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Sunday, January 30, 2005

The Burden Of Not Being Walter O'Malley

I get to things late. It's often the case that I take a shine to a song or a band months and even years after they've been in heavy rotation on the radio; sometimes, I fall in love even after the band breaks up. So with my reading, too; I got for Christmas the most excellent gift of Glenn Stout's The Dodgers: 120 Years of Dodgers Baseball. In it, Howard Bryant has a six-page diversion about the post-1988 Dodgers, entitled "Has Anybody Seen The Dodgers?" Bryant makes a lot of points that strike me as germane to this offseason, one in particular:
Schoolchildren learn the Pledge of Allegiance, memorizing it without knowing much of what it means or its origins, and are as likely as unwitting about learning naked capitalism from the Yankees, but it is the Dodgers, not the U.S. Steel Yankees, who get taught in American history classes. Students might not know the origin of the name Brooklyn (it's Dutch!), but they know where the end of baseball apartheid took place. They know Jackie Robinson played for the Dodgers and was the first black player in the major leagues as surely as they know Washington crossed the Delaware.

... In the American League, on the East Coast, the West Coast Dodgers were always present, representing that shadowy, foreign National League, because they always won, which meant they were always on TV in a time when being on TV mattered (everybody is on TV today). They were the personality of that league in the 1950s, the '60s (along with the Cardinals), the '70s, and the '80s (along with the Cardinals -- a theme is emerging here). They were the Anti-Yankees, clean-shaven Good Guys. They were identifiable by the little fat guy named Lasorda, who, like Los Angeles, fooled everybody.

When power is considered today, it is done so under the rubric of names like Steinbrenner and Selig, but baseball didn't move unless O'Malley offered an affirmative nod. He was kingmaker and puppet master. Robinson provided the Dodgers the moral plane, O'Malley the biceps.

Which brings us to Frank. I have thus far stayed away from a one-year review of the Dodgers under McCourt, unlike Jon -- who almost immediately (the next day, in fact) seems to have had second thoughts about drawing conclusions. You all know -- or should know, if you read my sidebar links -- my disposition and motivations for running this blog stemmed largely from my itch to see Frank the usurper, Frank the indebted get run out of town as soon as possible. With rumors a-swirl prior to (and even well after) the acquisition of the team about his financial situation, and the sale of the team set to look like a gift from Bud Selig to the other National League owners, the Dodger legacy seemed on the precipice.

Jon listed the positives and negatives associated with Frank's ownership thus far, but I know what we really want. We want the National League's answer to the Yankees back in Chavez Ravine, the teams of the 70's and 80's that, between 1974 and 1988, won seven division titles, five pennants, and two World Series.

So, unspoken in that wish is the desire to have a forceful owner of vision running the team. That is, we want Walter O'Malley back.

While Bryant, a journalist formerly working for the San Jose Mercury News, might see O'Malley as perhaps a bit more powerful than he actually was, neither was he terribly far from the mark, either. O'Malley had bigger dreams than the borough of Brooklyn would invest in, and on making good on his threat to leave, he spawned a generation of haters. That is, his interest was building the franchise first, and if the fans became an impediment, they were ultimately expendable. Los Angeles Dodgers fans could do well to remember that, too.

Walter O'Malley was larger than life, Peter merely a caretaker of his legacy. Marvin Miller, the former MLBPA chief, said of Peter, "His father was unusual. And he is not." So where does McCourt rank alongside the two? His early behavior is discouraging: Frank dissembles and evades, running from public scrutiny like a thief before the cops, provoking ill-feeling among Dodger fans who expect gods, not petty criminals, in the owner's box. It's far too early to tell which we have; the odds favor the latter, but making good on his payroll promises bodes well, as does his hiring of the mostly capable (but still learning the ropes) Paul DePodesta as GM.

Watch and wait. It's all we can do.

1974 - Division Title Pennant
1977 - Division Title Pennant
1978 - Division Title Pennant
1981 - Division Title Pennant World Series
1983 - Division Title
1985 - Division Title
1988 - Division Title Pennant World Series

Total: 7 Div Titles 5 Pennants 2 World Series

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