Nov 15

What does it mean to lose a World Series?

Dodger Stadium, minutes after the end of Game 7 of the 2017 World Series

Dodger Stadium, minutes after the end of Game 7 of the 2017 World Series

Every baseball season compounds pleasure and pain with intensity. In that chemistry, all that changes is the mix. What – the older among us had to be reminded, the younger had to learn for the first time – would playing in the World Series make different?

We could imagine easily enough the euphoria of ultimate victory, and we could wonder if defeat would cause depression or devastation. But passing through that window, how would it feel? Keep in mind: It had been 29 years since the Dodgers had won a World Series, but it had been 39 years since they had lost one.

Let’s pause and remember, for a moment, how we got here. The record-setting run to the best record in baseball, cozying up to the greatest mark of all time, legitimately raising the question of whether this would be the best team ever if it won the World Series, if if if, before a 17-day impersonation of Job caused us to question the true nature of baseball good and evil. A smidgen of run-of-the-mill stability led us into the fresh thrills of the postseason.

Remember that just beating Arizona in the National League Division Series, let alone sweeping the Diamondbacks, was an achievement – many thought the first landmine would be more than sufficient to waste the Dodgers. Then Chicago, 12 months earlier a Waterloo, transformed into a wonderland. Justin Turner hit a glorious walk-off homer on the anniversary of Kirk Gibson’s. Three games later, Kiké Hernández, a semi-regular as famous in baseball for his banana costume as anything else, knocked three home runs in a single evening, and suddenly, the nearly holy grail found its way into our grasp, a demon-exorcising National League pennant, birthing our ride into the mystical land.

The unknown awaited.

Speaking for myself, little was more terrifying for Game 1 of the 2017 World Series than the drive there, bounded by my oldest son’s 3:15 p.m. release from school and the 5:09 p.m. Dodger Stadium first pitch, with 14 miles of the densest daytime Los Angeles traffic teeming in between, all of it in the 105-degree asphalt jungle that wilted the air conditioning in our 2006 Honda Odyssey. Barely was there any time between our arrival in our seats and Clayton Kershaw’s initial strike for me to focus entirely on the stress between the baselines, and with the underdog’s underdog, Chris Taylor, homering on the first pitch thrown to a Dodger World Series batter since Alfredo Griffin grounded to third in the ninth inning of Game 5 in 1988, joy took hold before tension had a chance to lay down a finger. Houston tied the game but never led, Turner hit his then-usual postseason home run, the Dodger bullpen followed its blueprint, and just like that, a 3-1 Game 1 triumph. No Gibson, no problem. Less than an hour after witnessing the final pitch from the Reserved Level, even with our car parked at the opposite end of Chavez Ravine far beyond center field, my family was home, safely, victoriously.

With Game 2, whose schizophrenic late-inning craziness needs little elaboration from me, the true experience of the 2017 World Series really began. There’s a moment in Hamilton when Thomas Jefferson comes to understand the incomprehensible reality behind a sordid scandal involving Alexander and says, softly thunderstruck, My God. As I watched Game 2 and the next four on television, those words reverberated in near non-stop echo.

All the home runs and the comebacks complete and incomplete in Game 2: My God.

Yu Darvish’s meltdown to start Game 3: My God. 

The chest-knotting tie in Game 4, unbroken until the five-run Dodger ninth: My God. 

And Game 5, the game of 4-0, 4-4, 7-4, 7-7, 8-7, 8-11, 9-11, 9-12, 12-12, 12-13 – Why do you hit like you’re running out of time? – the game in which a future first-ballot Hall of Famer stood three competent innings from sealing his postseason legacy, the game in which a 2017 Dodger team could have practically assured its place in Nirvana?

My God, and then some. Death doesn’t discriminate between the sinners and the saints, sings Hamilton’s complicated frenemy, Aaron Burr. It takes and it takes and it takes.

Typically, after a Dodger loss, I stew a very short time. I always believe in tomorrow. Even after Game 2, which anyone could reasonably say was a disastrous loss, my disappointment was quickly supplanted by my awe at the insanity. But Game 5 left me in a fog that shrouded and confused me beyond what I can recall feeling before.

Game 5 buried me. My hopes lay in reincarnation.

For Game 6, I was back in my car, though not on the way to Dodger Stadium. I spent the early and middle innings driving through Halloween night rush hour in Los Angeles to retrieve my daughter from her late rehearsal for the school musical and bring her home. It was with me in transit that the Dodgers withstood an enormous threat from the Astros in the top of the fifth and then rallied in the bottom of the sixth, and I exulted so quietly, with the tiniest of fist pumps, because Young Miss Weisman, now 15 years old, is at the place where she finds my devotion to this sport unnerving almost to the point of embarrassment. But home for the final two innings, I saw Joc Pederson’s homer, I savored Kenley Jansen’s domination, and as the clock neared midnight on October, I began preparing for Game 7.

