To my eyes, the Los Angeles Dodgers have been as pure a franchise as there is in Major League Baseball. I’m not entirely sure what I mean by that, but let’s try to parse it out:
The Reds have been around the longest, but are overshadowed in the Midwest by the Cubs. The Cubs have Wrigley, but are overshadowed by the century-long World Series drought. The Yankees have the success that the Cubs lack, but have transformed themselves into more of a business, man, than a baseball team vis-a-vis a billion dollar stadium, a payroll that clocks in at a quarter of that, and a brand that, more than any other, has torn down the walls between sport and fashion. The Red Sox went from Cubs to mini-Yankees in the span of two World Series titles, and are now too often unpalatable to non-Bostonians. The Braves had a claim on being America’s Team for the TBS-aired 1990s, but have seen their national support wane with a lack of on-field success and new TV deals that have taken them off the guaranteed national stage. For the most part, they’re just another team these days.
And meanwhile, the Los Angeles Dodgers, in their larger-than-life island on the West Coast, just kept on playing ball.
They brought Jackie Robinson into the league. They employed Maury Wills, who is still the guy people bring up when talking about groundscrew gamesmanship. Sandy Koufax electrified the league while wearing Dodger blue. Kirk Gibson limped out of the dugout to hit one of the most memorable home runs in the game’s history. Dodger Stadium took on a mythos that few ballparks have; while it may not register with fans across America the way that Wrigley, or Fenway, or (probably the old) Yankee Stadium does, it’s certainly one of Those Parks that you have to visit before you die. And Vin Scully, baseball’s Voice of God, presides over all of that.
Finally, if you’ll allow me to toy with history a little bit, I’d ask you to consider Duke Snider as a kind of embodiment of the Dodgers franchise. He spent most of his career in Brooklyn, but was there when the team moved out to LA. Snider, who’s probably one of the top 50 hitters of all time, had the misfortune to be a contemporary of Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays. As such, he was relegated to third banana status; clearly an all-timer, but still unable to measure up to Mantle or Mays. And when the Dodgers and Giants both moved out West, Mantle and Mays continued to dominate the conversation, while Snider continued to toil away as a Los Angeles Dodger.
(That he then ended his career by spending a year each in San Francisco and with the New York Mets might say something profound, too, but I’m trying to construct a narrative here.)
What I’m trying to say is that when I think of the Dodgers, of their simple-yet-iconic uniforms, of Vin Scully, of Roy Campanella and Don Drysdale and Tommy Lasorda and Pee Wee Reese and Fernando Valuenzuela and Orel Hersheiser, it’s all about Baseball. And I like that. It’s pretty nice.
But nowadays, it’s just about impossible to get actual baseball news about the Los Angeles Dodgers. The games they play have been envloped in divorce law and luxury homes; TV billions and Manny’s deferred millions. Matt Kemp is hitting .331/.415/.630 with 20 HR and 16 SB and it’s not even July? Yeah, yeah, sure, great. Did you hear about the court case? A judge is going to decide whether the Dodgers are Frank McCourt’s sole property or whether he and his wife both own it! And it’s one-day, no-appeals ruling! THE DRAMA IS PALPABLE.
And, you know, it really kind of is. There’s a lot at stake here; Frank McCourt could end up on the receiving end of a $3 billion TV contract with FOX, or Bud Selig could nullify the deal. Jamie McCourt could walk away with $100 million and seven luxury homes, all tax-free … but in so doing would doom the Dodgers to a transfer of ownership. There’s a lot at stake, and it’s just unfortunate that none of it is happening on the field.
Well, until Dodgers’ manager Don Mattingly took it upon himself to propogate the culture of Drama that is festering in Los Angeles — or, less generally, to criticize the performance of his second-best pitcher, Chad Billingsley.
“Ultimately, you have to go out and tell yourself you’re not going to make mistakes, that you’re going to throw the ball where you want to throw it … You’ve got to get yourself ready to play and to pitch to each guy. Really, the mindset has to be that you’re not going to be denied, you’re not going to make mistakes and they’re going to have to fight to beat you. Honestly, it’s still the same stuff … you can’t just throw the ball by people, because if you’re going to catch too much of the plate, you’re going to get hit. It’s as simple as that. (The Reds) are too good a team, and really, everybody you face, you have to throw the ball where you want it. If you can’t, you’re going to be in trouble … that’s the definition of insanity, isn’t it? Doing the same thing and expecting different results?”
Now, that’s not exactly a scathing commentary on Billingsley’s performance. But I’m of the opinion that there’s never really a good reason for a manger to publiciy criticize his players. What does that accomplish? What do you say to the media that you can’t say to your team? And why call out Billingsley, who commited the horrible sin of … stringing together three bad starts?
Admittedly, Billingsley has been horrible in June, with an ERA over 11.00 and 30 hits allowed in just 13 innings. But not only is it irresponsible to judge a pitcher by three starts, it’s silly to do so when the guy you’re criticizing is still the second-best pitcher on the team. Billingsley’s ERA has risen by more tha a full run, sure, but his 3.45 FIP is second on the team, his strikeout rate is second on the team*, and his BABIP and strand rates both suggest that he’s been getting more than his share of bad luck this season.
*So is his wRC+ (155). So he’s got that going for him, which is nice.
I don’t really expect Don Mattingly to pay attention to that, because, hell, he’s Donnie Baseball. The dude probably puts on eye black to go sleep in his bed that is stuffed with dirt that he carefully collected from every big league stadium he ever played in, and I sincerely doubt that DIPS theory means much to him unless it’s Copenhagen. And that’s fine; I’m not going to begrudge the man his way of consuming baseball. But I am going to begrudge him keeping the focus not on the original Boys of Summer patrolling Chavez Ravine as July rolls around, but on the infighting and malaise threatening to envelop the franchise.
Post Author: Paddy McMahon.