Happy Valentine’s Day.
Tomorrow, the Dodgers begin the spring training portion of the 2017 season. Lots has been said of the Dodgers improvement, some true, some not, and many expect the boys in blue to be among the top handful of teams in baseball this season – largely based on their high payroll and “depth.”
Before I get into that, I do want to say what I have tweeted several times this week – the lack of TV across the LA market for a 4th season is shameful. The Dodgers have been passed around from one bad owner to another since Peter O’Malley decided to sell the team to Fox. At the time, we fans knew it was quite a change – going from mom and pop ownership to a greedy Rupert Murdoch run corporation that only was interested in baseball in order to start a local sports network. Little did we realize, however, how bad it would get.
It’s debatable to some whether the skullduggery of Frank and Jamie McCourt is worse than the Guggenheim Partners time as owners, I would say different. When “Hall of Fame commissioner” Bud Selig handed the keys to the Dodgers kingdom to a cash poor Boston parking lot attendant, we knew it wasn’t good. As the McCourts rode high on the hog and drove the franchise into embarrassment, bouncing checks to staff, including Vin Scully, and cheaping out on security until people’s lives were in danger, we ultimately rebelled. Now, with Magic Johnson’s smiling (now absent) kisser conning us into believing everything was ok again, we sit staring at our blank TV screens, or MeTV re-runs of “Hogan’s Heroes” instead of our LA baseball team.
I would say from Fox to the McCourts to Guggenheim, LA Dodgers fans have been passed from one bad guardian to another, much like the Baudelaire children in the “Unfortunate Events” books and Netflix episodes. None of them have/had Dodgers tradition at the core of their belief system – all have been in it for profit motives purely. Yet, through generations now, Dodgers fans infight and quarrel and flaunt loyalty ownership doesn’t have to them. It’s quite amazing, the level of love and Stockholm Syndrome displayed since O’Malley sailed off into the sunset.
To me, it’s easy. Greed + no TV coverage = you lose my loyalty. You want it back? Focus on our needs, and that includes games on TV. Stealing Vin Scully’s final years was a heinous act. Lest anyone think Guggenheim is in no way like the McCourt era, think about that. Consider it when you get an overload of Charlie Steiner.
We will never get back what was taken from us, and considering the misdirection of the overly bloated narcissistic front office, it makes it hard to forgive. All of my life, and prior, the Dodgers were a team known for strong pitching. Over the years there were good offensive teams, and bad ones. The pitching was always key. Look through the Dodgers record books and recall the names. Behind the greats were many good ones, and those who held the fort, eating innings and supplying consistency that always kept the Dodgers in the thick of the National League race.
I don’t recall, prior to this administration, such a dismissal of pitching. The Fangraphs lovers among you will point to cobbled together stats and suggest this is the best pitching staff in baseball. I may not understand numbers like you pretend to (by reading some nerd’s analysis), all I have to base my opinion on is many decades of following baseball and end results. A team, especially a Dodgers team, should be built around pitching – starting and relief. It seems an afterthought or a “ho-hum” to the collective geniuses that run the Dodgers.
So, if you put together no TV, no Vin and very little pitching, it’s hard for me to get overly excited. There’s a reality that says the rotation is three guys, all of whom have concerns. Clayton Kershaw may be the best pitcher in baseball but after years of carrying the burden of the team on his back, his back gave out. Backs can flare up at any time, and while Kershaw may be healthy all of 2017, his sudden vulnerability at least merits a conversation.
Rich Hill has resurrected his career from independent league hurler (like his fellow well paid staff mate Scott Kazmir), but he’s also an older pitcher who has spent a lot of time on disabled lists across baseball. To assume his “Koufax-like curve” can be counted on for a full season is perhaps a stretch. Then comes Kenta Maeda.
I liked the signing of Maeda, but then I like the signing of most Asian players. Maeda is a gamer with good stuff, but he’s also Japanese and their seasons are shorter than those in the bigs, so his eventual tiring in 2016 should have been expected. He was gassed the last quarter of the season and of course in October, when we all closed our eyes and crossed our fingers as he went to the hill. He is slight of frame and while he could improve on his stamina and continue to evolve, he could also at least be considered someone who may have a solid first half and then vanish after that.
The rest of the rotation is more worrisome than the top three. Julio Urias is a talent touted as another Pedro Martinez. He sure can look good, but he’s also 20 and his young arm is not ready for a full season’s workload. In fact, I’d say given the way he was pushed in 2016, due to Andrew Friedman and Farhan Zaidi not considering reliable innings out of the rotation last year, he could even be a candidate for an injury due to overuse. I am not worried about Urias at the start of the season, but like Maeda, I am worried what happens as the year progresses. A baby pitcher should have his innings built up through the minors; Urias’ success and the front office’s desperation has rushed that timeline. Watching how they use him in 2017 should be interesting.