For my first November baseball game, we didn’t mess around. More than an hour before the game began, I was in my seat with a hot dog. Time to take in the atmosphere and share it through Instagram and Facebook and Twitter and e-mail. It’s really the atmosphere, after all, that draws you to the game, the desire to play a part, however small in the chorus, because not even the best seats get you as close as the television.

In fact, when the game began, what I had sacrificed in favor of that atmosphere was quickly apparent. Our seats far, far down the right-field line put us in a realm filled with hope but miles from the action, and with slow-signaling home-plate umpire Mark Wegner making his strike calls on the backbeat, it seemed as if news of the game was coming by telegraph. A white sphere landed in a far-away field before we had barely inhaled the game’s first scent, and it was a double for George Springer. An Alex Bregman grounder went wide, wide of first base, Cody Bellinger threw off-balance, and like a newsreel of the war, we learned the casualty of a 1-0 Houston lead. Bregman then ran away from us, stealing third base, and then just as quickly scored on another grounder to Bellinger.

In a World Series like this one, I was quick to despair but slow to lose hope, especially when Houston starter Lance McCullers Jr. allowed a leadoff double by Taylor and then began hitting nearly every other Dodger batter with a pitch. Two outs into the bottom of the first, the bases were loaded for Pederson, the afterthought when the postseason began who was now one hit from going toe-to-toe with Springer for potential World Series MVP honors.

Pederson hit the ball sharply but indiscreetly, into an inning-ending forceout. Forlornly, Los Angeles took the field behind Darvish to start the top of the second, and the third run of the game scored in slow motion, Brian McCann plodding home from third base on a wet newspaper slap from McCullers that sent the ball drifting with infernal apathy toward Dodger second baseman Logan Forsythe.

Do people remember that the Springer home run that destroyed Darvish and made the score 5-0 came on a 3-2 pitch. I’ll not soon forget the fear as Springer came up to the plate with the entire season at risk, but the first five pitches Darvish threw in that at-bat took no foothold in my mind. All was obliterated by the punishment Springer laid out on the last.

Before Game 7 began, I fully understood the case for starting Kershaw and didn’t particularly disagree with it, but nor have I ever second-guessed the decision to open the game with Darvish, who after all had successful outings in the two previous playoff rounds. As bad as Darvish looked in Game 3, it struck me as aberrative. It didn’t make sense to assume he would do worse on four days’ rest than Kershaw on two days’ rest — and since Kershaw wasn’t going to go the distance in any circumstance, why not use the experience he had picked up coming out of the bullpen in the 2016 NLCS to your advantage?

Instead, the choice will be remarked upon for years. Nearly 40 years after the last big elimination-game controversy involving a Dodger starting pitcher, Darvish became a Dave Goltz for a new era, the outsider who usurped the spotlight moment from the homegrown prodigy and pratfalled, even if Darvish was dimensionally more talented than Goltz, even if people always forget that for Fernando Valenzuela to have started the NL West tiebreaker at the end of the 1980 season, he would have been pitching on zero days’ rest.

The game still was not over. It couldn’t be, right? Not in a Series as magnificent as this one, not without Rocky landing one more flurry of punches on Apollo. In the bottom of the second, Taylor came to the plate with two runners on against the wobbly McCullers. Taylor lined the first pitch 96 mph, but as with Pederson’s 97 mph grounder in the first, it found nothing but glove. Two hard-hit balls by the Dodgers with five baserunners on, and zero to show for it.

The sad march continued. In the third inning, after a Corey Seager leadoff single, Turner was hit by a pitch for the second time — the fourth HBP of the game by McCullers. The last time a pitcher hit four batters in a game at Dodger Stadium, Orel Hershiser was discovering that his career was over. But again, no one scored.

Wounded, the crowd kept swaying, kept stomping, but the dominoes kept falling, falling faster, crashing one atop another, the tumbling interrupted only by an RBI single by 12-year Dodger veteran Andre Ethier in what many understood to be his last at-bat in baseball’s most beautiful uniform. Unlike the cyclonic Game 5, Dodger fans stood face to face with a steady wall of doom for hours before Game 7 ended.

Ethier was the final Dodger baserunner of 2017. The remaining 11 batters all made outs. The last, a grounder to second by Seager, brought a silence to Dodger Stadium unlike anything I have ever experienced at the conclusion of a major-league baseball game. Had the victors been the ALCS finalist Yankees instead of the Astros, no doubt thousands of chest-thumping Bronx Bomber fans would have taken over Chavez Ravine with their whoops. But with Houston represented so sparsely in the stands, I swear I could hear the cheers of the Astro players cut through the quiet as they swarmed the field to celebrate in the ballpark they had turned into a morgue.

