Let’s be clear: I have been a skeptic. In some ways I still am.
I tend to view Dodger owners past and present with a jaundiced eye. The years have instilled that in me. I’ve never worshiped with the cult of Peter O’Malley. I recall all too well the years he let the team flounder, wasting five consecutive rookie’s of the year without a single playoff win to show for them. More to his discredit, I will never forgive him for allowing my beloved Dodgers to fall into the hands of Rupert Murdoch. Nor can I forgive him for returning to baseball. I view him now the way a grown-up child views the parent who abandoned them, playing with his new trophy family (The San Diego Padres).
I doubt that I need to explain here why I never trusted Fox, and then came to loathe Frank McCourt. Those scabs do not need to be picked at right now.
But the point remains, there has been a cumulative sense of betrayal carried around by every Dodger fan for decades. It has grown steadily over the years. O’Malley never seemed to notice that he was planting those seeds, and Fox hardly seemed to care that they were taking full root. Frank McCourt assumed that we were dumb enough to view him as a savior, even as he fertilized the soil with every word he uttered. Thus when Guggenheim came along, I was not sold.
And truth be told, there were reasons to be wary. Their giant overbid that allowed McCourt to profit by more than a billion dollars – even as he was still part owner of the parking lots. Job one of a vanquishing hero is to actually vanquish the enemy and hopefully make them pay. Guggenheim failed on both of those fronts. Worse, they lied to us in the process.
I began to suspect everything about them. I wondered aloud if Magic Johnson was simply a trojan horse they used to escape the scrutiny of an angry Los Angeles populace. I imagined scenarios in which they were a group actually assembled by Frank McCourt to allow him to walk away with the cable profits that Bud Selig had denied him. I bristled as Stan Kasten spouted business jargon about “fan experience” and worried about things like stadium WiFi while a 17 win surplus was frittered away with seemingly no action to improve the team. I howled as promises of action by Mark Walter were walked back by Kasten in a matter of hours. I mocked as Magic Johnston fired off one tone-deaf tweet after another about partying on Rhianna’s yacht or jet-setting the globe while our team was bleeding out on the field. They were all talk. And worse, they seemingly had no idea how deep the distrust they’d walked into was.
Then came the Hanley Ramirez deal. It had been years since The Dodgers made a move for a superstar in their prime. That went a long way. Then came the deadline deals that brought us Victorino and League. I’d have rated the new owners a solid B+ at that point, missing an A because the moves came too late to protect our early-season lead (and after too much comically inept spin).
The Cliff Lee claim was where they won me over. It didn’t matter that they did not come away with a deal for him. They risked having that contract dumped on them. No previous owner would have done that. I suppose I pondered for a moment some plot involving Ned Colletti and his pal Ruben Amaro Jr. wherein Amaro put Lee on waivers just to let us show willingness to claim him, with full assurance that he’d pull Lee back – but that was stupid. Still it speaks to how little I was willing to trust.
Fast forward to last Friday. When the first rumors about Adrian Gonzalez started surfacing, I dismissed them. I considered what it would take to make something like that happen and wrote it off as science fiction. Then when the specifics of the deal began to emerge, I found it even more impossible to believe. Trades like that just don’t happen.
But it did happen.
Lord knows all sorts of ink has been spilled analyzing the deal itself. I am not in the mood to join in. On the field the trade could go either way. Anyone who says they know for sure one way or the other is full of it. Trades happen precisely because nobody knows for sure who will do what. So calculated risks are taken.
In retrospect the trade may just be seen as “classic Guggenheim” one day. Just as they overshot the projected sales price for the Dodgers and included a stake in the real estate for McCourt to ensure that he’d accept their bid, here they chose the player they felt they had to get and offered enough in cash and prospects to assure that they would get their way.
People who worry about the money are missing the point. From a fan’s perspective, worrying about the money is a form of Stockholm Syndrome. It is something that we should never have to worry about. I intend not to worry about it. What I take away from all of this is that the folks from Guggenheim surveyed the free agent market and saw little there to look forward to – so they made their own market. In the process, they brought back a sense of swagger to the Dodgers. More important – they brought back trust. Whether Adrian Gonzales hits, Carl Crawford fully recovers or Josh Beckett rebounds in the NL, trust is a dividend that will keep on paying.
