Apr 09

What the 1959 World Series meant to Los Angeles

Screen Shot 2017-04-09 at 11.27.56 AM

From the October 17, 1959 issue of The New Yorker: 

Screen Shot 2017-04-09 at 11.28.14 AM

“To a New Yorker, observes our man — a Manhattanite of long standing — the warmth of the embrace with which Los Angeles has hugged the Dodgers to its bosom is impressive, for while Brooklyn used to hold the Dodgers in affection, Los Angeles seems to hold them almost in awe. It would be hard to imagine any Angeleno, these giddy days, referring to the team as bums. And the city’s respectful adoration does not stem merely from the circumstance that a World Series has finally been staged in this palmy setting. Rather, it appears that the Dodgers have given the land of make-believe something real to cling to. “It’s not our feelings about baseball that have us all stirred up,” one reasonably old-time settler said the other day. “It’s that this cockeyed, sprawling place has finally had a chance to become a unified city. It’s the first time Los Angeles ever had a chance to become anything.”

Apr 02

Your guide to enjoying the 2017 Dodger season

Los Angeles Dodgers

Los Angeles Dodgers

By Jon Weisman

Hi, everybody!

It’s me, alive and well. I’m two months into my job at Showtime, which means I’m two months removed from blogging about the Dodgers. (That blogging time has been rededicated to working on my upcoming Dodger-themed book, details of which will be revealed in the coming months.)

After covering the Dodgers on a daily basis for most of the past 15 years, I haven’t minded a break from the grind. But I will say that whenever I see a shot of a beautiful baseball diamond, at Camelback Ranch or at Dodger Stadium, I sigh a little bit. It’s possible that I’ve missed the ballpark more than I’ve missed the games.

I’ve got a good feeling about this year’s Dodgers, who are both deep and talented. That’s not to say they don’t have weaknesses, or that the Cubs have gone away, but the Dodgers probably have as good a chance to go the World Series — and win — as they’ve had in the post-1988 era.

As the headline shows, the main reason for this post was to provide a quick guide to enjoying the 2017 Dodger season. So let’s get to it …

1) The Dodgers will lose at least 60 games this year. Probably a bit more. Some of those losses will be in a row. You know those losses are coming. Don’t freak out about them.

2) Great players will have terrible games. Good players will have terrible months. That’s baseball. That’s allowed. Again, big picture.

3) When you focus on the Dodgers’ problems, don’t forget that other teams have problems as well. For example, the Giants begin the season with Matt Cain as their No. 5 starter. The Cubs’ starting rotation includes 38-year-old John Lackey and the injury-prone Brett Anderson, with nothing like the pitching depth the Dodgers have behind them. Those two guys could have great seasons, and the Cubs also have the organizational depth to make a trade. But it’s not like the Dodgers’ rivals have nothing to worry about.

4) This Dodger team not only has the potential National League Cy Young and Most Valuable Player award winners, it’s got talent up and down the roster — the best in baseball, according to Fangraphs. And, it’s a likable bunch, led by a manager who could be here for 20 years or more. Savor that.

5) At the end of each day, it’s a game. No, really, it is. We all want to win, but if you’re angry for more than a minute after it’s over, you’re doing baseball wrong. Have fun! (And don’t be obnoxious on Twitter and Facebook …)

Happy 2017!

P.S. Celebrate Opening Day by buying my book — the one I’ve already written — 100 Things Dodger Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die. About 98 of them are still alive and well!

Dec 09

The next big move – going to work for the Blue

Any of you who have been reading Dodger Thoughts for some length of time have by now grown accustomed to change, whether it’s personal to me (my three children have been born since I launched the site 11 1/2 years ago) or the site changing hosts no fewer than five times.

Maybe this is the biggest change of all.

I have left my full-time job at Variety to join the Dodgers themselves as director of digital and print content.

I will be writing plenty over there, as part of an overall series of duties that involves managing and producing content for the Dodgers’ publications and website.

As you can imagine, it’s an opportunity that was too intriguing and exciting for me to pass up, which is why I’m willing to give up the longest job I’ve ever held, a position at Variety that has brought me more great memories than I can begin to mention and placed me among a group of colleagues that have been such a pleasure to be with.

It’s also why I’m willing to put Dodger Thoughts in storage – though again, this isn’t exactly as newsworthy as it might have been, before I essentially took a vacation during the 2012-13 offseason, to focus on an extremely busy awards season for Variety. I did find a rebirth on Dodger Thoughts during the 2013 baseball season, but it was always in competition with the other directions I’ve been pulled in.

So while it would be premature to get into specifics about my new duties with the Dodgers, I can say that one of the greatest appeals for me is that for the first time, writing about the Dodgers will move from avocation to vocation, from hobby to primary activity.

I’ll feel safe using Vin Scully (my new colleague!) as my role model. I’ll consider it my job, as an employee of the Dodgers, to inform and to entertain, in service of the organization. You can be sure I’ll be taking that responsibility very seriously. But don’t worry – we’ll have plenty of fun along the way. There’ll be no shortage of insights or stories, great and small.