IMG_9344It takes so much out of you, a baseball season, never more so than during a World Series run. If you didn’t know it before, you know it now. What does it mean to lose a World Series? It means you don’t take that exhaustion anywhere except home. You toss it in the trash if you choose. Or, you own it, and you take pride in it, you treasure it, even if it is nothing like joy, nothing like euphoria, nothing like pounding your chest and shouting to the heavens.

You think about coming so close, and your breath draws heavy and sad.

Come the next breath, you are stronger.

And we keep living anyway. We rise and we fall and we break and we make our mistakes and if there’s a reason I’m still alive when so many have died, then I’m willing to wait for it.

Oct 28

The Dodger bullpen is not overworked

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See the bullpen usage chart above? There is one number in bold. That — the 42 pitches thrown by Kenta Maeda in emergency relief of Yu Darvish during the 5-3, Game 3 loss to Houston, represents the only pitch count that any Dodger reliever has had in the World Series preventing him from pitching in the next game.

The only one. It’s not irrelevant — Maeda has been phenomenal in the playoffs, pitching exactly nine innings and allowing no runs, two singles and a walk with nine strikeouts. Nevertheless, Maeda being extended to 2 2/3 innings Friday represents literally the only moment any of the 12 Dodger pitchers has been asked to go beyond his assigned role.

Kenley Jansen? No. The Dodgers spent the entire season preparing him for longer outings. Throwing 43 pitches in two days after being rested for 120 hours is not overwork. For that matter, the game-tying home run he allowed in the ninth inning of Game 2 came 16 pitches into his outing — there is no way to argue workload was the cause.

The Dodger bullpen is not overworked. It had four days off entering the World Series, a fact everyone talked about before Game 1 but seemed to forget less than 48 hours later. The bullpen wasn’t overworked going into Game 3, even with Rich Hill being pulled after four innings, and with one exception, it isn’t overworked now. If anything, one could argue that the foibles of Ross Stripling, Josh Fields and Brandon McCarthy are the result of underwork. I’m not making that argument, but I’ll listen to it.

Heading into Game 4, the Dodger bullpen is overworked only in the sense that any bullpen would be overworked following a disaster start by an otherwise talented pitcher. And frankly, the fact that only one pitcher is shelved for tonight’s Game 4 is a positive, not a negative, especially when mitigated by Jansen backing into an extra day of rest.

No doubt, there will be some pitchers unavailable for Game 5, but that is always a likelihood when you play three games in a row. Again, Game 2 will have had nothing to do with that. Maeda and Morrow were destined to pitch in Game 2, no matter the inning. And Maeda was used in a situation designed to maximize his effectiveness and efficiency.

There was no domino effect to the workload of the pitching staff from Rich Hill’s early exit in Game 2. None. Every pitcher was primed for Game 3. If Dave Roberts and Rick Honeycutt made any mistake managing the staff, the biggest one would be not recognizing sooner that Darvish was hopeless in Game 3, not taking the same strategy that brought Maeda into Game 2 for Hill and employing it as soon as the Astro lineup turned over, and George Springer came up with two runners on and the Dodgers already trailing, 3-0.

But even then, it ain’t easy to bail out on a starting pitcher after nine batters, and perhaps more importantly, Maeda doesn’t warm up with the snap of your fingers.

I don’t really want to relitigate Game 2, but since many continue to claim the pitching management in that game was as ill-fated as The Secret Diary of Desmond Pfeifferlet me put down for the record that it’s aggressive use of the bullpen that got the Dodgers this far, and any situation where the game is handed to Brandon Morrow and Jansen with a 3-1 lead and no more than nine outs to go is a great one for the Los Angeles Dodgers.

That there was one baserunner when Morrow entered the game is a factor, but one that also serves to make the case of why Roberts pulled Hill in the first place. So many people are angry as if Hill was throwing a perfect game, as he has been wont to do. He wasn’t. Yes, he struck out seven, but he also allowed six baserunners (one on an intentional walk) in four innings. He was victimized by a poor fielding play by Chase Utley, but a pitcher who is “dealing” gets around that. Instead, Hill came within Chris Taylor’s hat brim of being down by at least two or quite possibly three runs before getting his seventh out of the game.

Sure, Hill might have pitched a perfect fifth inning, and in my heart I would have liked to have seen that. But if we’re going to bet on “might have,” I’ll bet on Jansen shutting down the bottom of the Astros lineup in his second inning of the night over Hill shutting down the top of the Astros lineup in his fifth. Anyone who is upset that Morrow and Jansen weren’t brought in to start clean innings is on thin ice arguing that Roberts should have waited until Hill was in trouble before brining in Maeda.

More of a concern than the Dodger pitching staff is the offense, which hasn’t been entirely absent — no fewer than three runs in any game, with clutch hitting in Game 1, comeback city in Game 2, the tying run at the plate in Game 3 — but certainly has its big share of ill-timed individual slumps and a .243 on-base percentage in the three games. But this is not a fatal condition, either.

