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Monday, October 28, 2013

The Dodgers: America's Team?

It has been said that folks who work "inside the (DC) Beltway" live in such a different world that they are completely out of touch with the rest of America, which is one reason why what happens in Washington often has little or no relation to what Americans want. However, after Dodger manager Don Mattingly remarked that the Dodgers were "America's Team," I couldn't help but wonder whether a similar beltway encircles Chavez Ravine (aka, Dodger Stadium).  If Mattingly truly believes that the Dodgers are America's team, then he's remarkably out of touch with the rest of baseball America, including the Yankees for whom he used to play.

Why? Because most baseball fans look unkindly on teams that attempt to buy championships, regardless of who it is, and the Dodgers' team payroll ranked only behind the Yankees in 2013 ("2013 Payrolls And Salaries For Every MLB Team").  Nor do we like teams where players stand at home plate admiring what they (mistakenly) think is a home run, jumping into an opposing team's swimming pool, or after hitting a home run, wiggling their fingers, impersonating Mickey Mouse. Rookies like Yasiel Puig can be forgiven for their youthful enthusiasm, but veterans like Adrian Gonzalez should know better (I wonder if that's why the Red Sox unloaded him).

Of course, a couple of rogue players does not a team make. In fact, for a team to earn the designation, "America's Team," one would have to take into consideration its ownership, fans, and history. And although I'm skeptical that there's an "America's Team," if I were forced to pick one, I'd probably choose, not the Atlanta Braves (sorry Braves fans), but the St. Louis Cardinals (as long as I don't have to listen to Joe Buck and Tim McCarver). As NYU President John Sexton, and life-long baseball fan, notes ("Baseball as a Road to God: Seeing Beyond the Game"),
St. Louis has enjoyed a revered reputation for generations among baseball wags. As [Randy] Johnson... has put it, “It’s a fun city to come to because you know it’s all baseball.” 
And baseball there is played famously hard and well, from the spikes-high “Gashouse Gang” rowdies of the thirties to the mad dashes on the base paths of Enos “Country” Slaughter in the forties, to the elegance of Stan “the Man” Musial in the fifties, to the glare of fiery concentration on the face of the Hall of Fame fireball pitcher Bob Gibson in the sixties. Though the record must show that this border-state city was notoriously hostile to Jackie Robinson during his rookie year, the St. Louis tradition generally has been that the game is left on the field, that opponents are respected, that booing is for Easterners, and that rooting for the home team is no less intense during lean years. 
St. Louis may just barely be among the twenty largest metropolitan areas in the country, but in recent decades only the far larger-market Los Angeles Dodgers and New York Yankees have kept pace in attendance. When the Cardinals drew three million fans for the first time in 1987, only the Dodgers had done it. Their success was magnified by a famous radio station, WMOX, one of the first fifty-thousand-watt behemoths on the scene; in the years before the major leagues expanded, WMOX saturated the South; if you lived in Dixie, you were a Cardinals fan.
And a recent article in the NY Times ("Cardinals’ Strategy Replaces Big Names With Ingenuity") argues that the Cardinals organization consistently win, not because it chases after big names, but because it develops players "that most have never heard of -- like [Carlos] Martinez, their sudden setup man -- and unleash them on the opposition." Of course, one could argue that they did chase after Carlos Beltran, signing him to a two-year contract in 2011 for $26 million, but that was after they refused to pay their long-time star, Albert Pujols, the $240 million he ended up getting from the Anaheim Angels.

But, then again, I'm unconvinced that any team can be called "America's Team." One thing I'm convinced of, though, it ain't the Dodgers.

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