Thursday, September 18, 2008

Choking Dogs?

7 With 9 Left ...

The Dodgers magic number -- the combination of Dodgers wins and Arizona Cardinals losses that guarantee the Dodgers will make the postseason -- is down to 7, with 9 games remaining.

I've been called a front runner occasionally because I'm a Lakers fan (Celtics fans can skip the next clause in this sentence) and the Lakers have been the most dominant franchise in NBA history -- also because I'm a UCLA Bruins basketball fan, and there was that Wooden thing, I root for USC football and they've been pretty dominant lately ....

I'm an L.A. guy. You gotta cut me slack on that stuff.

I'm also a Dodgers fan, and it's been 19 years since the Dodgers won a playoff series.

19 ... years.

In 19 years the Dodgers have won one playoff game.

A couple years back one of my daughters had a pack of boys over to the house. They were good boys who said "Yes, sir" and "No, sir" and were on the track team at her high school, but there was a pack of them. At one point one of them mentioned the Dodgers and another kid said, sneering, "The Dodgers suck. The Dodgers have always sucked."

I was in the other room and the shock of hearing that brought me into the living room ... the pack looked at me, and I hesitated. Because they were young. 15 or so. And the Dodgers had always sucked, their entire lives. None of them had even been born the last time the Dodgers had won a playoff series.

"Never mind," I told them. "I forget sometimes that I'm old."

The Los Angeles Dodgers were the only team to win two World Series during the 1980s. They did it with two very different teams -- the 1981 Dodgers of Garvey and Cey and Fernando, and the 1988 Dodgers of Orel Hershiser, who won the Cy Young Award, and Kirk Gibson, who won the MVP that year and came up with one of the most magical home runs in the history of baseball.

Everyone expected the '81 Dodgers, if not to win the World Series, at least to threaten to win it. That team was a mini-dynasty and was loaded with talent. But the '88 Dodgers weren't -- before the World Series began that year, one of the announcers described them as the biggest underdog to play in the World Series in his memory. The Dodgers went to the World Series that year behind unearthly pitching by Orel Hershiser; everyone expected the Dodgers to win two games in that series, the two games Hershiser pitched, and to lose the series 4-2. Aside from Hershiser and regular season MVP Gibson, they didn't have much -- not a single position player made the All-Star team that year, for example. And they were facing the Oakland Athletics, which had amazing hitting and amazing pitching and had swept the Red Sox for the American League championship.

The Dodgers won that series in 5 games, but the moment everyone remembers is the end of Game 1. In the bottom of the 9th Kirk Gibson was sent in to pinch hit with the Dodgers down 4-3 and a man on base. Dennis Eckersley, the best reliever in baseball that year (and that era, for that matter) -- was on the mound when Gibson came up. Two outs, man on base, and Gibson had a badly injured knee and couldn't really run ...

I was at home, in an apartment complex of about a hundred units, watching the game with my wife Holly. I turned to Holly, said, "He's looking for a homer. He can't run."

Gibson worked the count to 3 & 2 ...

I turned back to her and said: "In a bad movie, this is where the hero smashes a home run and" --

-- while my head was turned away from the tv, a roar that rattled the walls of the apartment went up, a deep base bellow was like nothing I'd ever heard before. I turned my head back in time to watch Kirk Gibson trotting around the bases on those bad knees, pumping his fists. Possibly the most memorable moment in Dodgers baseball history -- I'd missed it, talking.

None of the boys in my house that day had been alive when that happened. All they knew was that the Dodgers were Choking Dogs, to quote local sportswriter TJ Simers, guys who played well in the summer, but not down the stretch when it counted: one year the Dodgers had the best record in baseball at the All-Star break, and managed to miss the playoffs. I doubt that's ever happened to another team in the history of MLB baseball.

