Posted by: Mike Cornelius | March 14, 2010

Singing the Dodger Blue Blues

When you’re a fan of the game that begins its practice in the middle of February and crowns its champion in early November, you learn early on the virtues of patience and resiliency. As the long season slowly unwinds, game by game, inning by inning, so many individual moments can have an outsized and unexpected impact on a team’s eventual success, or lack thereof.

We’ve all known the agony of watching a star hitter pull up lame as he rounds third base, suddenly stricken by a bad hamstring. Equally we’ve bathed in the ecstasy of seeing the AAA call-up, rushed into the lineup to replace the hobbled star, hammering a ball into the seats in his first at bat and maintaining a .400 average through ten games.

It’s adversity that teaches life’s hardest lessons. The usually reliable middle of the rotation starter is suddenly shockingly bad for three games, and then is lost for the year to shoulder surgery. A season suddenly hinges on whether the GM can produce some unexpected magic from the lower minor leagues. Or in the modern game, sometime in December the star that we have idolized, that has been our personal symbol of our beloved team’s greatness, is introduced at a press conference in some other city, grinning as he wears the jersey of a hated opponent; their newest free agent prize. This game’s fans learn early on how to deal with disappointment.

But at least for most, the possibility of things going wrong has to do with the players on the field. Which is why I feel especially bad this spring for the millions of folks who bleed Dodger Blue. Because this year their unexpected adversity has come in the form of divorce lawyers. Thank you Frank and Jamie McCourt.

Owners of the LA franchise since 2004, the McCourt’s announced the end of their 30-year marriage last fall, in the midst of the Dodgers’ post-season run. On October 22, the day after LA lost the NLCS to the Phillies, Frank McCourt fired Jamie from her position as CEO of the team. That action was quickly followed by a procession of the things that people involved in ugly divorces do, like changing the locks, alleging infidelity, and so on.

The effect on the franchise stems from the fact that California is a community property state, so it will be up to a court to determine whether the McCourt’s jointly own the team, or whether it is in fact separate property, owned 100% by Frank. Beyond that is the open question of what impact an eventual divorce settlement might have on his considerable fortune, and in turn on his ability to field a championship-caliber squad and make continued improvements to the lovely but aging Dodger Stadium.

Frank McCourt steadfastly insists that the divorce is having no impact on the team, and that he will continue to do whatever is needed to bring the World Series back to Chavez Ravine. But his bold words are not supported by the facts of the offseason. With a clear need for a front-end starting pitcher, the Dodgers’ main free agent signings were 33 year old fourth outfielder Reed Johnson, and 36 year old infielder Jamey Carroll. If you’re wondering if you missed either of those players in the starting lineups at last year’s All-Star Game, the answer of course is no.

The Dodgers are a tremendous franchise, with a profound place in baseball history thanks to Branch Rickey’s bold decision to sign Jackie Robinson. Their twenty-one National League championships are the most of any team in the senior circuit. Six times they’ve won the World Series, ranking them fifth on that list. They have enormously loyal fans who turn out at Dodger Stadium (a great place to watch a game from my one visit there some years ago) in astonishingly large numbers (3.76 million in 2009). But those fans last shared the joy of ultimate triumph a generation ago, in 1988.

When McCourt bought the franchise he promised a return to greatness (although I have noticed that new owners rarely pledge a race to mediocrity). But in fact in fairly short order the team has gotten to the brink. Under Joe Torre they claimed the NL West crown in both 2008 and 2009. Both years they swept through the NL Division Series, dispatching the Cubs in ’08 and the Cardinals last year. And in both years they came to grief in five games against the Philadelphia Phillies in the NL Championship Series.

Clearly this is a team that needs just a little bit more (most glaringly on the mound) to get over the top. In past years this great LA franchise has often been a major player in offseason activity. Kirk Gibson, Darryl Strawberry, Eddie Murray, and Kevin Brown all began their time in Hollywood during the hot stove league. Two winters ago Dodger fans got the news that Torre was their new manager. Last offseason the news was the team exercising its option on Manny Ramirez. This year, after back-to-back seasons of coming ever so close, Dodger fans had every right to expect some big moves. But instead they got Reed Johnson and Jamey Carroll, and Frank McCourt’s assurances that all is well. Since the team did start out in Brooklyn, maybe he’s got a bridge he wants to sell to Dodger fans as well.

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Responses

  1. Great post, man! Ah, the problems of the rich and famous. Luckily for the Dodgers, they are in the same division as the Padres and the punch-less Giants. Still, the Rockies, or even the young Diamondbacks could give them a run this year. Nice job, Bill (ondeckcircle.wordpress.com)


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