The Dodgers have lost two games they could have won. People are anxious. It was for this very plausible moment that I wrote this paragraph Monday.

There will be moments where things go wrong, maybe too many of them at once, and the reflex will be to assume that your team screwed up — made the wrong decision, swung at the wrong pitch. Sometimes, yeah, it will be on us — who among us hasn’t scolded a child (or a parent) for their numbskull transgressions? One piece of advice: It will help you to remember that the other team is fantastic, genuinely fantastic, earning every bit of its place in this World Series, more likely than not wreaking the havoc, rather than rolling head-first past it.

In the eighth inning of Game 2, things could hardly have looked more dire for Houston. Baseball has a way of flipping the table.

Oct 23

Hello, World Series … goodbye, Earth

Mikey Williams/Los Angeles Dodgers

Mikey Williams/Los Angeles Dodgers

The past 100 hours since the Dodgers captured the pennant, the verifiable, officially viable National League pennant, those have been the air-conditioned portion of their fanbase’s trip to the World Series.

Feel the breeze. Luxuriate in the cool, refreshing praise from around the baseball world. Revel in the stories telling you how great you are. (Technically, it’s “how great the team you root for is,” but really, what’s the difference?) It’s climate-controlled, baby.

But come 5:09 p.m. Tuesday, we’ll open the sliding door and step right into the heat — the literal heat, yes, but even more scorching, the metaphorical heat. This week’s 100-degree temperatures are unseemly for fall, even in Los Angeles, but they’re entirely appropriate. We will be sweating this one out long after the Tuesday sun sets.

This is what we asked for. For 29 years, we begged, we pleaded for this return to this heavenly ballfield, heated by hell’s furnace.

Sitting on the edge of our seat? No, we’re just sitting on the edge — living on it, nothing to lean back on, no cushion, no backrest. Thrust into orbit and hoping, praying we don’t incinerate upon reentry. We’re on top of the world, ma, with a long way to fall.

You dreamed about this for so long. Now experience weightlessness and terror all at once.

Your team needs to win four games out of seven. There’s no prescription for how exactly that gets done. You can win those games by staking out an early lead or coming back late. You can drop one at home and win two on the road, or you can sweep at home and come home needing to sweep again. You will need 20 runs if the other team scores 19. You can bask in a single run if you hold the other team to none.

There will be moments where things go wrong, maybe too many of them at once, and the reflex will be to assume that your team screwed up — made the wrong decision, swung at the wrong pitch. Sometimes, yeah, it will be on us — who among us hasn’t scolded a child (or a parent) for their numbskull transgressions? One piece of advice: It will help you to remember that the other team is fantastic, genuinely fantastic, earning every bit of its place in this World Series, more likely than not wreaking the havoc, rather than rolling head-first past it.

I like the Dodgers’ chances. I really do. But we are explorers, on a visionquest unseen in this city in some lifetimes. Maybe, over the course of the coming years, the frightening will become familiar. But for now, there is no preparing for the extreme adventure we are about to undertake, no warding off each trembling, pulsating, head-rattling moment. It’s a sensation we can only hope will prove sensational. We are livin’ now, friends.

Oct 05

Schrodinger’s postseason

Jon SooHoo/Los Angeles Dodgers

Jon SooHoo/Los Angeles Dodgers

Every year, each year more than the last, comes the refrain: “The Dodgers have to win the World Series this year.”

And every year I wonder, “or what?”

Not far in the future, there are books and newspapers and Baseball Reference pages imprinted with the result of the 2017 playoffs. Less than a month from now, there will have been a parade downtown with “I Love L.A.” blaring non-stop, or there won’t have been.

It won’t be because the Dodgers tried any more or any less than their best. It will be because along their best effort, they finally caught the breaks that have flown by for the past 29 seasons.

The playoffs are in Schrodinger’s box, and it’s just waiting to be unlocked.

It’s not that the Dodgers have no control over their fate. But they can only control what they can control. And they can’t control everything. No team can.

The World Series isn’t a morality play, you can’t will yourself to victory, and neither the Dodgers nor their fans are owed anything. And even if that mattered, what of it? Cleveland, Washington and Houston have all gone longer — in some cases forever — without winning a World Series. Just because the people of Los Angeles feels boundlessly deprived doesn’t mean they are.

The “We’re the Dodgers, we’re a big city, we’re a hallowed franchise, we deserve this” mentality — no one cares.

That doesn’t mean surrender. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t believe. The Dodgers are equipped to go all the way. They’re certainly no longer the hip pick to do it — I dare say a ton of people are on board with Arizona ending the Dodgers season sometime in the next week, let alone the Nationals, Cubs or American League champs. But there is talent and leadership and impatience and desire and more talent up and down the Dodger roster. There are mountains ready to be scaled and primal screams waiting to be unleashed.