Beyond that -- I've been annoyed at baseball ever since the World Series was cancelled by a lockout. I wasn't always the hard core basketball fan you've seen on this blog -- when I was a kid, I followed baseball, football, and basketball, and of the three, basketball was probably third. Roman Gabriel and Jack Youngblood and Don Drysdale and Sandy Koufax hung on my walls when I was a kid, not Jerry West. (Some of that was my Dad, who had no patience with basketball -- and paid for the posters.) But more of it was me -- being a Lakers fan was a cross in those days, and Fuck the Celtics, you know what I mean? But in 1979 Magic Johnson came to the Lakers and the Rams left for Anaheim, and while I remained fond of the Rams, I stopped rooting: only someone who knows nothing of Los Angeles would think that a team behind the Orange Curtain was an L.A. team. In their place we got the Raiders, from Oakland -- and I hated the Raiders when they were in Oakland, hated them when they were in L.A., and hate them today. Then in '94 both the Raiders and Rams left -- the Raiders back to Oakland, the Rams to St. Louis -- and there was no football in Los Angeles, which admittedly was at an improvement over the Raiders stinking the place up.

It's been 14 years since there was pro football in L.A. -- well, except for USC.

1994 was also the year that the World Series was cancelled by a baseball strike. "A plague on both their houses" -- I couldn't tell you if the owners or players were at fault, and don't care to this day. World War II didn't interrupt the World Series, but greedy bastards on both sides managed it in 1994.

It's been 14 years since I've really cared who won the World Series, aside from rooting against the Yankees and Boston. (You'd think I'd really hate it when the Yankees play the Red Sox? Nope, because no matter what, one of them has to lose.)

But I'm still a Dodgers fan. And the last couple years, slowly, they've started to look like the old Dodgers -- despite being owned by a bastard from Boston, a real estate developer named Frank McCourt. Prior to McCourt, News Corp. had owned the Dodgers -- Rupert Murdoch -- meaning I had not one but two reasons to despise Rupert Murdoch, his politics and what his company did to my Dodgers during their ownership of it. Prior to Murdoch, the Dodgers had always been at least respectable; during the Murdoch era they were a joke and never got much past being a joke.

I'm not signing off on McCourt -- he's made decisions regarding the Dodgers I either don't understand or don't agree with -- but he cares. He's intensely focused on the Dodgers and while some of the decisions may have been goofy, having an involved and bright man as owner has plainly helped the organization regain its focus. They've actually developed young players -- the Dodgers farm system used to be the envy of the rest of baseball, and lately it's started producing again, which is nice to see. When Manny Ramirez became available recently, the Dodgers chased him, and Ramirez's presence has plainly energized this team ....

Which doesn't mean anything yet. I'm optimistic. I'm hopeful. The Dodgers have won 14 of their last 17 games, there are only 9 games left this season, and the Dodgers need some combination of 7 Dodgers wins and Arizona losses to make the playoffs.

Not even Choking Dogs should be able to screw that up.



Joe Sherry said...

Your Dodgers broke my heart as a young Mets' fan in 1988, but I think they're at least getting into the playoffs this year.

I'm not quite as confident about my bullpen-less Mets, but as they said back in the day "You Gotta Believe", and so I do.

Mike Schooley said...

Being a SoCal kid in 1988 (I was 12), the Gibson home run was one of the first world series moments I can still remember. I can still hear Jack Buck's call. "there's a drive hit to DEEP right field. This is gonna be a home run!" And Buck, like the great Vin Scully, was a great announcer who just called the game as it was played. There was no "homer" fan in him at all, unlike a lot of the announcers today, but you could still hear the excitement in his voice. Magical. Still gives me goosebumps to this day. Scully's "fly ball to right, she is gone!" somehow just didn't have the same ring to it. He's undoubtedly my favorite announcer of all time, regardless of sport, with Ralph Lawler second and the immortal Chick Hearn third, but Jack Buck really nailed that call in my mind. "Unbelievable! I do not believe...what I just saw!"

Steve Perry said...

Dodgers haven't been the same since they left Brooklyn.

Subrata Sircar said...

Arizona Diamondbacks, not Cardinals, btw.

I was watching the Gibson at-bat in a Dodgers fan's room and fully expecting Gibson to look foolish against one of the best relievers I've ever seen (and feeling a little bad about that; I'm a Tigers and Wolverines fan and so saw quite a bit of Gibson the college WR and Tigers OF) ... and was just stunned.

Pagan Topologist said...

Not being one who follows sports, it is good to be reminded that the Dodgers are not in Brooklyn anymore. (A joke, Dan. I still typically think "Brooklyn Dodgers" first and then correct myself.)