World Series (again)

This blog isn’t much of a reflection of what’s going on in my life, or for that matter what’s important to me. These days it’s mostly a space to write about music once a week. And while music is important to me, there are other things that occupy most of my daily life——namely, my family and my job.

And then there’s baseball. From April to October I watch a lot of Dodger baseball. When I can’t watch, I listen on the radio or follow along on my phone. It’s a rare Dodgers’ game that goes by where I haven’t participated in at least an inning or two of it.

Baseball is one of those things that balances out the bad stuff in life. Not a day goes by that I don’t think about (read about, talk about, learn about, teach about) the current war against Latinx migrants and families. Not a day goes by that I’m not equally involved in the consequences of a racist, sexist, homophobic, and transphobic regime ruling this country.  Baseball is my relief from those horrid reminders of the shortcomings of the human species. It’s my escape and my positive connection to those same flawed humans, my community of fellow fans.

I know it’s “just” baseball. That said, it never fails to amaze me how much a bunch of grown men playing a kid’s game can affect me, both positively and negatively. It’s also an excuse for me to work on perspective. After all, if winning the World Series is the goal of every team every year, 29 of us are going to come up short.  It’s been 30 years since we’ve won a series.  We’re getting good at perspective.

So you learn to appreciate the steps along the way.  I love a good game.  I love it when the Dodgers win.  I love it when the players I like turn in amazing days at their jobs.  I enjoy talking about baseball with other Dodgers’ fans.   At the end of the day, it’s the little things.

Of course, I care about the big things, too.  I often say baseball is one of those sports where, at the end of the season, you get to see who the best teams are.  We play 162 games.  I think the teams sitting on top of each division and each league at the end of that road have something to be proud of.  They’re the best.  I’m fortunate that the team I love has won the Western Division for six years running.  It’s a great achievement, one that I can use to console myself since being the best is different than being successful during the playoffs.

Playoff baseball is a different beast than the regular season. The best team doesn’t always win. It’s not about being the best——it’s about being the best on the field that day.  Sure, better teams have an advantage.  But it’s way more complicated than that.

The Dodgers are about to play in their 20th World Series competition in their storied history. Our very first was in 1916 against the Boston Red Sox. (At that time we were the Brooklyn Robins.) We lost that one, as we did the next six we played in. The Brooklyn Dodgers would lose 7 World Series before winning their first and only title in 1955. The next year they’d get there again, but lose. That’s a 1-8 record.
(Six of those losses were against one team——the New York Yankees. So was their only victory.  Perspective.)

We’ve won five World Series since moving to Los Angeles. We’ve been in the Series another 5 times and lost. That’s a 5-5 record for us. Not bad. And I know I’m lucky to have a team that’s made it to the big show for two years running. We’re back-to-back National League Champions. That’s nothing to sneeze at. Of course, I still want the Dodgers to win it all.

Last year I was confident but also pretty realistic. Houston was playing at their best for much of the playoffs and they had momentum. The Dodgers were a better team, but even with their massive winning streak and killer winning percentage for a chunk of the season, they were still a tricky bunch. After all, this was a team that went on a 1-16 losing streak. Needless to say, I was hopeful they’d win game 7 last year but I was emotionally prepared if they did not. Perspective.

This year is different. The Dodgers are not as good a team as Boston. Boston is better by almost any measure that matters. And while the Dodgers have some degree of last year’s weaknesses, they are a much more seasoned group of guys. Perspective matters there, too. And then there’s our offense, which only matters when it does, and it often does.

Over the next week, I’m going to be really happy and really stressed and really sad, just not all at the same time or in the same measure. In the meantime, I’m enjoying the achievements——the sixth in a row Western Division title and the back-to-back National League titles. Whatever happens, I’m lucky to be a fan of one of the last two teams playing ball right now. And I’m prepared for whatever may come.

Especially if that’s a World Series title.

October 15, 1988

Today is the 25th anniversary of Kirk Gibson’s game-winning home run in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series.

Gibson’s dinger is one of the most memorable home runs in baseball history, and certainly the greatest in Dodgers’ history. It came in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series, when the Dodgers faced the Oakland A’s.  (The boys in blue would win the series 4 games to 1.)

Gibson came up in the bottom of the ninth, two outs, with the tying run (Mike Davis) on first. The count went 3-2 before he lifted one over the right field fence.

A lot of folks might forget that Game 1 also included a grand slam by Jose Canseco, the source of the A’s 4 runs in that game (and, incidentally, his only hit in the series).  I never forget that. It was a trauma I lived with for hours waiting for the end result of that game to unfold.

I bring that up because that made the home run all the sweeter. Of course, Gibson wasn’t even in the line up that night, the stalwart workhorse sidelined by leg injuries that left him hobbling. As Vin Scully said that night, if he had hit it anywhere in the park they might have thrown him out at first.

The call by Scully–who was broadcasting for NBC at the time–is so familiar to baseball fans. But I didn’t get to hear it until the replay.

On October 15, 1988, I was 16 years old and I was working the night shift at my first job, Taco Bell (on Colima Rd., just past Azuza Ave.). I brought my walkman along and listened when I could, usually running off to a supply closet to check in. I listened to the entire 9th inning in that supply closet–alone, in the dark, with a walkman.

This is what I heard: Don Drysdale calling the play-by-play.