If you’re a Dodger fan, go open-hearted and full-throated into these playoffs. Just understand that seven other fan bases can rightfully do the same.

As much as you might have dreamed of it, I don’t think there’s any fathoming what a World Series title will feel like in Los Angeles. The fans of this team haven’t gone this long without that elation since 1955. Putting aside the specific utopia of Kirk Gibson’s home run, there hasn’t been an emotional euphoria to match ’55 in more than seven decades.

But if not …

What can we do? We’ll try to understand. We’ll agonize, pick up the pieces, call for changes. Many will demand firings, purgings, blood. All trying to make sense of a purely irrational moment in a purely irrational game.

And then we’ll start over again. We’re baseball fans. It’s what we do. Or else.

Aug 23

You know, I’ve been thinking …

Puig

Hi there. It’s been a while. The Dodgers appear to have been doing well. Hope you weren’t waiting for me to tell you that here. Also, I finished the draft of the book on the Dodgers I started before I left for Showtime. It’s coming out next spring, and you’ll begin hearing details about it sometime in the next few months. Believe me, I won’t be shy.

Anyway, I’m on a brief staycation and with a little free time, wanted to share some quick, you know, Dodger thoughts.

Continue reading

May 06

The original Los Angeles Dodger rookie sensation was Dick Gray

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Four players in Los Angeles Dodger history have homered four times in their first 10 career games. You’re probably quite familiar with three of them: Matt Kemp in 2006, Yasiel Puig in 2013 and Cody Bellinger, who delivered his second two-homer game of the past week Friday in the Dodgers’ 8-2 victory at San Diego.

Before them, there was Dick Gray, who not only homered four times in his first 10 games, he did so in the Los Angeles Dodgers’ first 10 games ever.

Most total bases, first 10 games, Los Angeles Dodgers

Most total bases, first 10 games, Los Angeles Dodgers

Gray was truly the original rookie supernova for the Dodgers after they moved west from Brooklyn. After the Dodgers were shut out in their West Coast debut at San Francisco on April 15, Gray delivered Los Angeles’ first home run, run and RBI in the second inning of their 13-1 victory over the Giants, part of a 3-for-6 day.

The 26-year-old third baseman also hit the first Dodger homer in Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum history on April 18, then hit another the next game. By the time he hit his fourth home run in the Dodgers’ ninth game on April 27, he was batting .382/.475/.735/1.210.

Unfortunately, little went right for Gray as a Dodger after that. While making a diving stop of a Bill Mazeroski grounder April 29, Gray jammed his finger. He found himself in a 4-for-32 slump thereafter (albeit with three triples), and with the Dodgers in a six-game losing streak, was optioned along with pitchers Danny McDevitt and Roger Craig to St. Paul.

Gray returned two weeks later and had another mini-hot streak, going 9 for 18 with a homer and three doubles in his first four games, May 28-31. But over the next two months, he hit .204/.291/.381/.672, and he was sent back to St. Paul. He didn’t return for the remainder of the season.

In 1959, Gray hit .154/.241/.288/.530 in 21 games before being traded to St. Louis for Chuck Essegian (who, like Mickey Hatcher in 1988, hit one regular-season homer for the Dodgers in 1959 but two World Series homers) and Lloyd Merritt, and his big-league career ended one year later.

May 02

A long-lost moment from a crazy 1982 season

The three-way 1982 NL West race was unforgettable, but we usually hear the story from the Dodger perspective, with a touch of San Francisco. Here is a wide-ranging look from the Atlanta side, thanks to this history (written by Jason Foster for The Sporting News) of a season-long documentary being made about the team.

Included is the video above of a Dodgers-Braves controversy I had no memory of …

During a crucial game against the Dodgers, Torre went ballistic over an umpire’s decision to send a runner back to third, rather than allow him to score, after a portion of a wall in foul territory collapsed and sent fans spilling onto the field.

Torre didn’t hold back, unleashing a colorful tirade that almost certainly would get a manager ejected today, but brought no repercussions in 1982.

Diamond, listening in real time on a headset, looked to audio engineer Ken Noland with an expression that said both, “Can you believe we’re getting this?!” and “Good luck editing that.”

“We really had to bleep that out,” Diamond said with a laugh. “I remember back in the edit room, in the audio room, that took us a few days to go through that and take all the … language out.”

Do read Foster’s entire story, which among other things, introduces a surprise narrator for the documentary whom Dodger fans will appreciate.

Apr 09

What the 1959 World Series meant to Los Angeles

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

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“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!

Feb 26

Wrapping up the films of 2016 on Oscar Sunday

Loving

By Jon Weisman

It was a full sprint at the finish line, but even in a busy year in which I only saw a baker’s dozen of live-action movies, I did manage to get to all nine Oscar nominees for best picture. That’s the first time that’s happened since I left Variety.