We are on board with you now, gentleman. Don’t take that for granted.
It has been almost two weeks since my last post. I hadn’t intended to go so long, but it appears that my inactivity was perfectly in keeping with the current Dodger zeitgeist. What can be said about a winter meeting in which the pursuit of Jeff Weaver is the biggest rumor?
But the issue here isn’t fan boredom or the simply the lack of big signings and juicy rumors. If only it were. Nope – we’ve been down that road before and usually I’ve been the guy preaching patience. I don’t generally want to see an exciting offseason so much as I’d like to see a well-executed offseason. What thrills me is seeing the Dodger’s GM come in with a plan and execute it.
Unless that plan is all about standing pat when a championship is just inches from our grasp.
As I sit here typing this, it literally sickens me. Lord knows, though DFNY and I have only just begun to recount our version of the Dodger experience, we’ve certainly already touched upon a pretty long list of hurt, betrayals and letdowns. Much of it has been told with a bit of tongue in cheek and a flair for the dramatic as we certainly recognize that in the scheme of things, baseball is just a game.
But it is a game that millions of us invest ourselves in. It becomes entwined in our personal histories. It becomes a part of our lives. We fill the stands night after night, buy the overpriced food and the overpriced jerseys. Some even name their kids after a favorite player or perhaps even have their remains kept in an urn with their team’s logo.
So yes, we are invested. And I am not being dramatic when I ask if it is too much to ask for the people who have taken on the trust of owning our team to invest themselves in the game too? What other goal is there besides a championship?
I’m not sure what it is from Frank McCourt’s perspective, but it appears to be about financial restraint as much as anything. Now financial restraint is admirable I suppose, but nobody spends eternity in an urn with their accountant’s logo on it. We want to celebrate a world series.
Here is a little factoid for you: Guess where the Los Angeles Dodgers ranked in overall payroll last year? Somewhere near the top of the pile, right?
How does ninth strike you?
Less than the Houston Astros. Less then the Orange County Angels of Disneyland.
So when you read a story wherein Ned Colletti denies that his budget has gone down, and then he brags that it might even go up this year – ask yourself if “might” is actually good enough.
Hey Ned, not sure if you recall, but the Dodgers were in the NLCS two years running. Both times we fell short because our team did not quite stack up to the Phillies. Both times the Phillies walked away determined to improve themselves . Ned, I get that you feel you have to mouth the company line now that you are officially our biggest free agent signing for the year, but tell me with a straight face that we are not realistically one pitcher away from catching the Phillies. And we might increase payroll? Are you fucking kidding me you swarthy moustached bastard?
Meanwhile all appearances are that we are not even doing that much. None of our free agents were offered arbitration. Our best starting pitcher was allowed to sign elsewhere as a free agent – and we won’t even get a draft pick as compensation. In the paper every day we read about how we are not a match for any of the big name free agents or trade targets.
Perhaps this is just a ruse and we’re really laying in wait – soon to pounce on the big kill. Fine by me if the big kill actually comes. But if this offseason plays out as it appears right now, it will be the single biggest sin in the hisory of this franchise – worse than every other betrayal we’ve catalogued in this space combined. If our ownership fails to make a legitimate run at a World Series this year, we the living fans of the Los Angeles Dodgers owe it to the souls of every poor bastard stuck for the rest of time in a blue and white urn to boycott the living hell out of this team.
Shit or get off the pot Frank. Either make a legitimate effort to win or sell the team to someone who will. If not, be prepared to be run out of town.
Funny stuff DFNY. I loved that you went there.
All that talk about manly men and Lou Grant got me thinking about the old days. Remember going to the stadium back when we were young bucks? You could take a seat anywhere in the park and try and keep to yourself, but invariably you’d end up embroiled in a conversation with some old duffer with bushy eyebrows, hair coming out of his nostrils and a voice loud enough to drown out Helen Dell.
I learned the game from guys like that. My father was closer to Fred Claire than Al Campanis when it came to sports – it simply wasn’t his thing. But there was always a seemingly endless supply of hirsute old guys willing to show you how to keep score properly, lecture you on the evils of free agency, or explain why Gil Hodges whizzed from on high all over Greg Brock. I learned to love this game from them.
