Oh, my Dodgers! They have been in a terrible hitting slump for the last couple of weeks and since the All-Star break, have suffered two losing streaks, the first one lasting six games, and the most recent one having just ended at six games. While they’ve gotten great starting pitching, lack of run production and some shoddy relief pitching has done them in. The Dodgers have some good relievers (see Hong-Chih Kuo, and although he’s relatively untested, Kenley Jansen), but a definite liability in George Sherrill (ERA over 7). And while the big bats aren’t coming through offensively, let’s face it, injuries have definitely taken their toll too, with a weaker lineup taking the field. It’s just a combination of a lot of factors that has added up to many losses. The fact that the surging Giants were able to sweep them over the weekend is definitely a sign of the times–Matt Cain, starting pitcher in the final game of the series, was 0-8 in his career vs. the Dodgers going in, and still came away with a victory, so what does that tell you?
Having just dropped to fourth place and at nine games out of first place, and playing four at home this week vs. the division leading Padres, I decided I was going to give the new acquisitions–Ted Lilly, Ryan Theriot, Scott Podsednik and Octavio Dotel–a shot to see if they can turn this thing around in the next couple of months. In fact, I would never count them out until they are mathematically eliminated. And Lilly looked remarkable in his Dodger debut, which finally took place 14 years after the team drafted him. We’ve still got two months left, folks. So many short-sighted fans have forgotten our Bums were eight games out of first in mid-August, 2008, when they made their run and won the division. However, they just can’t afford to drop any further back. With the way the team had been playing even with the new arrivals, I began to think that perhaps Lilly, Theriot, Dotel and Podsednik were questioning if they ever really did leave the Cubs, Pirates and Royals.
Vin Scully opened the broadcast in the first of a four-game set against San Diego by saying some are wondering if the Dodgers are out of it. He commended the Padres for hanging tough, but as usual, Vin’s words of wisdom included 61 years of observations about pennant races. It’s true there are probably some younger fans who have no idea that the 1964 Phillies had a 6 1/2 game lead with 12 left to play, then lost 10 straight. At least in recent memory, the 2007 Mets suffered a similar collapse, as the Phillies erased their seven-game lead with a couple of weeks left in the season. But as Vin noted, the 1951 Dodgers led the Giants by 13 games in August…and that led to the “Shot Heard ‘Round the World” which stunningly put the Giants in the World Series. In my lifetime, I can recall the 1978 Red Sox who led the Yankees by 14.5 games at the end of July, only to lose in a one-game playoff after both teams finished the season with the same record. Then, of course, there were the 2007 Rockies who came out of nowhere (fourth place) to record one of the hottest Septembers on record in baseball history. It was especially unlikely given the Rockies’ previous pennant race performances, and they had to climb over a couple of teams in the standings to win the wild card. As Vinnie said, “nobody knows, but from what I have seen, no lead is safe.”
Something fans of other teams will never understand is this: Losing, and then becoming winners, is tradition with the Dodgers; it’s part of our heritage, going back to our historic past in Brooklyn, and now the Dodgers have endured their worst drought since moving to Los Angeles 52 years ago–over two decades long. But for those of us who love them, it’s part of supporting a team, and when I look back at the blessings in my life over the years, I count being a fan of this team as one of them. Sure, everyone can claim pride in being a fan of their team–but very few teams can top the Dodgers’ contributions to baseball. It isn’t always about winning or losing. I think, believe, bleed, and breathe Dodger Blue forever!
So, we keep on keeping at it. This divorce we too will survive.
In fact, the only series the Dodgers have won since the All-Star break was against the Mets at home, taking three of four. The team is now 10-1 when I’m in attendance this year. Unfortunately, the one game they lost was on July 23, the only setback in the four-game series with the Mets. In particular, I wanted to attend this game because the Dodgers would be honoring their first world championship team, the 1955 team which won their only title while playing in New York. Baseball is a game that celebrates its revered history more than any other sport, and the Dodgers do that pretty well.Was it really five years ago that I was at Dodger Stadium for the 50th anniversary of the ’55 team? It’s hard to believe. I attended that game, against the Houston Astros, with my friend Crzblue and two others, both from San Diego: one, my good friend Harpo, a true historian of the game who attended the ’55 World Series as a five-year old, and the other my friend Rhoda, who was born and raised in Brooklyn, now in her 80s, who had attended games at Ebbets Field while growing up. For the golden anniversary, the Dodgers played the Astros that Sunday afternoon in August, 2005. And to complete the cycle of the team moving west, it was a Los Angeles native, Jeff Weaver, who took the mound for the Bums that day, beating Roger Clemens. (And as fate would have it, it was the Astros who actually played in the World Series a couple of months later.)
