The Rivalry

The Dodgers and Giants took time out of their usual pregame routines tonight to try an diffuse any further violence between LA and SF fans. This unity comes on the heels of the awful attack against Brian Stow in the Dodger Stadium parking lot just after this year’s home opener.

“When the last out is made,” said Giant Jeremy Affeldt, “the rivalry ends on the field.” (For more on the pregame event read the story at Dodgers.com.)

I don’t condone what happened to Brian Stow and I don’t want to make light of it either. But at the same time, I don’t think much is advanced by focusing too much blame on “the rivalry” between these two teams.

As I said on Twitter, I hate the Giants more than just about anybody or anything. And, yet, I have never beaten up one of their fans. This isn’t about the rivalry between our two teams; it’s about a violent attack by two men against one other. Whatever their motivation, their willingness to engage in violence is far more complicated (and more simple) than a rivalry taken to the extreme.

With all due respect to the Dodgers and Giants who spoke before tonight’s game, for me, the rivalry does not end on the field. It is a part of my life, of my love for my team, of my love for the sport. In some small but discernible way, it is part of my identity.

I can understand the need to diffuse the tension of the rivalry at a time like this. For people who carelessly act out of a combination of alcohol, hyper-masculinity, and stupidity, events like tonight might reframe their unquestioned positioning in important (though likely short-lived) ways. But what happened to Brian Stow (much like the thousands of other senseless acts of violence that have befallen people in this state since then) has very little to do with a competitive spirit between “my boys” and “them.”

That said…the Dodgers beat the Giants tonight, 6-1.

Walter Alston is Still Dead…

Walter Emmons Alston died 25 years ago today, eight years after having retired as manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers. He passed away on October 1, 1984, at the age of 72.

Alston managed the Dodgers for 23 seasons, four in Brooklyn and nineteen in Los Angeles (where they played for four years at the Coliseum and for fifteen at Chavez Ravine).  In that time he and the Dodgers won seven National League titles and four World Series championships.  His first World Series ring came in 1955 against the Yankees, Brooklyn’s only victory in the big show and the franchise’s first of six (1955, 1959, 1963, 1965, 1981, 1988; not counting the Bridegroom’s 1890 championship).

He was emblematic of a period in baseball’s history when the commercial hype of it all wasn’t yet the daily, unending norm.  He was quiet and matter of fact in his managing style, as the LA Times described him, “conservative and colorless.”  But he was also one of the most successful managers in baseball history.  Dodger pitching-legend Carl Erskine remembered Alston’s first season as manager.  “We weren’t playing too well, so Walt got us together and said: ‘If you expect me to be a rah-rah manager, you’re wrong. You’re all good players.  You know the price you have to pay.  Now go out and do it.'”

Alston retired when I was four, but he remained a revered figure among fans, including Dodger announcer Vin Scully, who for all practical purposes was my baseball history book growing up.  I honestly haven’t one actual memory of Alston as a living person, but I also can’t remember a time in my life when I didn’t know who he was.

The Brewers, the Dodgers, and some old school baseball

The Dodgers are likely moving out of their brief post-All Star break slump.  The best indicators of it are threefold: things are breaking their way in games, even when they lose; they kicked Milwaukee’s butt last night, 17 to 4; and, last night, they made one of the Brewers so mad he had to follow the Dodgers back into their clubhouse after the game to try and find somebody to beat up.

Here’s the full story from today’s LA Times.  The Brewer in question–Prince Fielder–was so pissed off because Dodger reliever Guillermo Mota pegged him in the thigh with a pitch–in the ninth inning of this Dodger blowout–apparently in retaliation for the Brewer’s pitcher hitting Manny Ramirez in the seventh.

The part I love about the story most is that, yes, that is why Fielder was hit.

After the game, Russell Martin–who came to meet Fielder at the Dodger locker room door–said to the press, “”It’s protection. It’s just about keeping the team unified and pulling the wagons together.”

Now I don’t condone violence or retribution, outside of baseball, but in the game, well, let’s just say there are “rules” you can read in a book and there are “rules” you learn by doing.  And I believe in following rules.

Russell Martin is right, it is about protection and unification.  It is about being a team, and even being little, petty boys who are emotionally invested in being a team.  And it’s old school Dodger baseball, too.  Don Drysdale was a fan of the policy of retribution from the mound, as were generations of Dodgers before him and after.  Even more, it a good sign that the team is strong and healthy in the ways you can’t really measure, and can’t often control, but that you always need going into the final stretch.

This is going to be a fun ride!

Preston Gómez (1922-2009)

Former baseball player, coach, manager, and scout Preston Gómez died yesterday. He had been severely injured last year after being struck by a motor vehicle. He was 86.

Born in Cuba, Gómez was the first manager of the San Diego Padres when they were created as an expansion team in 1969. He was hired by the historic former Brooklyn and Los Angeles Dodger executive Buzzie Bavasi, who knew Gómez from the Dodgers, where he served as the third base coach from 1965 to 1968. (That term included the Dodgers’ 1965 World Series season.)

Gómez was only the second Latin American/Latino manager in baseball history when he took the helm in 1969. Before him there had been the cubano Mike Gónzalez who managed the St. Louis Cardinals during two interim stints, one in 1938 and another in 1940. (Gónzalez managed a total of 22 major league games.)  Accordingly, Gómez, it could be argued,was the first Latino to manage a major league baseball team on a permanent basis.

Preston Gómez played baseball for more than two decades on a professional basis, including 8 games in the big show (for the Washington Senators).  He made much more of a name for himself as a coach and as a manager (for the aforementioned Padres (1969-72), as well as he Houston Astros (1974-75) and Chicago Cubs (1980)).  For the last 27 years he worked for the California Angels as, first, a coach, and (since 1984) as a scout and consultant.

Latinos have a strong presence in professional baseball.  In a generation or two, we will also have a notable presence in the Hall of Fame.  Men like Gómez can be simultaneously regarded as pathbreakers for their early achievements but also as human records of baseball’s racial past–a past that prohibited the play of dark-skinned and African-descent Latinos while it allowed the participation of “white” ones.

Undoubtedly, he was an important part of baseball history.  For more information on his life in the big leagues, see the announcement from the Angels organization.