There are many words analogous to Los Angeles – surfing, glamour, fast cars, beautiful women – but none more so than “Dodgers.” Those of us who grew up in Los Angeles couldn’t escape the annual rite of spring that would bring Dodger baseball to the Southland, nor would we want to. How exhilarating it was to hear the dulcet tones of Vin Scully’s voice as he exclaimed: “It’s time for Dodger baseball!”
Once spring moved into summer, who could resist spending an evening at Chavez Ravine, snaking your way to the parking lots at Dodger Stadium, fighting the crowds through the turnstiles, locating your seat in the beautiful blue stadium – Dodger Dog in one hand, Coke in the other – and settling in for a night filled with organ music, Cracker Jack and, of course, Dodger baseball.
Before there was championship basketball, before there was – and then wasn’t – football, before there was hockey in Los Angeles, there was Dodger baseball. And, it was glorious and wonderful and fun. The Dodgers were always in the hunt for a pennant so cheering for them was a snap. Who wasn’t a fan of Sandy Koufax, one of the all-time best pitchers in baseball history? Or, Don Drysdale, that big hulk of a man who threw a pitch as easily as he gave an interview? How many people jeered in anger when San Francisco Giants’ pitcher Juan Marichal hit our catcher, John Roseboro, with a bat? (Our still-simmering hatred for the Giants is due, in large part, to this moment in Dodger history.) Who could forget the 104 stolen bases by Maury Wills? Or our fleet-footed outfielder, Willie Davis (nicknamed Road Runner) for his speed in center field? When those stalwarts retired, they were replaced by one of the most successful infields in baseball history: Steve Garvey, Davey Lopes, Bill Russell and Ron Cey. And when they retired, they passed the baseball to Cy Young pitcher Orel Hershiser, Ramon Martinez, Kirk Gibson, et al. In other words, the glory lived on.
The point I’m trying to make is that for all their years in Los Angeles, the Dodgers have been a great organization because the family that owned the team – the O’Malleys – were not only classy, but cared about winning. The O’Malleys wanted to make Dodger Stadium – the only family-owned baseball stadium in the country – a place where you could bring your family, enjoy some good baseball and have some fun. (When I was an undergrad at USC, we routinely bought tickets in the Left-Field Pavilion for $4…cheaper than a movie ticket!) But, the important thing is the O’Malleys were committed to winning. They cared about their players who in turn cared about playing well for their caring owners. The end result? Fans that showed up night after night, through thick and thin. How many times did the Dodgers have higher attendance than the National League average? Every year!
Dodgers owner Frank McCourt (Ringo/Chiu/Zumapress.com)
Then, Frank and Jamie McCourt arrived and ruined the party. Buying the team for $421 million on mostly leveraged money – in other words, cash they didn’t have – made them feel like they “earned” a place on Los Angeles’ “A” List. Oh, how wrong they were. The honeymoon was over almost instantly; it’s hard to pinpoint the exact reason. It could have been when they added seats on the field so they could charge more per ticket; or when they raised ticket prices at all levels; or when they increased parking by almost 50% (and, really, if you know Dodger Stadium, you also know there is no place else to park except at Dodger Stadium). But, in addition to these changes, they did little to improve the product out on the field. Towards the end of the McCourts’ reign, the Dodgers were a joke – a bunch of hapless guys who couldn’t get it done on the field. But, really, who could blame them? If you’re working for a man whose payroll check is likely to bounce, would you put out for him?
The worst part of this nightmare is that Frank and Jamie - who used the Dodgers as a pawn in their nasty divorce - treated the team as their personal bank account…spending millions of Dodger profits satisfying their own selfish whims. You know, like that 1% of wealthy folks the Occupy protestors are so angry about. The only difference is, the McCourts never had honest wealth in the first place so they didn’t deserve the largesse the Dodger profits were providing.
So, the news today that Frank McCourt finally called “Uncle” and agreed to sell the Dodgers to the highest bidder is the best news Los Angeles has heard in the seven years since he bought them. It’s time to celebrate the end of the much-too-long McCourt era. Goodbye and good riddance. You’ve overstayed your welcome and wrecked a Los Angeles treasure at the same time. You’ve destroyed the experience of Dodger Stadium – who wants to go there when you have a 50-50 chance of getting beaten up afterward, a less-than-even chance of seeing a well-played game and a 100% chance of paying more for your concessions than what they’re worth. We don’t like you anymore and we want you gone. Like, yesterday.
Rumor has it that people such as billionaire basketball owner Mark Cuban and a consortium led by Dodger greats Steve Garvey and Orel Hershiser are in the hunt to purchase the team. There is also speculation that former team owner Peter O'Malley may buy the team back. It doesn’t really matter who buys the Dodgers…just make it someone who cares as much about the team as its fans do. Someone who loves and appreciates the history of this Los Angeles gem. And, most of all, someone who adores those warm summer nights at Chavez Ravine, a Dodger Dog in one hand, a Coke in the other.
More from entertainment