I try to stay pretty neutral on this blog, giving love and attention to all teams, regardless of where my fan loyalties might lie. But the news yesterday about the Dodger’s organization being taken over by Major League Baseball hit really close to home. Living in Southern California as a kid, I grew up a Dodger fan (even though I tried to fight it as much as I could by rooting for the Angels for a little “rebellious” period of my youth). My dad was a Dodger fan as well. He grew up in East LA, rooting hard for the home team. He was a fan for the big World Series win in ’81 over the Yankees and we were both fans in ’88 during their improbable win over the Oakland A’s (although I was only 3 at the time).
The Old Dodgers
Orel Hershiser, Mike Scioscia, and Tommy Lasorda made up the Dodgers we both knew and loved. The Dodgers were a team that relied on “home-grown” talent, usually grooming and calling up minor leaguers as opposed to signing big free agents. And it worked. The Dodgers rattled off five straight rookies of the year: Eric Karros, Mike Piazza, Raul Mondesi, Hideo Nomo, and Todd Hollandsworth. The Dodgers were proving that success in the Major Leagues could still be earned and not bought. But then things started changing.
When Peter O’Malley sold the Dodgers in 1998, just 10 years after their last World Series Championship, things became noticeably different. The Dodgers got rid of Piazza and signed Kevin Brown, the first $100+ million dollar contract in baseball history. All this spending had to be funded from somewhere and it came at the expense of the fans who for decades past had given their hearts and souls to the Boys in Blue. Ticket prices skyrocketed, parking fees became astronomical, concessions became almost unaffordable – all because the focus went away from the baseball side of things and more to the business side of things.
Things Get Worse
The trend only worsened when Frank McCourt bought the team in 2004. With a background in real estate, it was no surprise that McCourt bought up the spring training facilities in Florida and the Dominican. Although as a resident of Phoenix, I was excited to see the Dodgers move Spring Training to Arizona, the closing of Vero Beach is a sad moment in Dodger history, and one of the first casualties of the McCourt’s horrible mismanagement. They viewed this as more of a business investment than the purchase of a storied franchise. And that was their biggest mistake.
To the casual fan of baseball, it might not appear that anything was amiss. The Dodgers were still a competitive team (for the most part), but despite being near the top of the league in attendance, the organization never seemed to be making any money. Sure, the Dodgers raked in more than the Royals or the Pirates, but for being one of the most popular teams in a huge market like Los Angeles, something just didn’t seem right.
The dire financial situation really seemed to become noticeable during the offseason before this 2011 season. There was no shortage of big free agent names available, but the Dodgers never seemed to show interest in any of them. This was not the sign of a team trying to mirror the success of the O’Malleys by investing in draft picks and grooming a minor league system, this was the sign of an organization that was bankrupt. GM Ned Colletti made comments that were supposed to lead fans to believe that the Dodgers were putting faith in their young core of Loney, Kemp and Ethier to see if they could get the job done, but die-hard fans knew what this really meant. On the outside, the Dodgers seemed like an organization that was making progress, but come on. This wasn’t the Dodgers. This wasn’t one of the most storied franchises in baseball. This was a sham, a mockery, a slap in the face to true fans.
Things appear to be at their worst when Frank McCourt receives a 30 million dollar loan from FOX, just to meet the team’s payroll needs. Where had all the money gone? Although somewhat publicized, Frank and Jamie were going through a brutal divorce and the fate of the Dodgers was hanging in the balance. Neither party wanted to relinquish rights to the team, afraid of what it might mean to lose a considerable source of income. The Dodgers were like the kid in his room with the door cracked, listening to his parent’s fight. The Dodger’s organization was an innocent bystander to the trainwreck of the McCourts marriage, but were taking far too much shrapnel to survive. Everything about the McCourt’s seemed forced and obligatory, especially in the wake of the tragic beating of the Giant’s fan in the Dodger’s parking lot. He reluctantly seemed to add more security to the parking lot and begrudgingly offered to pay for the hotel expenses of the injured fan’s family. Now we know why.
A New Hope
Then came April 20th 2011. This day is the equivalent of the day that the rebellion blew up the Death Star. Sure, there is more work to be done (like finding a suitable owner), but the big problem, for now, has been addressed. The new hope doesn’t come without casualties, however. Most notably Dodger Pride. For years we hid behind a façade of strength, propped up by past championships, circus acts (Manny Ramirez), and reputation. Those walls came tumbling down yesterday, exposing our organization for what it was. But now the rebuilding can begin. Just like when the rebellion had to retreat to Hoth, the Dodger’s organization might have to start from scratch. Just like when Han Solo got frozen in carbonite, the Dodger’s progress has been frozen. But our Luke is coming. One day we will get a new owner who will save us from mediocrity; and for now, Bud Selig is better than the leader we had before. And maybe, just maybe, with enough focus and determination the Dodgers will return to their former glory. And while we’re at it, can we do something about the ticket prices?