By Jason Keidel
As you might imagine, we native New Yorkers aren’t overly fond of the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Beyond the obvious cultural chasm, the blue-collar grit of the five boroughs against the cruise-control sensibilities of the West Coast, there’s a historical turf war waged 3,000 miles apart.
Even if you ignore the World Series clashes in 1977, ’78, and ’81, you have the epic Subway Series back when the Yankees and Dodgers battled for Big Apple supremacy in the 1940s and 1950s.
Then there’s the palpable sense that the Dodgers belong to Brooklyn, their ancestral home even to those of us who weren’t alive to see the iconic Boys of Summer. We feel a real historical prerogative for integrating baseball through the heroism of Jackie Robinson.
We were not only the team, but the town that rewrote America’s racial paradigm. Or at least we fired the first shot in the Civil Rights movement, when Brooklyn trotted out the player George Will calls the most influential black man of the 20th Century (along with Martin Luther King).
Even those of us who only know the Chavez Ravine shade of Dodger Blue have heard the ancient tales, passed like a baton down the generations. Beyond the obvious tales of No. 42, the Dodgers were just a badass ballclub, lead by baseball stalwarts Pee Wee Reese, Duke Snyder, Gil Hodges, and Roy Campanella. Long before the Yankees’ famed “Core Four” led the Bronx Bombers to four World Series titles in five years, the Dodgers enjoyed a transcendent confluence of timing and talent from 1947 through 1957.
Fast forward to now. This recent, scalding streak over 50 games – during which the Dodgers went 42-8, the first such run in MLB since the 1942 Cardinals – fills New Yorkers with conflicting feelings.
Not only do many of us see the Dodgers as a five borough endeavor, an extension of our blue-collar grit and white-collar elitism, but we now must watch our enemy rocket to the top with a Yankee icon at the helm.
Those who only know Don Mattingly as the skipper of the good ship Hollywood, you don’t know half his story.
For a million middle-age New Yorkers who were high school brats during the 1980s, Don Mattingly morphed into Donnie Baseball: a midwest kid with a savant’s swing and old school sensibilities who charmed the pants off of a cynical city during the 1980s. Though it was the only decade since Babe Ruth that didn’t bear World Series bling, Mattingly was an oasis for an oddly forlorn franchise.
His robust skill set combined for a flawless 1985, when Mattingly won the AL MVP, batting .324 with 48 doubles, 35 homers and 145 RBI. During his only taste of playoff baseball, Donnie Baseball went nuts in 1995, batting .417 with six RBI in five games, in a losing effort to the Seattle Mariners. Only a balky back kept Donnie Baseball from swinging his way to Cooperstown, falling too many hits short of 3,000 (2,153 for his career).
The only hard-luck franchise player in the history of baseball’s signature franchise, Mattingly is the only pinstriped icon to not win a World Series. Then he came back as bench coach after the Joe Torre dynasty ripped off four titles in five years. By the time they won again in 2009, Mattingly was in Los Angeles, with his managerial mentor, Joe Torre.
But even if the Dodgers (75-52) finish the deal and win their first Fall Classic since 1988, we can assert, from 3,000 miles away, that you needed a New Yorker to do it. We don’t even know whom to blame for the Dodgers famous and infamous exodus from the five boroughs. Depending on your source, you can jam your pins into two voodoo dolls, one resembling Robert Moses, and the other bearing Walter O’Malley’s visage. HBO filmed a divine documentary, Ghosts of Flatbush, which framed the war between two very prideful and powerful men.
Unlike today’s protocol, which calls for billionaire owners to bleed the taxpayers to pay for their newest opulent theme park that doubles as a ballpark, O’Malley not only picked a parcel of land no one wanted – the entire block was condemned – he offered to pay every dime for its construction.
If history is to be believed, Robert Moses, the most powerful man in New York City, said no simply because he didn’t like O’Malley. And thus was the end of the Brooklyn Dodgers, who took not only the baseball team with them, but also a piece of Brooklyn’s soul and a way of life.
Then they dragged the New York Giants with them, for good measure, leaving New York City with just one baseball team. They were replaced, eventually, by the New York Mets. Just doesn’t feel the same, does it? Ironically the very land O’Malley picked for the new Ebbets Field rotted for five decades until – you can’t make this up – a sports arena was built on it. Yes, the Brooklyn Nets, not the Brooklyn Dodgers, wound up being the Borough’s only pro sports franchise. Just doesn’t feel the same, does it?
Just as it just doesn’t feel right gazing up at the Dodgers while they run and hide with NL West, possibly the NL pennant, and perhaps the 2013 World Series.
At least we can say a New Yorker got you there. It’s impossible to root against Donnie Baseball. Even if he bares blasphemous Dodger Blue.
Feel free to email me: Jakster0529@gmail.com
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