Monday, May 16, 2011

Frank McCourt's cheapening of The Dodger Way

I have been to Dodger Stadium every year of my life. My dad took me there before I could walk, before I understood the game and when I only cared about eating a Dodger Dog and getting a chocolate malt. Whenever I step foot in Chavez Ravine, it feels like I belong there. It is the very place where Sandy Koufax destroyed any hitter that dared cross his path and where Orel Hersheiser emulated that to perfection. I know the exact spot in the parking lot where you can see brake lights as Vinny says "!" and Gibson does those fist pumps he steadfastly refused to recreate even to this day. I remember what it smelled like when Yoshinoya beef bowl had food stands all over the stadium because of the massive presence of Japanese tourists that came to see Hideo Nomo pitch. I am aware that the greatest Dodger of all time is a guy that's never put on a pair of cleats and watches the games from high above, masterfully and effortlessly painting the games with eloquently crafted words for an experience I can remember from my childhood as my father can remember from his. I know about our six championships, our record number of National League pennants and playoff appearances. I know that there are only a handful of jerseys that a player can put on, look at himself in the mirror and think - "Wow. I can't believe I'm wearing this uniform" - and the Dodgers are one of them. I know it should be an honor to run the bases at our hallowed grounds and to have Vin Scully tell the world what number you wear on your back. It is for all of these reasons and countless more that nothing that Frank McCourt tells me is relevant.

We are a joke and an embarrassment to the league. This is nothing new to our fans, but it might be to most of the country. We are the Los Angeles Dodgers and we can barely afford to pay our players. Several weeks ago, a fan wearing orange and black got beaten senseless in the parking lot, and I use the term "senseless" quite literally; Brian Stow might never feel anything ever again in his life, the length of which varies depending on the day. This might not be an issue if the mismanagement in the Dodgers' front office hadn't been so poor that we've been without a head of security for months now. For 7 summers I have been hopeful that we would be players in the free agent and trade market. We've snagged one guy in that entire time and he took us places not seen since 1988. But it wasn't enough.

McCourt argues that during his tenure the Dodgers have had one of their greatest uninterrupted string of success in our history. And that's absolutely true. We've made 4 playoffs appearances, won two playoff series and 9 playoff games, which is exactly 1 more playoff appearance, two playoff series and 9 playoff games more than the 16 years preceding McCourt's arrival. He's also argued that he successfully traded for, and retained for the sum of $45 million dollars, Manny Ramirez, and along with him, a very successful marketing campaign. There has been much ado about us being cheap when it comes to the draft, to which McCourt points to our recently signed Zach Lee, who, after one of the largest signing bonuses in history, turns out didn't really want to be quarterback at Louisiana State University. Frank very happily points out that we broke attendance records and brought in more money than we have in years, and that the name brand of the Dodgers is worth millions more than when before he got there. Check, check and check, Frank.

I look at McCourt's argument and with that short summary, it's hard to argue with the guy. For all of our bitter hatred, bile and resentment, you have to admit it everyone - he's not entirely wrong. We won two playoff series (sweeps both times, no less) and got further in October than any Dodger team that didn't have a guy named Orel, Fernando, Kirk or Tommy. We drafted Zach Lee when every "expert" said that there was almost no way he was going to sign and that our pick was merely a facade to avoid paying a young man millions of dollars. We've been able to add small pieces and tweaks and have, to McCourt's credit, retained a lot of these players. GM Ned Colletti has made some shrewd trades, along with a couple awful ones, but I can't argue with getting a guy who just hit in 30 straight games and another recently-retired player who once hit nearly .400 in a half-season. Our attendance has swelled to ridiculous proportions and if Frank were to sell the team today, he would be a very rich man. Temporarily. But to even to these extremely well made points, I can do nothing but be filled with resentment and anger.

Whenever you see a team do anything short of winning a championship, the question you have to ask yourself as a competitor, manager or fan is not "look what we did to get there", but rather "what could we have done to get us further". And the latter is exactly what I ask of the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Yes, we got to the National League Championship Series. To that I say Big. Fuckin. Deal. We are the Los Angeles Dodgers. We compete for pennants and championships with Hall of Fame players. The answer is because we win and the question is why has not a thing changed on the uniform since World War II. This is the team that Jackie Robinson has played for. Making it to the NLCS should be the expectation, not a point of defense when the community is asking you to leave. Under McCourt the standards of winning have fallen, and his excuses for our performance and accomplishments, or lack thereof, is an absolute affront to the hundreds of people that made the term "the Dodger Way" mean something. He has taken an impeccable reputation of excellence that was once built on the most sacred values of the greatest game and compromised it. For what, Frank? So you could have an excuse to prolong your bastardization of one of the pillars of Major League Baseball? Compromise is not weakness, nor is it an untenable concept by any means. But compromise in the face of hallowed principles is weakness. It is a coward's act to mask failure.

The core of Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, Rafael Furcal, Russell Martin, James Loney, Manny Ramirez, Clayton Kershaw, Chad Billingsley and Jon Broxton was absolutely fantastic. In a lifetime of forgettable October forays into Shea Stadium, Busch Stadium and the Great American Ballpark, I remember the silence of Wrigley Field after a Loney grand slam and never jumping higher after a Mark Loretta hit straight up the middle for a walk-off win. All those moments gave me great memories - but those were great squads that just didn't have enough to quite get all the way there. McCourt claims these memories as a gift from the loins of his Dodger Blue rule, but I see them as a gift from Kevin Malone's scouting department and Dan Evan's draft choices. I see Manny as player someone else paid for who we got for three guys that are now barely major leaguers. I look at these teams and remember not that just that they were fun or that they were almost there, but I frequently think - "How good would those squads have looked with Mark Teixeira in the lineup? Or with CC Sabathia holding down the front end of that rotation? Or Cliff Lee playing hero in Los Angeles rather than Arlington?" Dodger fans, McCourt's claims aren't entirely untrue, but they aren't completely his to take credit for either. The young players were not his to take credit for, save Andre Ethier. I look at those squads and think not about how talented we were, but rather, how our talent could have been augmented with an extra addition...had our owner the funds to supplement such an endeavor. I am not here to judge him on his relationship with his family or how he spends his money. That is every man's personal business. But I am here to judge how a man's management of all those things affects the value of his word and violates the trust of scores of fans.

And while I am not as upset with McCourt for this offense as I am at his other, more grievous ones, it frustrates me that our opportunity to augment what we had for the better was squandered by restrictions that never should have been there in the first place.

I am not saying that Frank McCourt is a bad person. He is not. None of his actions were done done with malicious intent. Everything that he has done has been under the weakness, arrogance and ignorance in his personality. He is a man neither strong enough to manage his personal affairs, nor run a business built on principles of excellence, respect and dignity. He cannot be trusted to enforce the ideals that so many men and women took decades working so diligently for. I don't dislike him for being feebly principled or ignorant of the weight of a torch Mr. O'Malley once held so high.

What I dislike him for most is thinking that he was man enough to be a Dodger.

1 comment:

  1. Impressive article. Let's not forget that McCourt almost became the owner of the Red Sox. Imagine how different things would have been if John Henry had taken over the Dodgers?