As always, thanks for your support, whether it’s been for 11 minutes or 11 years (you know who you are). I’ll be working fast to get up to speed in my new office at Chavez Ravine, and I’ll certainly tell people here when I start to have something to show you there. In the meantime:

• Since this move puts the Dodger Thoughts community in flux, reader Linkmeister has once again invited people to come hang out at his blog, Elysian Fields.
• In addition, please follow me on Twitter at @jonweisman for updates.

Thanks again!

Nov 17

Pies, nuts and O’Malleys

So much in Los Angeles changes fast. Treasure the good things that don’t.

“Hello, Doris!” goes the chorus of regulars at the Original Farmers Market, when they stop by to see Doris Perez, who has been there as long as they know. …

… On a recent Saturday morning, after flipping on the lights and tying a black apron over her crisp white shirt, the 78-year-old, who has 4 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren, set to work arranging the jams, knickknacks and nut butters in precise stacks and V-patterns on almost every inch of countertop.

“Top of the morning!” said a kind-looking man in a khaki windbreaker just as she was finishing up.

“And the rest of the day to you!” she chimed back to Peter O’Malley.

The former Dodgers owner, old-fashioned and courtly, likes to stop in to see Perez as his father, Walter, did before him. (Walter was partial to Du-par’s chicken pies, she says: “He used to buy them by the dozen.”) …

Nina Lelyveld in the Times, “Dishing up cheer for 50 years at Farmers Market”

Nov 06

The evolving mindset of the Dodgers

J.P Hoonstra of the Daily News captures how these Ned Colletti Dodgers are not your slightly older sibling’s Ned Colletti Dodgers. Too much interesting stuff to excerpt here, so go read the whole thing.

One interesting aspect of the story is that the Dodgers’ recent focus on college pitchers comes about a decade after they seemed to succeed in bucking the arguments in Moneyball that college players were the way to go. From Dodger Thoughts, June 3, 2003 (and understand this was written with some horrible Dodger drafts still fresh in my memory):

… I’ll post again after the Dodgers make their first-round selection in today’s draft. The big question: Will they again buck the growing wisdom, racing from radical to conventional, that it is safer to take college players than high school players?

James Loney appeared to make the Dodgers look smart last year in going the old (high) school route with his stellar Rookie League season in 2002 at age 18. This year, however, Loney is batting only .252 with an OPS of .688 in the A-ball Florida State League, so although he may of course make it, it’s not going to be a cruise to the majors after all.

It’s not that college players are locks to succeed. Bubba Crosby, for example, was a college man. Scouts rated him a dubious first-round pick in 1998, and only recently has he begun to even challenge that assessment. And as a Stanford graduate, it pains me to note that ever since Mike Mussina and Jack McDowell, baseball has been littered with the carcasses of lumpy Cardinal pitchers – the latest being Jeff Austin, who tied a major league record in May by allowing home runs to the first three batters of a game.

Nevertheless, there is solid research out there for anyone to see that your odds are better if you allow colleges to help you weed out the suspect prospects. If you don’t, you’re much more likely to end up with an abysmal draft history like that of the Dodgers.

There isn’t much advantage in getting a younger guy – the point is to try to get the right guy.

 

Nov 06

Why Yasiel Puig’s reckless driving case has been dismissed

Holly Webb of TheChattanoogan.com reports on the dismissal of reckless driving and speeding charges against Dodger outfielder Yasiel Puig (link via Tony Jackson of Dodgerscribe).

… Judge David Bales presided over the case. After reading the charges, he read a letter written by the Dodgers’ Executive Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer Lon Rosen on Puig’s behalf. The letter detailed Puig’s involvement in the Los Angeles community and called him “an asset.” Rosen said that Puig was active in several charity organizations that worked with underprivileged youth in the area. The letter also said that Puig had attended charity fundraisers for an orphanage in Zambia.

After reading the letter, Judge Bales addressed the courtroom and emphasized that Puig’s case was not treated differently or specially in spite of Puig’s fame and media presence. Judge Bales said “The state of Tennessee is the prosecuting entity, I have nothing to do with it…All cases are treated the same.”

Defense Attorney Mike Little pointed out to Judge Bales that prior to this event, his client had a clean record. And although Puig did not have insurance papers with him when he was pulled over, he did have insurance at the time and brought those records to court. Attorney Little recommended community service.

After taking everything into consideration, Judge Bales decided to dismiss the case against Puig. His reasons were Puig’s lack of prior record, the fact that he currently lives out of state, and Puig’s active participation in community service activities. …

Nov 04

Garvey, John, Torre take another shot at Hall of Fame

In the ever-more-complicated process for reaching baseball’s Hall of Fame, the latest batch of previously rejected candidates includes Steve Garvey, Tommy John and Joe Torre.

Tommy Lasorda is among the 16tet that will have a say in the process.

Of the names on the list, Marvin Miller strikes me as most deserving. Craig Calcaterra has more at Hardball Talk.

Nov 01

In the middle of August

I wrote the following nearly three months ago, then decided to hold on to it for a little bit. Rather than put it in the attic, I thought I might share it with you.