I still find myself looking for guys like that whenever I make it back to Dodger Stadium, but they are a practically extinct breed (except for the harsh reality that I am rapidly morphing into the last of them myself). Instead of those colorful oldtimers, the stands now seem filled with the younger demographic so clearly prized by the folks that care about such things. Normally I’d say this was a good. After all, how can you argue with the notion of baseball catching on with the young. But I can’t help being a judgmental old bastard and suspecting that most of them come for the wave, or the Gordon Biersch garlic fries or something. But baseball? Hard to imagine it. Not baseball the way I think of it. The game with almost religious implications. I don’t sense a lot of the gospel in Elysian Fields anymore. I’ll put the baseball knowledge and sheer baseball fervor of any one of those old guys from my youth against the entire top deck of one of today’s games.
But my lament today isn’t about old vs. young, but rather the sense I have that Dodger tradition is slipping away – only to be replaced by little more than gimmicks and commerce. Consider the fate of organist Nancy Bea Hefley – marginalized to just a few bars of music a night in order to make room for the same stale stadium rock playlist now featured in every ballpark in America. Or turn your thoughts to the radio broadcasts that no longer start off with the gloriously corny “It’s a Beautiful Day for a Ballgame.“ These days Dodger tradition exists only in the gift shops.
Of course everything changes. We need to embrace change, or so I am told. But for decades visit to Dodger Stadium made you feel like it was possible to beat back father time. From 1968 through 1998 they had a total of two General Managers running the organization. And only two managers sat in the dugout going back even further. Vin Scully was a constant. The uniform never changed. The Infield stayed together throughout my entire childhood and into my teens, and the stadium itself was unsullied. Even the straw-hatted ushers and peanut vendors seemed constant. It was comforting.
Is it wrong to miss that comfort? Is it wrong to lament the replacement of the Cool-a-Coo with the inferior Its-It? Is it wrong to be annoyed by all of the flashing lights and jumbotron gimmicks designed to make the game more like the NBA? Should I just shrug my shoulders at the closing of the venerable Dodgertown in Florida’s Vero Beach – the last preserve for the breed of old guys I mentioned earlier. Where will the last of them/I go now? The great ballpark in the sky?
When I watch a game on TV and I see every square inch of space used for advertising, I’m reminded of the days when the only ad visible from the stands was the Union 76 globe (later it was replaced with a Coca Cola globe). And yes, I know that a lot of the old time ballparks had ads all over the place for Bryl Cream and the like, but the point is that Dodger Stadium was pure – and Dodger tradition is the only tradition that matters to m right this moment .
The thing is – baseball is all about history. Why else would we pit today’s player against the entire history of baseball? That weight of history is what makes the game profound. So when a guy like Cal Ripken surpasses Gherig, we all stand in awe. If we surrender our history, what do we replace it with? Animated jumbotron races?
Maybe some day one of today’s kids will grow up and lament the passing of this era. In fact I’m sure many will. That is how it works. Every generation loves what they know and are unconcerned with the things that fall outside their experience. Maybe they’ll grow to feel as marginalized as I do now as the game continues to change. And when this happens – I wonder if they’ll hand on as stubbornly as I do. Will their connection to the game be as fanatical as mine? Can the watered down attention deficit disorder version of the game inspire the same addictive behavior as the game that hooked me? I wonder. Maybe they’ll just accept constant change as a tradition in and of itself. Who am I to say they shouldn’t?
So there it is. Maybe I have no complaint. Maybe change is natural and tradition is a mirage. Maybe. But I know what those old guys I grew up talking to would say about the subject – and it isn’t something you’d want the kids to hear.
Okay DFNY. I’ve been staring at that absurd picture of Kevin Malone for days, just trying to get my mind around your last post. There is so much more to be said about the Fox era, I wasn’t sure exactly where to go next. But that face kept taunting me. Ultimately there was no denying it – the Sheriff demanded to be accounted for.
So. Kevin Malone then…
Is there a figure as easy to mock in Dodgers lore? Talk among fans of the team, both casual and fanatical, and you’ll find someone willing to defend even the most unlikeable and ineffective member of the organization – past or present. But who defends Kevin Malone? Certainly not me.
