are still on the payroll. And Alex A, the genius of last year’s Toronto Blue Jays. What a staff! In all honesty, the executive suite is deeper and better than the starting rotation, bullpen and everyday lineup. However did Fred Claire win a title in 1988 by himself, with input from scouts about Eck’s backdoor slider? Or how did “stupid Ned” get the team to back to back championship series? Boggles the mind.
The re-signing of Howie Kendrick was a welcome one and transformed a mediocre lineup into something halfway respectable. His reappearance solidified an infield that was going to be a black hole at second, a rookie at short and a utility man with bum knees at third. Now realistically all the lineup needs is a leadoff man – calling Dexter Fowler, please report to the Dodgers leadoff spot immediately. Don’t like that? A brilliant (I thought) observation by the Dodger Oracle (@) was that perhaps the gang of suits in the front office ship “born again” Yasiel Puig to the Yankees for Brett Gardner and Andrew Miller. Of course it might take a good prospect to do so, but it would be worthwhile. A leadoff man the Moneyballers could embrace (Gardner hits homers, arguably more than Puig could anyway) and they add a bullpen stud to set up Kenley Jansen, replace him if he’s hurt, or when he walks as a free-agent this winter. The point is, if they added a lead-off presence, the lineup would be pretty set.
The improvement of the lineup has gotten all the talk recently and taken away focus from the so-so rotation and pen. I think it’s optimistic to think the Dodgers can do well in the National League with what they have now. The only chance they will win the West is if the improved Giants and Diamondbacks hand it to them, or if rookies like Julio Urias and Corey Seager step up in ways one shouldn’t count on from baby players. i.e. it’s possible, but unlikely the Dodgers will repeat as Western Division champs or even make the playoffs.
Two weeks from pitchers and catchers reporting, and a bloated Super Bowl spectacle standing in the way. Enjoy your pre-spring training and think happy thoughts. Don’t be mad if fans have other ideas than you; it’s healthy. And rooting on the top isn’t good unless you actually benefit from doing so. I have not seen anything from the Dodgers front office to believe they are capable of turning a 30-year drought into a Kansas City type situation. Maybe a few more big names to the think tank will change all that.