I’m glad I did. Usually, there’s at least one nominee in the bunch that I find inexplicable, if not horrible. But I had positive feelings about every nominee, all the way to Hacksaw Ridge, which I had been avoiding until it became the final unseen nominee on my list. The initial plotting in Hacksaw is somewhat by the numbers, but it’s a powerful story and it more than does its job of making you feel both the horrors and heroism of war.

Still, my favorite movie of the year is La La Land, and I’m not dissuaded by the backlash that complained about its supposed superficiality or the quality of the singing. The film resonates with me today, months after having seen it, and is more complex than many of its critics give it credit for. I don’t buy the argument that you have to have Broadway voices to make a musical sing. In many people’s eyes, the best picture race has come down to La La Land vs. Moonlight, and I don’t begrudge those hoping Moonlight takes the big prize. But as much as I appreciated the latter, La La Land is triumphant for me. Of course, I’m someone who was also happy with The Artist and The King’s Speech, which from every story that I’ve read about them over the past few years, you’re not allowed to like at all.

The most underrated movie of the year for me is Loving, whose omission from the Oscar picture nominations is hardest for me to understand. It’s an important story, the execution of that story is essentially flawless, and it’s the kind of story that should fit into the Academy’s wheelhouse. In a year of big stories told intimately, Loving was the best of any that I saw. Jeff Nichols, who also wrote and directed Mud and Take Shelter, deserved better. The Lobster is another movie that was worthy of best picture consideration, though it’s far easier to understand why it didn’t get a foothold with the Academy beyond an original screenplay nomination.

Screen Shot 2017-02-26 at 2.08.30 PM

If I were limited to a top five, it would be La La Land, Loving, Moonlight, Lion and Arrival. Lion was a satisfying movie experience from start to finish. Arrival began slowly for me but finished strong, leaving a deep impression.

Heading into Manchester by the Sea, I expected I was about to see the year’s best picture winner. And while it was well done — with Michelle Williams’ performance stealing the show — it was a movie that I was done with about as soon as I walked out of the theater. At the time, I was watching the final season of AMC’s Rectify, which had the quiet lead character with a troubled past like Manchester but was doing it much more compellingly, week after week, and Manchester suffered by comparison. It deserves its best picture nomination, but not the Oscar.

I have no complaints about the film adaptation of Fences other than what happens with Denzel Washington, my pick to win best actor, in the final stretch. I know that’s part of the point of the story (and it gives supporting-actress favorite Viola Davis one last moment to show she wasn’t a supporting actress), but it just seemed to leave a hole in the production where a punch should have been. Hell or High Water was strong — a Bonnie and Clyde for the post-recession era — and with Manchester, Lobster, Fences and Hacksaw, it takes a spot in my top 10 ahead of Hidden Figures, which also has a great story but presents it in a clumsier fashion than some of the others. In particular, the story of Octavia Spencer’s character, who is treated as a glorified administrator for virtually the entire film when she was so much more, really seems to get short shrift.

The two other live-action movies I saw were also completely entertaining. Florence Foster Jenkins was a good watch — as old hat as it is for Meryl Streep to get an Oscar nomination, it doesn’t come by accident. Meanwhile, Simon Helberg and Hugh Grant are also really terrific and help make the film a winner. And I’ll also throw some positive support behind Eddie the Eagle, which we saw on something of a lark early in 2016. The movie knows what it is — it doesn’t try to make itself into something grand, but it also isn’t stupid. If you catch this one on the small screen, I’ll bet you enjoy it.

I’m not nearly as positive on the animated films from 2016 I saw this year. While not as good as top animated films of past years, Moana is the best of this year’s bunch, by several degrees, and yet the broad consensus is that it will lose best animated feature to Zootopia, which was forgettable. Kubo and the Two Strings had a good story, but the anglicized voice acting significantly undermined it. Finding Dory, Trolls and The Angry Birds Movie did little more for me than pass the time with my kids.

Dec 06

Root Beer reviews: AJ Stephans

IMG_2519While many root beers strive to make a bold statement, sometimes to the point of being the blue-tuxedoed uncle at your best friend’s wedding, AJ Stephans is daring only in its restraint. It dials back the sweetness and doesn’t linger, living extremely in the moment, not like a brash teenage snowboarder but rather a delicate piccolo artist inhaling each note, otherwise rapidly forgotten. Lack of edge prevents it from reaching the top tier, but unpretentiousness prevents it from sinking to the bottom.