No. I won’t defend him. But I will take him seriously, if only to reconcile his impressive pre-Dodger career with the debacle that followed. His was a fairly unprecendented swan dive into ignominy. How did it all go so badly? The cheap, easy answer is to write him off as a fool. While he may have had some foolish moments, I don’t completely buy that explanation.
I blame the 1997 Marlins.
Though perhaps a forgotten perception now, anyone who was a baseball fan back in 1997 can remember the grousing. The Florida Marlins had bought a World Series victory. Owner Wayne Huizenga had committed to $89 million in contracts (much of which we would later be conned into paying) the previous off season and had managed to spend his way to a championship. Listen to any sports talk radio station or talk baseball around any watercooler in the last three months of 1997 and these sentiments were sure to be expressed by someone.
I don’t know if any other single event has effected the Dodgers franchise in quite as insidious a manner. Keep in mind, all of this is what the Fox people were seeing as they were just entering the baseball business. It must have seemed so seductive to them – the notion that they could write a few checks and find themselves the owner of a championship team. Baseball was easy.
So a deep-seated case of Marlin envy took hold. Within a few months they’d traded for many of the key players from that Marlin’s team – and done so by taking the highly unusual step of bypassing Fred Claire, their own general manager. In doing so, they created the need for a new general manager. Enter Kevin Malone, right?
Well…sort of. But not before an exhaustive GM search. Actually the man at top of Fox’s wish list was none other than Dave Dombrowski – the architect of the Marlins championship roster (did you think I was kidding about Marlin envy? It is amazing they didn’t change our uniforms to teal!). Other candidates interviewed included Jim Bowden, Bob Watson, Omar Minaya, and Dean Taylor. And then of course…Kevin Malone.
Dombrowski ultimately opted to stay with the Marlins. Perhaps he sensed how dysfunctional the situation would get in LA, but that says something given the fact that he had just been ordered to dismantle a world series team and new ownership was also taking over in Florida. It leads me to wonder what the GM interviews with Fox were like. I picture them something like this:
Dave Dombrowski: Given the state of the current roster and the talent within the farm system, I propose a three-year plan to bring a championship to LA.
Bob Watson: I believe in a strong focus on player development.
Fox: (yawn) Next!
Jim Bowden: I think a rebuilding process is warranted here.
Fox: (annoyed) Next!
Omar Minaya: Building the proper team chemistry is crucial.
Fox: (lots of eye rolling) Get this guy outta here!
Dean Taylor: I’d like to win the Dodger way. With strong pitching, speed, timely hitting and defense.
Kevin Malone: Buy a championship? I can do that!
Fox: By Jove, I think we’ve got our man!
My point being, I don’t think Fox unwittingly hired an idiot. I think they specifically hired someone to do an idiotic job. It was your standard issue “garbage in/garbage out” situation. No self-respecting baseball man ought to have agreed to do it. Maybe Kevin Malone was dumb enough to think it was a good idea. Maybe he simply wanted to return to the GM’s office after having grabbed that brass ring in Montreal and losing it through little fault of his own. Who knows? Maybe I’d have done the same. After all, Fox had a an almost limitless budget and Malone had already built baseball’s best team once, only to see the 1994 baseball strike deny his 74-40 Expos the post-season berth they clearly were heading for. He probably decided to put his faith in his own talent and in God (he is an avowed evangelical) – and so he agreed to attempt one of the most colossally foolhardy bad ideas ever attempted by a major league team: He tried to turn a sow’s ear into silk within a single offseason.
The common wisdom surrounding the Dodgers going into the 1998-99 season was that they lacked an ace and were badly in need of left-handed power. So an argument could have been made for making Kevin Brown baseball’s first $100 million dollar man, but it would have been a very bad one. Especially given that the last and most expensive years of the contract extended into Brown’s 40’s. If the Dodgers were already a contender and Brown was the final piece needed, this might have made sense. But as a first piece towards creating an instant contender… it was absolutely reckless.
Similarly you could look sideways at both Todd Hundley and Devon White and tell yourself that they were the answer to our left handed power problems. If you had only the free agent pool and trade options available at that exact little sliver in time, it would be possible to view guys like them as reasonable targets. Of course you’d have to put out of your mind the fact that Hundley was coming off reconstructive surgery and that an aging Devon White was coming off of only his second season of 20+ homers in a o15 year career.