I started screaming when Gibby hit the home run. I was a little more excited I think than Drysdale! I went out to tell everybody what happened, but they didn’t understand baseball enough to get it. I mean, a scenario that every kid who has ever played imagines him or herself being in just transpired. In real life!

It’s one of my fondest memories. That night, I felt like Don Drysdale and I shared something special.

But I thought you were a Dodgers fan

Since I was a kid, my priorities for a baseball season have been rather simple: I wanted the Dodgers to win the World Series. But I knew such an event was rare, thereby defining it’s value. And so, if it could not be, I wanted the Dodgers to at least win the NCLS, and if they couldn’t do that, to at least win the NL West.

When they failed to achieve even this last of achievements, all hope was not lost. I would still consider it an overall “win” if they would just beat the Giants.

Well, the 2010 Major League Baseball season has come to a close. Not only didn’t the Dodgers achieve any of the titular milestones I covet for them year after year, and not only did they lose 10 of 18 games to the Giants, but the San Francisco Giants have won the 2010 World Series.

And here’s a little secret: I was rooting for them.

Some of my friends might be mystified by such a decision on my part. After all, the rivalry between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the San Francisco Giants is one of the more legendary in sports history, surviving more than 100 years and a move to the West Coast. Any real Dodgers fan is obligated to hate them with every fiber of their being, and I am among the “blue at heart.”

Where did I go wrong?

Well, first of all, I have a history in the Bay Area. I lived there for 8 years of my life, and I have many friends there—many of whom are Giants fans. The San Francisco Bay Area is celebrating tonight, as are many of the people I know and love, and having been there before, I know part of what they are feeling. I can only imagine what it feels like to be part of your city’s “first time” and so I am happy for them, for that, and as a lover of the region, I am happy for the city.

But that’s only part of the story.

When it comes down to it, I am also a National League man. Even though I would have been okay with Texas winning, more of me wants an American League team to lose to a National League team, no matter who the teams are. I even have a connection to Ranger’s infielder Mike Young. He went to my high school. One of my very good friends is very good friends with his wife. I was at the first two games of his professional career, saw his first at bat, and his first hit. Even with all this, I still wanted his Rangers to lose more than I wanted them to win.

One of the other things that excited me was that the San Francisco Giants weren’t the best team in baseball this year. I don’t mean that as a dig, I really don’t. I don’t think the Dodgers were the best team in 1981 or in 1988. But you see, I don’t think the team with the most talent or the most talented players wins every year–or even should.

For me, the beauty of baseball is the intangible spirit of a team. There is a momentum that can build when a group of individuals play bigger than the sum of their parts, when they become a single whole. Not everyone agrees with my view; and certainly, this isn’t always the case. But I always find it enjoyable to watch it when it happens. It’s like proving gravity doesn’t always exist and then taking comfort in the security of knowing the world is as it should be.

All these reasons, though, are still only part of the story. Tonight I am also happy because the rivalry I love so much just got a big boost.

While I am severe in my allegiance to “the rivalry” (I don’t even go to Dodgers vs. Giants games because SF splits the gate with my boys and I will be damned if I’m going to give an of my money to that organization), my sports has never gotten in the way of my friendships. In a way, sports isn’t as much fun without those friends of yours who love the “other guys” as much as you hate them.

And that puts a lot of my feeling tonight into perspective. You see, for most of my life, Dodgers fans have taken a great deal of satisfaction from “the rivalry.” And why not? It’s something we’ve been rather good at. But satisfaction isn’t passion.

When it comes down to it, most of LA doesn’t care as much about the Giants as the folks of the Bay Area care about us. We’ve gotten sloppy in our investment in the rivalry, I think, because it no longer seems like much of a fight.

Partly, this is about numbers. This season’s losses do little to the already robust lead the Dodgers enjoy in the historic totals. The Giants have beaten the Dodgers more times when all of their contests (since 1884 and under various team names) are counted, but in the modern era of the rivalry (since the move West in 1958), the Dodgers come out on top with 478 wins and 449 losses against SF.

The Dodgers also dominate the rivalry on a season-by-season basis. From the 1958 season to the present, the Dodgers have won 25 seasons worth of match-ups with the Giants (SF took 17 and 11 have been tied).

Most importantly, the Dodgers have always had the greatest of advantages over the Giants: we’ve won World Series titles. While we have won 5 World Championships, until tonight, the Giants had won none. As a matter of fact, with 9 NL Championships since moving to LA, the Dodgers had lost more World Series than the Giants had even been in (again, before this year).

This might seem like a sore loser searching for a silver lining, but it’s not. I really view this as a historian first, and I describe the numbers we know so well as fans to mark the context within which tonight’s events unfold for me. A real rivalry can only exist when the two parties are around equal. Otherwise, at some point it becomes a condition where one team really, really cares and the other doesn’t give a shit because they’ve been excelling against their opponent for so long they can hardly remember feeling the other way. (Think Dodgers and Yankees.)

I don’t think the Dodgers and Giants rivalry was at that particular point, but it has been heading that way for a long time. It’s not anymore.

So, I am genuinely happy for the Giants. Their World Championship this year means a lot for them. It means a lot for their fans and for their city. Tonight I am happy for Steven, Jason, Ernie, Charlie, Michael, and all the rest of you.

But, as a Dodgers fan, your victory means something to me, too. It means an infusion of new energy and passion into something that helps define my love of sports, something I love deeply.

So congratulations to the SF Giants–the 2010 World Series Champions! I look forward to next year…and many more after that.

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!