With Urias as the 4th starter (he should ideally be the 5th), it means a gaggle of curiosities will compete for the last spot. At this point most fans realize the signings of Kazmir and Brandon McCarthy were foolish ones by Friedman/Zaidi. They will compete with Hyun-Jin Ryu, former warrior with a shot shoulder, and assorted guys Friedman devotees will tell you are superstars in the making. No, they are just guys. The league is full of guys who fill roster spots, go up and down from the minors to the bigs and are not stars. Newsflash – not everyone who comes up through the Dodgers system will be a star. And another newsflash – every team has “depth” – it’s called a 40-man roster and minor league system. Living, breathing humans do not “depth” make.
For these reasons, the Dodgers rotation does not impress me. It’s possible they will have a decent first half, enabling Friedman/Zaidi to make a July deal for the 2nd half, but I’d argue, given what we see from most of their deals, and the fact the beef in the rotation should already have been added, who cares? As of today, the rotation is not ready for Oct play, which begs the question: “What have Friedman/Zaidi fixed since taking over?” I’d argue the deficiency the team had was the Oct part of the equation – that one more piece or two that could get the Dodgers over the hump. They already were making the playoffs for years. That isn’t enough. Friedman/Zaidi tinker, like mad scientists, but with the April through September part of the team, which, like I said, was in good enough shape before.
Friedman/Zaidi and their disciples would tell you it’s all about the regular season; the playoffs are all luck and a total crapshoot. That’s what Billy Beane has said, and the Moneyball record of World Series titles would bear that out. Small market executives, like Beane, like Friedman, like Zaidi, think like this because they must. They are traditionally hampered by lack of resources, financial most specifically, and need to assume getting to the dance is good enough. Perhaps, once in the post-season, they get lucky – it happens. Just not to Moneyball teams.
Guggenheim must have had their reasons for hiring Moneyball types to run the Dodgers – either hoping to save some money they could put into their own pockets (that’s not working, Friedman and Zaidi spend like gold-diggers out on the town), or because they were tipped off that the game has gone data and whiz kids who are all Ivy League are the ones you want in charge. I’m not dismissing data, it’s important (I recall loving Ross Porter’s constant stats that drove fans insane), but it doesn’t seem to apply to the work being done by Friedman, Zaidi and their crowded front office team.
Friedman inherited a windfall. He got a playoff team with a new rich ownership group and ripe farm system. A smarter man would have added the missing parts – perhaps a 3rd starter better than Brett Anderson – in order to go deeper into Oct. Instead, much like Paul DePodesta before them, a lot of tinkering, convoluted, needlessly complicated trades, signings of Cubans, reliance on unimpressive and often injured pitchers (overpaid), and other factors have led the team to no more Oct ready than before. I’d add, taking the long way around the mountain, creating needless busywork to get there.
At some point, perhaps luck will roll the Dodgers way and they will win. There IS talent on the roster. Some of the prospects in particular, holdovers from Ned Colletti and Logan White, look like this generation’s great Dodgers – Corey Seager, Joc Pederson, Julio Urias and Cody Bellinger, to name a few.
I just have no idea why fans continue to believe in a front office that shuffles pieces around, wastes money, skimps on money (hard to do both at the same time) and is rebuilding the regular season part of the team that was already a playoff contender, rather than the post-season part, which was the obvious weakness.
I chock it up to youth – easy to say, as I am old. I think baseball fans are not as diehard as they used to be, and youth comes with lack of perspective. As you get older, not only do you have to sometimes wake up in the night to pee, but you gain wisdom. As Louis C.K. famously mused in one of his routines, just by virtue of being on the planet longer than a young person, you generally come to know more. A young fan has the right idea – love their team, no matter what, but without a frame of reference, it’s easy to not really know what the fuck you are talking about. I have been young, and now I am old. Believe me, I know more now than I did when I was young.
I won’t even go into depth about the bullpen that was not improved at all over 2016, or the 2 guys for every position approach in the lineup that could work – if rosters are expanded to 35. A new season is upon is, so don’t let me burst your bubble. I will say, perhaps don’t be gullible. Keep your eyes open and your head up. Call “bullshit” when you see it. And yes, you should be very angry that for a 4th season, games are not on TV across all of Los Angeles. I would suggest you don’t pay for games, or McCourt’s expensive parking. If they won’t televise the games, listen on the radio, or just read the box scores the next day. If they don’t care enough about you, you shouldn’t care so much about them. Guggenheim is in it for the money, just as Fox and the McCourts were. The team has not been to the World Series since 1988, and that was a fluke. The rot had set in after the 1981 championship and the greats from the 70s teams moved on.
We are owed more than this. The fans’ loyalty should not be greater than the owners’ loyalty to us. Bickering on Twitter can be amusing, but it does not hold the owners accountable. Demand more and if they don’t give it, consider what else you want from life. Maybe it’s going to the beach, catching the latest superhero movie in the theater or just spending more time with family and friends. For me, if a group of smarties can’t figure out your rotation needs reliable innings and your bullpen should be several guys deep at the back, you don’t deserve my respect. If the games aren’t even available to watch, why should I care?
Here’s to another season of Dodgers baseball. Let’s see what happens. Have a Happy Valentine’s Day, everybody.
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!