And so it was for almost all of Malone’s moves. He paid top dollar and gave out long term cntracts to players simply because they were there and they appeared to fill a need on his roster – if you did not look to closely.
Meanwhile he seemed to enjoy shooting his mouth off for the press, proclaiming himself the new sheriff in town at his first official press conference. But within the organization he was hardly the law. Fox was still convinced that they knew baseball well enough to make baseball decisions and thus they forced him to hire Davey Johnston to manage the Dodgers over his clear choice Felipe Alou, who had all but accepted a deal with us before supposedly changing his mind just minutes before an announcement. Could it be that the Expos simply outbid us with a last minute offer? I doubt it. Not given the open check book Malone clearly had. Nope – the incident clearly stunk of interference by Fox.
The net result of all of these and other moves was a third place finish in 1999 led by a barely interested davey Johnston. Fox would allow Malone to continue to try and spend his way to a championship in 2000 as they approved his trade of disgruntled Raul Mondesi for Shawn Green – a trade which allowed the Dodgers a window to extend Green to a six-year $84 million dollar deal. Green was a talented player and had success in LA, but the team around him was still too fundamentally flawed to truly compete for a championship and ended up in second place 11 games behind the dreaded Giants.
After that Fox apparently abandoned their hope of buying a championship, clamping down on the wallet from then on until the sale to Frank McCourt. Meanwhile our hero Kevin Malone finally shot his mouth off one time too many when he challenged a heckler to a fight during a game in San Diego in April of 2001. He resigned a few days later. Not to return to baseball since. Among other ventures since he is co-owner of a Mercedes dealership in Southern California with Hall of famer Eddie Murray.
As for me, I’m waiting for the day that they get the bright idea to sell off all of their inventory in a single off-season. I could use a cheap Mercedes!
Sure DFNY. Lets go ahead and talk about starting pitching.
Last night Yahoo’s Tim Brown reported the following via twitter:
Source: Dodgers and Blue Jays are discussing Halladay again. Looks like Anthopoulos is restarting the process of moving Doc.
Following four hours later with this tweet:
They’ve talked about Halladay trade, but source close to Blue Jays-Dodgers says deal, as of tonight, looks, “highly unlikely.”
I hate to be a fatalist, but I suspect that might have been the most exciting four hours we Dodger fans will see this offseason.
Look – maybe I’m wrong. Maybe Frank McCourt will figure out that he stands to make a lot more money with a real championship calibre team than a pretend championship calibre team. Maybe. But I’m not so sure.
As it stands, my strong suspicion is that all of this will come down to Ned Colletti’s ability to work miracles. I think he will once again be held to a budget that will force him to rob Peter in order to beef up Paul. So unless some team comes forward with the pitching version of Manny Ramirez – a malcontent they deem toxic enough to pay their way out of town – Ned is gonna have to pull something from the bottom of the pack.
One way he could potentially do it is to shop K-Mart for every other need. Perhaps manning second base with Blake DeWitt or a Jamey Carroll type and filling in the bench with warm bodies. Then he could walk into McCourt’s office and point out all of the money coming off of the books this season and try and get permission to make one big splash for a starting pitcher. DFNY – you mentioned that you did not understand letting Wolf and Garland walk, but perhaps Ned was anticipating his need to go this direction when he made that decision.
This is probably the best case scenario for this season.
More likely Ned will be forced to do the same thing all of his counterparts are doing – trawling the free agent and trade market for bargains. Generally this manifests in one of two ways:
1) Finding talent that is undervalued by the entire baseball establishment. – a great trick if you can pull it. I could give a list of guys that I think fit this bill, but I’d be full of shit.
2) Signing high risk/high reward guys. – There are always a few. This year’s crop includes Rich Harden and Ben Sheets. Not a bad idea if you can do so cheaply, but realistically a championship team does this to fill the bottom of it’s rotation, not the top. Besides – a lot of teams will be going this route, so even damaged goods like these guys will not come cheap.
The option I did not include was trading for a guy that a smaller market team can no longer afford. This would be the smart thing to do, but it would require investment in something other than real estate. Think McCourt has the stomach? If so, we ought to be all over Josh Johnson. I hope in the end, we are.