Now, everyone knows that the team’s one link to Brooklyn that has remained unbroken throughout all those years is our beloved announcer, Vin Scully. I cherish the video of that 50th anniversary game, because the Dodgers did something really cool with their broadcast that day: they showed the evolution of televised baseball, as it was in 1955, and as it was half a century later, everything from the camera angles to the way the action was covered then and now.
But, fast-forwarding to 2010, the Dodgers were honoring with one of their popular promotions in the “My Town” section. On selected home games, this section, in the reserved level/right field, features a special theme celebrating the diversity of the City of Angels. On July 23, “My Town” commemorated Brooklyn, New York: “Dodgertown, Brooklyn.” In all “My Town” events, participating fans who purchase tickets in that section receive All You Can Eat food related to the theme, along with unlimited non-alcoholic beverages. I thought they should have served Brooklyn pizza that night, but no…the menu of deli food was a bit thin, compared to that served at “Dodgertown, Philippines”, “Dodgertown, Mexico”, and “Dodgertown, Ireland”, all of which I’ve attended going back to last season. But no matter, one of the best things about “My Town” promotions is the Tshirts (with individual designs for each specific promotion) the attendees receive.
In this case, the Tshirt featured the “55 since ’55” patch the team is wearing on their uniforms this season. The first 20,000 fans in the gate were given a poster commemorating the ’55 Dodgers team winning the World Series.
Big Don Newcombe, who has been associated with the Dodgers for the better part of 61 years, threw out the ceremonial first pitch. Newk was the only player in MLB history to win all three major awards, and is a source of inspiration and pride to the organization. A contemporary of Jackie Robinson and Roy Campanella, he arrived on the scene as baseball was slowly integrating, in 1949. His first pitch on this beautiful evening was thrown over an original home plate from Ebbets Field, which was placed over the Dodger Stadium home plate. Newcombe was introduced as he took the field, as the “best dressed man in the house”–which he always is! During games he attends at Dodger Stadium, he’s easily recognizable to fans around the park with his suit and hat, and of course his long, lean figure.
House organist Nancy Bea Hefley played all night long, as the game proceeded without pre-recorded music. Even the DiamondVision graphics on screen were in black & white. Before the National Anthem was sung, some others in attendance joked about whether the flag would contain only 48 stars. And, of course, the former Brooklyn Dodgers announcer and current L.A. Dodgers broadcaster, Mr. Scully was on hand for it all.
My mom is attending her 55th high school reunion here in San Diego in a couple of weeks. I joked that she should wear the Tshirt with the “55 since ’55” replica patch. 🙂 Interestingly, her high school has a couple of cool baseball ties. It is the alma mater of not one, but two, perfect game pitchers–Don Larsen, and David Wells, who both accomplished the feat for the Yankees, 42 years apart.
Speaking of the Brooklyn Dodgers: Rest in peace to Billy Loes, who pitched for three Brooklyn National League championship teams, including the ’55 Dodgers, passed away on July 15 in Arizona, at age 80. From the L.A. Times obituary:
He started Game 6 of the 1952 World Series for the Dodgers against the Yankees at Ebbets Field. The Dodgers led 1-0 in the seventh inning when Loes gave up a home run to Yogi Berra and a single by Gene Woodling.
Then Loes balked by letting the baseball slip from his hand while he was on the pitching rubber, sending Woodling to second base. With two out, Vic Raschi, the Yankees’ starting pitcher, hit a ball off Loes’ leg, and it caromed into right field for a single, scoring Woodling. The Yankees went on to a 3-2 victory, tying the series at three games apiece. The Yankees won the World Series the next day.
Other items of recent note:
Congratulations to Andre Dawson, Whitey Herzog, and Doug Harvey, who were all inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame on July 25. Congratulations also to Jon Miller, who is now in the elite broadcasters’ wing. Even though he’s a Giants announcer, I have appreciated his wit and superb broadcasting skills for many years.