Sampling date: December 1, 2015

Ingredients: Pure carbonated water, cane sugar, natural and artificial flavors, caramel color, citric acid, sodium benzoate

Nutritional information: 12-ounce serving, 175 calories, 0 grams fat, 44 grams sugar, 30 milligrams sodium, 0 grams protein

Headquarters: Orange, Massachusetts

Rankings to date:
1) Route 66 Root Beer
2) Bulldog Root Beer
3) Capt’n Eli’s Root Beer
4) Sparky’s Root Beer
5) AJ Stephans Root Beer
6) River City Root Beer
7) Cool Mountain Root Beer
8) Rat Bastard Root Beer 

Dec 04

Root beer reviews: Sparky’s

Sparky IMG_2499After a short 39-month hiatus, I’m pleased to return with the seventh in my series of root beer reviews.

Sparky’s Fresh Draft Root Beer is a line-drive base hit, nothing unconventional, nothing that would bring a crowd to its feet, but neither a routine grounder to the right side for an out. Its engine revs at the outset of each sip, coasting into a pinching sweetness that is more cocky than coy.

Sampling date: November 30, 2015

Ingredients: Carbonated filtered water, pure cane sugar, honey, natural and imitation flavorings, spices, sodium benzoate to preserve freshness, phosphoric acid and caramel color

Nutritional information: Not provided

Headquarters: Pacific Grove, California

Rankings to date:
1) Route 66 Root Beer
2) Bulldog Root Beer
3) Capt’n Eli’s Root Beer
4) Sparky’s Root Beer
5) River City Root Beer
6) Cool Mountain Root Beer
7) Rat Bastard Root Beer

Feb 27

My favorite films of 2013

Well, this puts a period on the sentence that was my last big paragraph of filmgoing for a while.

Now that I’m working for the Dodgers, my years of going to movies by the bushel will take a break. I saw nearly 60 of 2013’s films, but that number is going to come crashing down in 2014.

So for perhaps the last time for a while, here is my annual ranking of the films, using the system I designed long ago.

As I’ve said before, it’s a system that is decidedly personal, because film is decidedly personal.  I don’t think there’s any such thing as a “best” film, but only a “favorite” film, because what we bring to a film and what we desire from it is so idiosyncratic.  Here’s the boilerplate explanation:

Ambition (1-7): How much the film is taking on, in subject matter and in filming challenges?

Quality (1-10): As objective as I can be, how well do I think the film succeeds in achieving its ambitions?

Emotional resonance (1-13): How much did the film affect me personally. This category gets the most weight because it’s the most important – I’d rather see a flawed film that touches me than a technically perfect but emotionally stultifying picture.

Two last quick points: I wouldn’t get caught up in single-point distinctions – those don’t amount to a significant difference between films. I could tinker with the grades every time I revisit the list.

If you want to look back, here are four past charts: my favorite films of 201220112010 and 2006.

I will say this – I’m less enchanted with my system than I have been in the past. I don’t tend to award much variance in ambition, and I’m having more trouble distinguishing between objective quality and emotional resonance. But this isn’t the time I’m going to change things up, so here we go …