I wish I could believe otherwise, but I envision the end of this story having us signing a former ace like Randy Johnson or John Smoltz and then engaging in some kind of experiment in mass myopia as Dodger nation tells itself that Kershaw/Bills/Kuroda/Old Guy might just possibly go all the way.
Ugh. Still bitter. I’m not sure talking it out is working.
You put me to shame DFNY. Not just because you are a better writer than I am, but because you were right to gently chide me for laying on the negativity too thick. I suppose I figured it ought to be obvious that we both love this team to an almost ridiculous extreme based on the sheer comic obsession evident in our writing. But I suppose it really does need to be spelled out clearly – especially given the context of our conversation. So I’m saying it loud and proud: I love this God forsaken dysfunctional nightmare of a franchise – though often the love feels just a wee bit unrequited.
This brings me to a fairly obvious question – one I think we need to get at if this little therapy experiment is to take hold. I think we need to ask ourselves why we bother to love this team? Why do we tie so much of ourselves up in the fortunes of a bunch of strangers who simply have a talent (on most days) for playing baseball?
Jerry Seinfeld famously remarked that since players changed teams so often after free agency, fans were essentially reduced to rooting “for laundry”. But even as he had the insight to make that observation, the guy clearly remains a baseball fan. Clearly there is an element of cognitive dissonance involved in baseball fandom. And being a Dodger fan would seem to require outright psychosis of some kind – unless you only go to do the wave and play with the beach ball.
Given the above – can you offer any explanation for my inability to extend that cognitive dissonance one step further? Why can’t I convince myself that the folks that own the Dodgers cares as much about championships as I do? Why does my love for this team so often seem tragicomic? I know how I was seduced, but what I don’t ger is how I stay seduced. Bitter as I am, why do I continue to line up for more?
The answer my friend, is blowing in the wind. Can you shed some light?
I suppose I feel a bit guilty for complaining.
Well perhaps guilty is the wrong word. I know I’m right to complain. I simply worry that other people won’t get where I’m coming from. They’ll point out that by any measure 2009 was a fantastic season. And they’d be right – if you exclude World Series victories as a metric. But my complaint isn’t simply about failing to win a championship – I get that only one team can win, and that a lot of really great teams fall short Fine. I accept that.
What I cannot except is failure to put in a truly meaningful effort. And when push comes to shove, I think Frank McCourt sat on his hands.
Think back to opening day. Did anybody feel like we had a championship-worthy rotation? Certainly nobody in the press did, and I don’t recall talking to a single Dodger fan who thought so. But we came out of the gate winning and thus it became easier to pretend everything would be okay. Still most fans were looking for a big move right up to the trading deadline.
But the big move never came. We settled for a good reliever and some help off of the bench. Then there was nothing to do but squint when we looked at Randy Wolf and tell ourselves we saw an ace.
Ask yourself this: Has any team ever won a World Series without having at least one starting pitcher exceed 12 wins? Okay – don’t go to the record books on that one. The point isn’t so much a matter of whether it has happened before or not, but rather that it was kind of obvious that it would be fairly noteworthy if it ever did.
If you happen to be reading this Mr. McCourt – please allow me to explain to you how the post season works. It isn’t the same as the regular season. You don’t get to fatten up your record by beating the weaker teams. Weaknesses are exposed in the big spotlight. If you find yourself praying for Vincente Padilla to stay hot long enough to beat the likes of the Yankees and Phillies, you have already lost.
The best franchises look to overwhelm the competition. They don’t hide behind a strong regular season record and stand pat. Sure there is always next year, but realistically there is really only a short window wherein any team will be in position to win it all unless a lot of moves are made to keep them in position. Most of our young players are coming up on their arbitration years, meaning it will be harder to keep them together, and harder to add any pieces to our nucleus should we manage to do so.
We had a shot this year – a really great one. And we pissed it away. Moments like these are finite. Let them pass and often you find they never come back again.
I hope the 2009 Dodgers haunt you Frank McCourt. I hope you wake up in the middle of the night with visions of Matt Stairs stalking you. Maybe that is what it will take to get you to understand what the folks who buy all the tickets, foam fingers and kool-a-coos have to endure. More importantly, maybe that is what it will take to get you off your hands for 2010.