It feels like 10 years since I last saw a Dodger game. 

It feels like we’ve lived through an entire era of baseball in the four months and three days the Dodgers last walked off the field, heads bowed. It feels like we’ve aged a generation. 

As I hibernated with other activities, I watched Dodger fans descend in to a deep well of anger and despair. The winter of our discontent barely seems adequate to describe it. Behind center field, offseason construction tore a hole in Dodger Stadium, delivered directly from Metaphors ‘R’ Us.  

The bitterness of the Dodgers’ shocking Game 5 loss in the National League Division Series lingered like a slow-acting toxin, blackening the rose petals of fandom.

The unrequited pursuit of big-name talent, Gerrit Cole in particular, generated a sense of Kafkaesque imprisonment, blinding the reality that none of the Dodgers’ top rivals except the Yankees had improved their rosters. Then again, if the Yankees become the team to beat, isn’t that anguish enough?

Then the earth trembled, the ground beneath our feet cracked open and the void opened. 

Erupting almost exactly 100 years after the Black Sox scandal nearly brought baseball to its knees, revelations about illegal use of video by the Houston Astros, to aid the stealing of signs that would tell their batters what kind of pitch was coming, shook the foundation of what we understood of the Dodgers’ close-but-no-cigar season in 2017, when they lost a spirited World Series in a desultory Game 7. 

In the weeks after The Athletic broke the story, the feeling of betrayal and loss only became more disturbing. At first, when the scandal unfolded, I can say that my anger at the Astros was held in abeyance as I waited to hear whether the Dodgers had done anything similar. Perhaps that day will still come, though based on the angry, unforgiving reactions of members of the Dodgers since that time, it seems less and less likely.

Instead, what we have had to come to terms with, in the coup de grace to this long, cold offseason, is the increasing likelihood that the Dodgers’ long-awaited World Series title was stolen. 

To be clear, we don’t know. We don’t know if fair play by the Astros would have brought the New York Yankees to the 2017 World Series and in turn a Bronx championship. We don’t know the butterfly effect of whether, playing by the rules, the Astros might have found another gear and won their title fair and square. I rewatched Kenley Jansen’s 0-2 mistake in the ninth inning of Game 2 to Marwin Gonzalez, the first critical moment to alter the direction of the 2017 World Series, and I don’t know that Gonzalez needed any extra help to blast that pitch to Scott Avenue. 

I will say what I believe. 

  • I believe that Yu Darvish, who had struck out 14 in 11 1/3 innings with a 1.59 ERA in his two previous playoff starts, would not have allowed seven of the 12 batters he faced in Game 3 at Houston to reach base. 
  • I believe that the Dodger bullpen would not have been forced to throw 6 1/3 innings in Game 3. 
  • I believe that Clayton Kershaw and Brandon Morrow would not have combined to be charged with 10 runs in Game 5. 
  • I believe the Dodgers would have come back to Los Angeles with no worse than a 3-2 lead after five games. 
  • I believe the Dodgers would have won the 2017 World Series. 

Now, those beliefs have no value, whatsoever. They are meaningless, as meaningless as the resolution by the Los Angeles City Council to have MLB award the 2017 and 2018 World Series titles to Los Angeles. I think it’s pointless even for the Astros to vacate their 2017 title. It happened, they celebrated, and that celebration is really the most important part. Putting an asterisk next to the Astros’ name or a bunch of dashes in place of it won’t erase it. 

Maybe I’m right, maybe I’m wrong. Maybe vacating the title would bring righteous joy to enough Dodger fans to make it worthwhile. I won’t try to change your mind about that. 

But I don’t even feel the worst for Dodger fans. I feel the worst for the Dodgers. I feel the worst for Darvish. For Jansen. For Morrow. For Kenta Maeda. For Andre Ethier, who was playing 1,506th and final major-league game, all with Los Angeles.

And most of all, for Kershaw.

I won’t lie to you. A triumphant Kershaw narrative would have meant a lot to someone like me, who not only was devoted to him as a fan, but at that exact moment was putting the finishing touches on a book called Brothers in Arms: Koufax, Kershaw, and the Dodgers’ Extraordinary Pitching Tradition. Yes, I believe the Astros even cost me money, as well as joy.  

But the singular image in my mind over the past four months remains the bereft, broken Kershaw after last year’s NLDS Game 5, searching for answers, searching for understanding, maybe even searching for God. And now we know, or at least strongly suspect, that save for the bang of a trash can, Kershaw wouldn’t even have needed to look. 

No doubt, he considers himself stronger for the challenge. But no doubt, he deserves better. 

Reliving all those experiences as I outlined them above, I again feel amazement that this has only been a single offseason. 

And yet, now, astonishingly, a new era is unfolding. 

Mookie Betts is a Dodger. 

Mookie Betts is a Dodger. 

Mookie Betts is a Dodger. 

And it’s transformative. 

Let’s be real. There are no guarantees this means an end to the title drought. I’ve said it a hundred times: You cannot bulletproof a team. Things go wrong. We only need to look back two Octobers to understand. The Dodgers had everything they needed — including a championship caliber bullpen — in 2017 and didn’t win. They had a 106-56 team in 2019 and didn’t win. 

But on the field, Betts is a singular talent. And emotionally, across the Dodger fan base, Betts has already made a difference. We can look forward.

After the offseason equivalent of a coronavirus quarantine on a cruise ship, we have an antidote. 

Let the Nationals and their fans celebrate their 2019 World Series title. 

Let the Yankees and their fans salivate over Gerrit Cole. 

Let the revelations about the sign-stealing scandal continue to unfold. 

Mookie Betts is a Dodger. 

The Dodgers have a front four of Betts, Max Muncy, Justin Turner and Cody Bellinger. They have a back four of 2016-17 All-Star Corey Seager (still only 25 and now a full year further removed from surgery), potential All-Star catcher Will Smith, Rookie of the Year candidate Gavin Lux, and a multi-headed combo in left field that could include A.J. Pollock, Kiké Hernandez, Chris Taylor, Matt Beaty and if he sticks around, Joc Pederson. 

Dodger pitching has a front four of ace Walker Buehler, Kershaw, David Price and Julio Urías, absolutely poised for his breakout season. Backing them, they have Dustin May, Tony Gonsolin, Alex Wood, Jimmy Nelson, Ross Stripling and, later in the season, prospects the caliber of Josiah Gray. They won’t all shine, but it’s reasonable to expect one or more will. 

And even though I’m sure there are plenty of Dodger fans who think there is no lead, not even a Mookie Betts-infused lead, that the bullpen can’t blow, the Dodgers have quietly made moves here as well, adding Blake Treinen and Brusdar Graderol. Plus, you don’t want to sleep on minor-leaguers like left-hander Victor Gonzalez. Bullpens are forever volatile, so no promises here. We can’t escape all of our burdens. 

Nevertheless …

We can look forward. We can look forward. 

Dodger Stadium is healing. Dodger fans are healing. 

Spring Training is here. 

The Dodgers are back.