While much attention has been focused on Dawson, the player, and Herzog, the manager, the unglamorous job of umpiring is usually overlooked. So a special nod to Harvey, who is the first living umpire to be inducted. I first met Harvey when I was in high school. The umpire known as “God” is a San Diegan, and was a contemporary of my parents at San Diego State in the mid-1950s. For some reason San Diego is a magnet for umpires; the Runge family (three generations–Ed, Paul, Brian) have been based locally, as well. Recently I shared with friends a classic Vin Scully-ism from the early 1980s, when the Dodgers were playing a home game on Easter Sunday, that always reminds me of “God”:
“Jimmy Stewart is in attendance enjoying the game today. And being that it’s Easter Sunday, well, one of the symbols of this day is a rabbit, and some of you may remember that Stewart appeared in a movie about a human-sized rabbit. What was the name of the rabbit? Harvey. And today, on Easter Sunday, Doug Harvey is umpiring behind home plate.” After that, I always busted up thinking of Doug Harvey as a rabbit. 🙂
Now suffering from throat cancer, Harvey also has a few Dodger connections–the first game he worked in his career, at third base, was the occasion of Dodger Stadium’s christening on April 10, 1962, a moment near and dear to my heart. And the first player he ejected was Joe Torre, now Dodgers manager, then playing for the Braves.
So, best wishes to the ailing umpire.
And the same for a young pitcher, Stephen Strasburg, who with an inflamed shoulder last week suffered the first injury of his young Major League career. Stephen just turned 22 on July 20. Many Aztecs supporters had been waiting to see if he’d make his first West Coast start during next weekend’s Nationals series at Dodger Stadium. Apparently not, but there were busloads of fans waiting to take a trip up Interstate 5 just in case.
Some addenda to my previous post about the All-Star Game and festivities in Anaheim last month:
–A couple of years ago, the 100th anniversary of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame”, baseball’s “national anthem” of sorts, was celebrated. Who doesn’t love this light-hearted, early 20th century paean to the simplicity of attending a baseball game? Most of us know the story behind it, about how it was written by someone who had never been to a baseball game. What very few people know, and is one of Orange County’s obscure claims to fame, is that songwriter Jack Norworth is buried in Melrose Abbey Memorial Park. During All-Star week, the Los Angeles Times featured a nice read about Nortworth’s long-time ties to the O.C. before his death in 1957. Certainly, as I sang the famous song in Angel Stadium on July 13, I thought long and hard about the NL: “If they don’t win, it’s a shame.” With the Senior Circuit’s victory, tradition did indeed win out, Interestingly, he passed away the following year, just weeks before the Dodgers would win the first World Series ever played on the West Coast. Norworth may have been a Philly native, but he died in Laguna Beach, and in fact, was the founder of that coastal town’s first Little League.
According to the Times:
…the first time he heard his song performed at a game was in 1958, when the Dodgers, newly arrived from Brooklyn, honored him at the Coliseum during the tune’s 50th anniversary. The makers of Cracker Jack presented him with a trophy.
Because there was nothing in the cemetery commemorating Norworth’s place in baseball history, a Facebook group was created to correct this oversight. So, just before this year’s All-Star Game, on July 11, a three-foot tall black granite monument, paid for by concerned fans, was installed.
The composer of the melody? That was Albert von Tilzer. He passed away in Los Angeles, in 1956–a couple of years before the tune’s golden anniversary was celebrated.
–In connection with the All-Star Game’s Home Run Derby, the Times also wrote about the original Home Run Derby, a similar competition that was regularly filmed for TV audiences, which took place at L.A.’s Wrigley Field, once located at 42nd and Avalon, from 1959-60.
From that article:
The show developed in 1959 between sportscaster Mark Scott and a broadcasting company. The idea: have the best home-run hitters from each league compete against each other at Wrigley, a hitter-friendly ballpark.
The format called for two players to square off over nine innings, with each getting three outs per inning. Anything but a home run was considered an out. The winner received $2,000, the runner-up $1,000 – and three consecutive home runs earned a $500 bonus.
Scott, handsome and with a baritone voice, moderated the show and
interviewed one player while the other batted, giving viewers a personal look at their heroes.
The show was popular but lasted only 26 episodes after Scott, 45, suffered a fatal heart attack in 1960.
It’s hard for those who’ve grown up in recent years to understand how little baseball was actually shown on TV back in those days. In the “Home Run Derby” days, all-time greats such as Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, Hank Aaron and others appeared on the show. If those men played the game today, they’d be seen in every at-bat on a nightly basis. But a half-century ago, on network TV, sports programming was a lot more limited. Many who are reading this now will remember that wonderful old show, and some will have enjoyed watching reruns of it years later on ESPN or MLB Network.
Now, though, it’s time to re-focus my attention on the Dodgers and how far they can go with one-third of the season left to be played. How much defending of their back-to-back Western titles can really be done? A win against the Padres was a great start, but unless that continues, treading water will be the norm. The bleeding has temporarily ceased, but you can bet that everything spilled has been blue blood. That never changes.