Not a day goes by where I don't read another article noting the shrinking crowds at Dodger stadium or another complication in the (hopefully) inevitable exhumation of Frank McCourt as despot in Chavez Ravine. The team is under .500, with almost no hope of making the postseason. Their top prospect is a 150 pound shortstop and the organization ranks amongst the worst in the game's farm systems. Their best player can leave town in a year, and with a 180 million dollar contract awaiting him in such stable pastures of New York, Boston, Washington, Anaheim or Texas. It's hard to believe that his days in Dodger blue are just beginning.
But this isn't another post detailing the woes and agony of being a Dodger fan. I live that every day of my life. Everything I read will not allow me to escape our misfortune, and I am well aware that even with this seemingly unbelievable $1.2 billion dollar offer on the table, that the Dodgers' future will be any less murky in a year than it is presently. Many friends of mine have asked "anyone but Frank McCourt", but then again, weren't we all crying out "anyone but Fox" 10 years ago? The optimist in me hopes for the best, but the poor man's Jayson Stark in me speaks otherwise.
With every deposition and Juan Uribe contract in the periphery, I have somehow grabbed some straws of positivity in the current situation. I have found two kernels of goodness in an otherwise rotten crop. There is no NBA. I have to do something with my life.
The Dodgers currently have 66 - 70 record. They are four games under .500 and 11.5 games out of first place. They are not a good baseball team. But still, here I am proud of this team. Actually; I'm thrilled with this team. Now why would I, who spouts so often rants detailing my love of winning and perfection, give anything besides disgust and bile towards a subpar professional team?
Let's take a look at the team as currently constructed. According to baseball-reference.com, here is the most recurring Dodgers' lineup in 2011:
SS Jamey Carroll - 127 games
2B Aaron Miles - 114 games
RF Andre Ethier - 131 games
CF Matt Kemp - 136 games
C Rod Barajas - 81 games
1B James Loney - 134 games
3B Juan Uribe - 77 games
LF Tony Gwynn, Jr. - 121 games
James Loney is having the most miserable season of his career, with a .709 OPS, 9 homers and 48 RBIs, to go along with a .279 batting average (his numbers have really only been saved by a scorching August, in which Big Game James hit .367, with a 1.066OPS). We're tragically close to renaming this the Uribe Line, as the Dodgers $21 million dollar free agent has come on to hit .204. Aaron Miles hasn't played in more than 79 games since 2008. Jamey Carroll is 37 years old and is on track to break career highs in games played, hits and at-bats. Rod Barajas has been engaged in a season-long position battle for catcher with Dioner Navarro, who was recently cut for batting .193, having more strikeouts than hits and being fat and ugly (I'm joking about that last part, but it couldn't have helped). I'd rather have Tony Gwynn in left field with his San Diego State University uniform on than his disgraceful son.
The pitching staff isn't much better. Their best starter is 22 years old and their closer has played in 33 professional baseball games, all of which have been in 2011. Hiroki Kuroda is the best 11-14 pitcher you've ever seen in your life with a 3.03 ERA and fantastic 2.89 strikeout to walk ratio. Our best young pitching prospect Rubby de la Rosa just had Tommy John surgery. Jon Garland had a reputation as a workhorse, but unfortunately for the Dodgers, that horse turned out to be Barbaro (too soon?). Turns out that Jonathan Broxton actually saw Matt Stairs every time he closed his eyes. Mike Macdougal wormed his way onto another team, and is unsurprisingly is near the team leaders hits given up per nine.
Every night they play, they are understaffed, undermanned and certainly outmatched. They rank towards the bottom of the majors in runs scored, homers and OPS. The lineup is littered with guys who would and rightfully be considered utility players on most other teams. The relief corp is unreliable and untested. The team had three major league free agent signings to supplement a 82-win team from 2010, and went into 2011 satisfied with Jay Gibbons, Tony Gwynn, Jr. and Marcus Thames as its left field platoon. No one besides the most stubborn of Dodger faithful expected anything from this team, and rightfully so.
So why do I have such affection for them? Because this team should lose 90 games, possibly 100. They are on track to finish with around 82. They win because the pitching staff has collectively one of the best ERAs in the league, mostly a product of Clayton Kershaw's brilliance and Kuroda's professionalism. They win because Matt Kemp should be the MVP and the aforementioned Kershaw should be the Cy Young winner. They win because every player is maxing out their ability, ignoring the 17 fans in attendance and acting like they are getting paid to play baseball. With one of the biggest news stories in the history of major league baseball lording over them, this team has somehow found a way to fight through the static and keep themselves focused on the game. Not to belabor and old point, but can you imagine how good this team would be if Jayson Werth was plan A rather than Jay Gibbons? Or if Cliff Lee was the target instead of Jon Garland? I have to stop; this is bad for my heart.
Of course the base of this argument is that this is a team and a franchise that should always be expected to play better than average; thus bringing up my second kernel of hope.
If the Brewers, the Rangers or the Blue Jays finish with a very middling record like the Dodgers currently have, that is par for the course. No one bats an eye. But the Dodgers? No. As I've said before, this is a franchise that I expect to contend every year not just for the pennant, but for the title.
But like all any commodity that's lost its luster, the Dodgers, in my eyes, have been greatly ignored for years as a team that's supposed to be in the echelon of the Yankees, Red Sox, Angels, Cardinals and Braves as a team that contends every single season. In the fog of countless AL East battles for the pennant, umpteen Braves playoff berths in umpteen years and the Angels with the best management in sports behind them, people have forgotten that the Dodgers are supposed to be one of those teams. They have forgotten that they have the most National League pennants and six world titles. The fact that this is the premiere (yes, I said it) franchise in the National League, and outside of New York, the most important team in the majors, has been lost amidst 23 trophy-less seasons. Frank McCourt's besmirching of the Dodger name and reputation have oddly, ironically and simultaneously restored it.
Everyone's attention, good or bad, is on the Dodgers again, their tradition and legacy. Countless writer and pundits have condemned McCourt, doing so by focusing on the past glory of a the team. Commissioner Selig seems to sum up my sentiments perfectly, calling the Dodgers a "crown jewel of major league baseball", but doing so in a in a press release decrying Frank McCourt. After years of their legacy being slowly broken down by poor play and mismanagement, it took bankruptcy court and a divorce for people to remember why any of these events matter in the first place. If the Brewers suffer through this fiasco it's a news story. When it happens to the Dodgers, it's a tragedy.
So at the end of the day, I suppose we have three things to thank Frank for. Thank you for lowering my expectations of a team that has somehow fought through the glass ceilings you put into place and has become a respectable baseball squad. Thank you for reminding me where my expectations are in the first place, and why they should be there. And thank you for reminding everyone else the very same things.
Now please leave.