It is the middle of August in 2013 as I begin writing, and there is a baseball team. For nearly two months, it has been winning every game, and that’s almost not a figure of speech. It’s somewhere in between a literary device and true reality. Eight losses in nine weeks in Major League Baseball is, essentially, winning every game.

It is a team that at once has been giving the lie to the idea that you can’t have it all, while also reminding that such feats of transcendence are precariously temporary. With every victory comes the question, “How can this possibly continue?” The question has an answer, which is that it can just keep on keepin’ on, same as it ever was, same as it ever is. But just as easily as it can continue – more easily, no doubt – it can stop.

How long, then? How long does all remain all?

That’s one mystery. In the case of this particular baseball team, if all remains all, or nearly so, for 2½ more months, and if it does, it will create an everlasting memory. What the devoted of this particular baseball team are waiting to learn is if they are having a summer fling – the wildest one of their lives, perhaps, but still a fling – or a relationship that will be theirs forever, even if future years return rocky times.

One of the lures of baseball, of investing passion into a passion you have no control over, is that little if anything can diminish a championship. No matter your present, there’s no guilt in romancing your past. Contrast that with everyday life, where if you think about your greatest year, the year you yourself had it all, there’s a gloom. It could be a sliver or a swath.

To avoid it, you’d have to be able to feel unadulterated pleasure over a time that is no longer yours, find complete solace that your best days are behind you or only speculatively ahead, that you had something and you lost it or you had it taken away from you, and that’s just fine.

People who can do that are remarkable.

I can identify two periods where I quite nearly had it all, two championship runs. One came from my earliest memories nearly through the end of grade school, growing up with a family that I loved, friends who were close and a belief that I could become whatever I wanted to become that didn’t involve being a pro athlete. Or tall. I was among the shortest in my class, and even as incompetence evolved into competence, there was never a chance. But with Vin Scully as an alternative role model, I could live with sports transcendence as a fantasy.

That period ended when I began having crushes on girls. I’m not sure there was ever a period when I didn’t like girls, but it didn’t begin to matter until fifth grade bled into sixth and I began to care whether one, and then another one, liked me back. Soon something happens inside of you and you start to envision real benefits, and it starts to matter more and more. And it was years before one really did like me back, for reasons we might be able to get into later.

By the time that did happen, I was an adult with goals. As long as those goals were unfulfilled, well, obviously having it all was out of the question, even if the other thing was falling into place. Not until after I turned 30, after some very up-and-down years in the intervening decade, did I come close to having contentment. A woman had fallen in love with me, and I with her. I was able to support her, with money saved. My relationship with my family was healthy, my family was healthy, I was healthy. And my career was in a good place. It had momentum.

That lasted … about a season. It was a championship year, a year that I’ve been chasing ever since.

In August 2013, the Los Angeles Dodgers had been chasing their last championship for 25 years. The digits 1988 have a celestial feeling, any negativity washed away. It is impossible for a fan of that baseball team to feel anything but positive about that year, anything but pride, anything but love. That so many years have passed since that time is frustrating. But being a baseball fan is like being a like a little kid because it’s not your responsibility to make the joy happen. You’re waiting like a child, young as they come, depending on a parent for well-being.

Rooting for the World Series isn’t without a cost, but as much as you care, you’re a spectator. When you root for your own happiness, it’s your game.

Oct 28

Who’s the oldest major-leaguer you saw play?

I passed along to my father Al Yellon’s article at Bleeding Cubbie Blue on Lennie Merullo, the last living Cub to play in a World Series (an event, as I’ve mentioned many times, that Dad attended as a 10-year-old in 1945).

“My past is coming back to haunt,” Dad replied. “I remember Merullo quite vividly, epitome of good field/no hit. I’m beginning to sound like my mother.”

I hadn’t recalled Grandma Sue talking about too many old-timers beside Carl Hubbell, whom she had very specific memories of, but Dad corrected me when I said she telescoped on Hubbell.

“She was but was also able to talk knowledgeably about Ruth, Gehrig, McGraw and even Mathewson,” he said.

It got me thinking about who is the oldest ballplayer I could speak to having seen play. Since my earliest baseball memory is of Hank Aaron’s 715th home run, I’d probably have to start there. Aaron was born in 1934, was 40 when I first recall seeing him and is 79 years old now.

I remember when Frank Robinson became a player-manager of the Cleveland Indians, but Robinson was more than a year younger than Aaron.

There is one guy who technically could unseat Aaron as my oldest ballplayer, though I didn’t see him outside of highlights on the news. That was Minnie Minoso (b. 1925), who came out of a 12-year retirement to play for the White Sox in 1976 and become a four-decade player. (He later became a five-decade player in 1980.)

As for the oldest Dodger I ever saw, I have to discount Robinson, who was with the Dodgers in 1972, before I began paying attention to them. Instead, I’ll happily settle for 1977 pinch-hitting playoff hero Vic Davalillo (b. 1936), followed by the one and only Manny Mota (b. 1938).

 

Oct 26

Optimism Prime

Twice within 10 minutes at the market today, fellow shoppers saw me in my Dodgers cap and volunteered cheerful expressions of hope for next season. That’s never happened to me before.