2013 A O ER T Comment
Blue Is the Warmest Color 3.5 9.5 10.5 23.5 Loved the deep, patient exploration of the arc of a relationship – it at once had an intimate and epic feel.
Gravity* 5 8.5 10 23.5 No film mixes cinematic and spiritual ambition better this year. A thriller in more ways than one.
Short Term 12 4 9.5 10 23.5 Spot-on great storytelling of both a character and a place.
Much Ado About Nothing 4 8.5 10.5 23 A movie that I found easy to cherish – a loving and lovable homage with its own originality.
12 Years a Slave* 4.5 9 9 22.5 Unassailable in its worth and inner integrity. I can’t explain why at times I felt numb. “Roots” had more impact.
Her 4 8.5 10 22.5 Takes what could have been a sitcom story and turns it into something extraordinary and moving.
Saving Mr. Banks 4 8.5 10 22.5 Strong movie throughout, and the stuff about the flawed fathers got to me.
Captain Phillips 4 8.5 8.5 22 Intense. Hanks builds to some phenomenal moments. Somali parts well-played.
Dallas Buyers Club* 4 9 9 22 Legitimately strong story that should transcend qualms about who the protagonist is. Leto is amazing in it.
The Way Way Back 4 8.5 9 22 Touching and sincere.
August: Osage County* 4 8.5 9 21.5 Adeptly juggles numerous stories and got at the true contradictions of family life and love. Underrated at Toronto.
Mud 3.5 9 9 21.5 Really engrossing story, superbly acted by the kids. Troubled somewhat by the ending.
The Past 4 9 8.5 21.5 Another complex multi-person relationship drama. Tough but good.
The Place Beyond the Pines 3.5 9 8 21.5 Very strong, though Mendes’ character would have benefited from more development.
All Is Lost 4 8 9 21 Taut and nearly silent, but the main question was, why wasn’t their cursing in every minute?
Inside Llewyn Davis 4 8 9 21 A good personal journey movie, that maybe stops short of the knockout punch its ending should have.
Frozen 4 8 8.5 20.5 Definitely more depth than advertised, but also strong in humor and music. Didn’t quite get why secret had to be a secret.
The Wolf of Wall Street 4 8.5 8 20.5 As a comedy, very ambitious with some great moments, but also lagged for me in places.
What Maisie Wants 4 7.5 7.5 20.5 A rough story to tell but it works.
The Iceman 3 9 8 20 Rock solid, with Michael Shannon giving dominant performance.
Blue Jasmine 4 7.5 8 19.5 Hits some great notes – liked even if I didn’t love.
Despicable Me 2 3.5 8 8 19.5 Worked very well – I think I liked it more than the original.
Enough Said 3.5 7.5 8.5 19.5 Loved the exploration of a mature relationship, just wish big reveal hadn’t been so delayed and sitcommy. I miss Gandolfini.
Prisoners 4 8.5 7 19.5 Strong, gritty movie, a little slow-paced in first half but pays off.
Stories We Tell 3.5 8 8 19.5 A really interesting film if a bit rough around the edges.
The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby* 4 7 8.5 19.5 Liked the material overall and the two-part experiment, but not convinced it wouldn’t be better as one piece.
Fruitvale Station 3.5 7.5 8 19 Narrowly focused but important and heartbreaking.
How I Live Now* 4 7 8 19 The quest is a weird one, but it’s a beguiling fantasy.
Labor Day* 3.5 7.5 8 19 Liked this maybe more than I should – kind of a indie-spirit Hallmark movie.
The Armstrong Lie 3.5 8.5 7 19 The crazy denial comes to life.
The Short Game 3 8 8 19 Funny to see this at around the same time as “Bad Words.”
42 3 7.5 8 18.5 Liked the acting more than the script – mostly a paint-by-numbers telling of a great story.
Nebraska 3 8 7.5 18.5 Might be selling short its ambition, but though I enjoyed it, not sure what it adds up to.
Philomena 3 8 7.5 18.5 Pretty intimate and well-told story.
The Spectacular Now 3.5 8 8 18.5 Touching. Liked that drinking was key element but not central. Shailene Woodley too adorable to be an outcast, though.
Admission 3.5 6.5 8 18 Underrated – didn’t all ring true, but hard not to notice the attempt.
Bad Words* 3 7 8 18 At times profane for the sake of it, but among the most fun films of the year.
Can a Song Save a Life* 4 7 7 18 The joy of making music. Even its darkness is kind of bright. Tremendously likeable.
Casting By 3 8 7 18 Nice piece of work on an area that deserves attention.
In a World … 3 8 7 18 Fun story and a nice showcase for Lake Bell.
Picture Day 3.5 7.5 7 18 Tatiana Maslany expectedly adorable, and it was an interesting (and slightly strange) ride.
The Invisible Woman 3 8 7 18 Solid period piece, with Fiennes beguiling as Dickens.
To the Wonder 3.5 6.5 8 18 Eloquent, beautiful love story sandbagged by inexplicable lack of attention to Affleck’s character.
Out of the Furnace 3.5 7 7 17.5 More true grit, a la Prisoners, which perhaps was better because its antagonist was better.
Lee Daniels’ The Butler 4 6 7 17 Worthy subject and occasionally moving but far too on the nose in places.
Night Moves* 3.5 7 6.5 17 Low, low-key film struggles toward the end after it all goes down.
Rush* 4 7 6 17 Beautifully shot with good lead performances, but fairly conventional storytelling for a sports film.
The Croods 3 7 7 17 Ends on a good note but kind of tedious in the midsection.
Turbo 3 7 7 17 No great leap but a likable enough tale.
American Hustle 3.5 7 6 16.5 I’m probably being harsh on it, but was not involved in the story until the final hour, and it didn’t stick with me after.
Austenland 3.5 6.5 6 16 Points for the ambiguity in the love story, points against for its clumsiness.
Oz the Great and Powerful 4 5.5 5 15.5 Uninvolving script and really questionable casting.
Monsters University 3 7 5 15 Harmless but pointless for me.
The Incredible Burt Wonderstone 3 5 6 14 Gross miscalculations about Carell, Carrey and Wilde characters undermined what might’ve been a really good comedy.
Spring Breakers 3.5 5 5 13.5 Certainly not your typical Spring Break movie, certainly stylish, but did not make me care at all. This year’s emperor with no clothes.
Planes 3 5 4 13 A sorrowful rehash of past aspirational animations.
Before Midnight 3 5.5 4 12.5 Pretentious as ever in the first half, hardly groundbreaking in the big fight in the second. The love for these films remains mystifying.
Dom Hemingway* 3 4 3 10 Aside from a couple good moments, thought this was pretty much flatulent.
You Are Here* 3 3.5 3.5 10 Matthew Weiner’s feature was the biggest disappointment of the year.

*Seen at the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival