I am trying to dislike the Dodgers. It should be an effortless exercise, right? They’ve spent $228.1 million on player salaries, the highest payroll in baseball history. They were purchased for $2 billion, the biggest sale in baseball history, by a faceless financial firm called Guggenheim Partners, the sound of which just invites loathing. While lockjaws were being repositioned after that news, Guggenheim turned around and sold regional TV rights to Time Warner Cable for $7 billion, the highest rights fee in team sports history and, closer to the point, a staggering entertainment deal that unwittingly is supported when a little old lady in Pasadena opens her cable bill and sees an item for something she never watches.
Hate them yet? Hell, the Dodgers are in Los Angeles. Who doesn’t detest celebrity culture, self-indulgence, hipsters in coffee houses, Botox surgeons, the “it’s-75-and-sunny-and-you’re-not-here” smugness, the fact Danny DeVito reappears from oblivion to be noticed at Dodger Stadium when the team starts winning? One word — Kardashian — makes you want to despise all things L.A., even if there’s a better chance of Kanye West striking up bromances with paparazzi than Kim or the other KKs showing up to watch Clayton Kershaw throw KKKKKKKKKs.
The teams you fall in love with are the A’s, Rays and Pirates, the small-revenue teams with the big records. With the Yankees now old and scandalous, America should be directing its venom toward the new Best Team Money Can Buy, the one that wins routinely every night and has gone 40-8 since June 22 — the hottest 48-game run in the major leagues since 1942.
Yes? On board? Ready to flip the bird as we pass the corner of Hollywood and Puig?
No, I am not down with the plan.
Hard as I search for reasons, the Dodgers are un-hateable. Start with their venerable Hall of Fame broadcaster, Vin Scully, whose melodic tones bring calm to a nonsensical metropolis. “Another incredible moment in the magic castle,” he velvetized after their latest comeback victory. Come on, Charles Manson even loves Vin Scully. Then there’s the charming ballpark, cut immaculately into Chavez Ravine, to this day an architectural marvel surrounded by the requisite hills and palm trees. You can abhor the trust-fund losers hanging out in medicinal pot stores across the street from elementary schools. You cannot hate Dodger Stadium.
There’s got to be a manager or player who causes nausea. Tommy Lasorda used to qualify, but the current manager, Don Mattingly, is so likable that he’s known as “Donnie Baseball” and handled early-season cries for his job with typical class. What about this Puigmania stuff? Yasiel Puig defects from Cuba, holds one workout in Mexico, and the Dodgers watch him for 15 minutes and decide to throw $42 million at him. Crazy? Dumb luck? Rather, it might go down as one of the all-time baseball bargains, with Puig lighting such an inferno since his arrival that he must be considered for Most Valuable Player honors in the National League, even if he didn’t show up until June 2. Though few other teams have the financial wherewithal to approve $42 million on the spot at a Mexican tryout camp, the Dodgers deserve props for being spot-on in their brief Puig assessment. And while he comes off as brash and punky, you still marvel over his smile, the joy he exudes as he unleashes his five-tool madness and sells more jerseys than all but a handful of MLB players.
For a roster loaded with studs, none trigger the anger button. What’s not to like about Kershaw, a beach-bum-looking kid from Texas who has crashed the national scene as the sport’s elite pitcher? Or Zach Greinke, who has overcome emotional issues early in his career to shine where the lights are brightest? Or Hyun-Jin Ryu, another high-priced pitcher who has excelled in his rookie season? Hanley Ramirez was a problem child in Miami, but, when healthy, he’s an L.A. revelation. Adrian Gonzalez and Andre Ethier are steady cornerstones. The Ellises, A.J. and Mark, are impact players. The utility guys, Skip Schumaker and Nick Punto and Jerry Hairston Jr., are valuable contributors. Kenley Jansen has overcome heart problems the last two years to emerge as a lockdown closer.
Know what’s special about the Dodgers? They’ve dealt with injuries and keep winning. Matt Kemp, considered the league’s 2011 MVP by those of us whitewashing Ryan Braun from the books, continues to fight injuries and has had little to do with the big success. Ramirez, Carl Crawford and Josh Beckett go down, and the Dodgers don’t miss a beat. OK, you might say a monster-money franchise can afford to have a deep roster and lose players to the disabled list.
But no one is saying it. Know who has nothing but nice words for the Dodgers? Stuart Sternberg, owner of a Tampa Bay Rays franchise with blocked revenue streams and a $62 million payroll. If anyone should loathe the team with the all-time highest payroll, it’s the man who runs the team that gets the most accomplished with the least resources. Not Sternberg, who told Bob Nightengale of USA Today, “What the Dodgers are doing is good for baseball. I’d like to think that when small-market teams do well, it’s good for baseball, too, but this is special.”
They’re special because they are a traditional warm-and-fuzzy story in Americana, rising again as the World Series favorite after a dry postseason spell the last two decades. This is the franchise of Jackie Robinson, the franchise that broke hearts in Brooklyn but warmed souls in southern California, the franchise of Sandy Koufax and Fernandomania and Lasorda and Kirk Gibson’s famous home run. The only time you could truly hate the Dodgers is when Frank McCourt owned them. But he’s long gone, owner of just a share of the stadium parking lots. And how, I ask, does anyone possibly dislike a team that has the revered Magic Johnson as a part-owner and lead spokesman?
Maybe when all the celebs come out, this will be annoying. But at the moment, the Dodgers are the best story in baseball, the talk of sports and a damned fun bunch that, somehow, has fumigated the disgusting scent of big money from the scene.
Take it away, Vin Scully. The next two months are yours.