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The Fans’ Loyalty Should Not be Greater than the Owners’ Loyalty to Us

February 15, 2017 8 comments

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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.

For Baseball and the Dodgers – The Times They Are a-Changin’

February 13, 2015 1 comment

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When it comes to the Dodgers, and probably Major League Baseball as a whole, the famous Bob Dylan song comes to mind – the times they are a changin’.

This is a good time to be a Sabermetrics or modern fantasy baseball nerd, not so much a purist of the game. The “progress” baseball is going through is summed up as keeping in touch with what the fans want vs. what old people want. I fully acknowledge that pop culture, music, TV, fashion, and just about everything else is moving in a different direction in today’s fast-paced, social media fueled society but my feelings on baseball are the same today as they were when I was 12. I don’t think baseball – or how it always had been – is something that necessarily needs to evolve over time.

The beauty of baseball has always been the timelessness of it. The game, more or less, was what it was in 1990 as it was 1950 or 1900. Unlike other sports, there was no clock and announcers told stories and fans lapped them up. You didn’t watch a baseball game expecting gimmicks; you watched a beautiful, perhaps perfect, chess game unfold.

For the Dodgers, ushers wore straw hats, organ music played, and Americana reined much like it does at Disneyland. Children didn’t question it, nor did teens. They sat alongside their parents and grandparents and accepted that when you watched baseball, you put everything else on hold. You ate a hotdog, had some cotton candy perhaps and just took a break from anything faster paced or stressful. This experience was worth the price of admission. How much would you pay for total peace?

Fox took over the Dodgers and decided an entertainment makeover was needed to make the stadium and product more hip. Up until this time, the players on the field, and their connection to generations of Dodgers that came before them, was all fans wanted and needed. Suddenly Fox TV and movie tie ins were displayed in lights on Diamond Vision and entertainers like Snoop spoke to the fans from the scoreboard. Contemporary music replaced most of the traditional organ songs and the focus was on bringing our lives’ outside baggage and interests into the park. The stadium and game were no longer looked at as a pleasant escape from the norm.

This continued under Frank McCourt and now Guggenheim. Secretly, I imagine, talks have happened anticipating Vin Scully’s retirement or even death. What cool voice can they bring in that younger fans would more relate to? Fireworks, bubble dancing, pre and post-game concerts – Wi-Fi. The point is now that you go to the game to multi-task – you can talk data with friends, send out tweets, post to Instagram, take selfies, rock out to your favorite pop songs, etc. It’s no stretch to say long ago the Dodgers lost connection with the fabric that is over 100 years of history that fans used to know like their own family’s story.

When Frank McCourt threw out Dan Evans (ironically, very much a data person himself – just not a personality-deficient geek like most baseball executive are today) in favor of Oakland A’s front office sidekick Paul DePodesta, fans were treated to one of the worst collection of baseball players ever put onto a big league field. Most nights people didn’t know 3/4 of the players in the lineup – and that’s not an exaggeration.

That experiment failed (Moneyballers would argue it needed more time) and a more traditional face was brought in to win back angry fans. Now the Dodgers are reverting back to the stats-heavy approach and have 5 or so “general managers” creating a team that 70% of Los Angeles won’t be able to watch on TV anyway. The new team is sort of a Giants light approach – addition by subtraction, ditching some of the personality issues like Hanley Ramirez and Matt Kemp, adding more rational players like Jimmy Rollins and Howie Kendrick, but in the process wheeling and dealing in a way only 5 “general managers” could, cutting off pieces that were perfectly serviceable, even well received, just to show they are smarter than the previous regime. Oddly, the previous regime is still employed and in some capacity working on this 2015 Frankenteam called the Dodgers.

It remains to be seen, of course, whether the 2015 Dodgers are better than the 2014 edition. It’s almost irrelevant as a good many longtime Dodgers fans I know have given up. They can’t see the games on TV due to a botched deal the Guggenheim group made to score over $8B for their $2B initial investment, and they don’t know who most of the players wearing blue this summer are anyway. And worst, at least long-term for the Guggenheim gang, is they don’t care. After decades of drama and abuse in one form or other, most are saying they’ll watch college baseball instead, or other teams, or just stop following baseball altogether.

If you have the MLB app and follow the Dodgers on there, you can read an article about all the new faces the team has brought in this off-season and who they expect you’ll be familiar with the spring. I looked at the article and forgot most of this acquisitions and while some might do perfectly well, it’s more like the DePodesta era – at least as of right now – that an impressive hot stove season that should have Dodgers fans counting down the days until pre-season action begins.

I listen to MLB Network Radio and most of their pundits are curious about the Dodgers who assembled a large amount of bodies, but still have question marks in the bullpen, a weaker offense on the face of it, and several starting pitchers that could hit the DL even before opening day begins.

Then there’s talk about Cole Hamels, which seems insane considering Andrew Friedman and his merry men collected “no-brainer” starting pitching depth like Brandon McCarthy, Brett Anderson, Erik Bedard, Juan Nicasio, etc. Unless the plan is to deal precious prospects for Hamels and then move Zack Greinke, who had the gall to question some of the off-season moves and who plans to likely opt out of his final years in order to get a bigger payday, why? And would the Dodgers be better with Hamels than Greinke? Could either ensure the pen will be better, the offense enough, the catching solid?

I’ll go on a limb here and say that the Dodgers should be better in 2015 in terms of professionalism (though Adrian Gonzalez has said he hopes the dancing bubbles come back – makes me question his professionalism) since they’re copying the Giants model, but can they win more than 94 games? Can Clayton Kershaw get tough in October and not fold like a rookie in over his head? Will PED cheat Yasmani Grandal be the big bat behind the plate the new general managers think he can? And do they know that his defense is worse than AJ Ellis’ in every aspect except the suddenly in vogue “pitch framing”? It’s true – “fans” blasted AJ last summer for passed balls – Grandal led the league in them. Throwing out runners? Not Grandal’s business.

So the Dodgers need to either win more than 94 games (probably won’t happen, especially with a more competitive NL West) or advance deeper into the playoffs than last year’s cuckolding by the Cardinals. If that happens, the new big brains know what they’re doing and fans will just have to adapt to the selfie taking and Instagramming and get to know all the unfamiliar faces on the field. And of course you will have to go to the field since there will not be any TV coverage for most of us.

I know something about marketing and I’d say the Dodgers, whether it was Frank McCourt or this new group who pretend to want to make everything right, do not get it. They are focused solely on the in-stadium experience, one might argue lowering themselves to the lowest common denominator and trying to ensure the game at Dodger Stadium is familiar to the distracted fans, rather than elevate the proceedings and make the stadium a safe haven and chance to get away from the superficiality of everyday life. One wonders when the new geniuses will have a vape pen giveaway or hookah night.

The types of “fan” I’m dismissing will write my comments off as those of a clueless old person who doesn’t get it. As I said, I felt this way when I was 12. Even if the technology was available then, I understood that when you went to a baseball game, you escaped. You listened to Vin Scully, heard the organ music, could logically tie and compare the Dodgers on the field to those from decades past. It was fun. You didn’t need the trappings from outside to enjoy baseball. Now, it’s not only the Dodgers who are guilty of it, but Major League Baseball and their new commissioner. They are trying to chase after a demographic that just isn’t made for the game. And if they did things the way they always had been, without enabling or changing their own ways, the hipsters and gang types would have come anyway and behaved themselves. It always worked before. I don’t think being “young” is any new development in our history. Empowering distraction, catering to multi-taskers and creating some “cool” haven that is like some lounge or Starbucks the “fans” feel comfortable in just isn’t baseball, and it’s not the Dodgers.

On the field, I can’t see anything quite yet that has me impressed. I don’t view free-agent to-be Howie Kendrick as an upgrade over Dee Gordon. I don’t understand dealing with the Padres to get so little back while improving a division rivalry. I don’t get paying the salary of almost every player dealt. I don’t see injury heavy pitchers as sure things we can count on. I don’t know if an elderly shortstop is the improvement we needed at the position. I don’t see how the bullpen will be markedly better than it was. I don’t even know how Donnie, whose “strength” you could argue was taming his collection of divas and goof offs, will fare with a group perhaps a little less self-aware. Time will tell, but if the games are unavailable, I’m not sure who will be watching.

Bob Dylan The Times They Are A Changin’ 1964