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The Dodger class and tradition are slipping away

2-06-01

The Dodgers were known as a classy National League team with a long rich tradition before 1998 when the Fox Corporation took over the team’s ownership. Since then, the Dodgers’ class has been eroding, and their proud tradition is becoming forgotten. Though Fox Corporation and the Dodger organization have taken steps to reestablish their class and tradition, these steps have not worked. The Dodgers have become the joke of baseball, and they must do some things to change their image.

From the early 1950s to March, 1998, the O’Malley family owned the Dodgers. During this period the Dodgers had a few scandals, but mostly they were considered classy. The players considered themselves as a family though the faces changed. Several times during this period the Dodger organization was featured in Fortune as one of America’s one hundred best run companies. Since 1954 the O’Malleys had only three managers, and two retired. During this period the Dodgers moved from Brooklyn to Los Angeles, built Dodger Stadium which still appears modern, tried to expand baseball to foreign lands, and introduced players from other countries to the major leagues. The O’Malleys tried to treat their players and ex-players fairly.

Baseball economics have changed making it impossible for one family to own a major league team. Peter O’Malley, the president of the Dodgers, sold the team and gave up the team’s operations to Fox Corporation in March, 1998. The O’Malley family era in baseball ended.

Before the Fox Corporation took over the running of the Dodgers, Mike Piazza, the Dodger all-star catcher, had expressed a desire to discuss a contract extension before spring training started. When Fox took over the Dodgers, they started discussing an extension with Piazza, but the negotiations did not go well. Because Piazza found the contract negotiations a distraction, he called off the negotiations until the 1998 season ended. Fox got mad and were scared that they could not resign him. Many Dodger fans had been proud of the Dodger management for not participating in the Florida Marlins’ fire sale. This pride ended when Chase Carey, who was not associated with baseball, sent Piazza and extremely popular Todd Zeile to the Marlins for Bobby Bonilla, Jim Eisenreich, Charles Johnson, Gary Sheffield, and a minor league pitcher. Though most fans were furious about the trade, they would have understood if the Dodgers did not give Kevin Brown exactly what Piazza asked for. After Piazza toiled in the Dodger organization since 1988, it seemed Piazza deserved that kind of money from the Dodgers more than Brown, a free agent who was looking for the highest salary. Fox and the Dodgers did not understand that.

The new Dodgers from the Marlins came to Los Angeles bragging about their accomplishments. They said now they were Dodgers that the Dodgers would develop a winning attitude enabling them to go to the world series. Bragging is not classy and caused resentment from their teammates and fans. When Bobby Bonilla proved he could not do the third base job satisfactorily, the Dodgers naturally sat him on the bench. Then Bonilla criticized the Dodgers in the media for making him play injured and also took shots at Tommy Lasorda. When the Dodgers hired Davey Johnson as their manager, Bonilla said he would not play for Johnson. Soon the Dodgers traded Bonilla.

During the 1998 and 1999 off season the Dodgers’ new general manager Kevin Malone made several moves to improve the Dodgers. Just before the 1999 spring training started, Malone made several unclassy comments in the media. He said he was a new sheriff in the town. He predicted the Dodgers would meet the New York Yankees in the World Series. Though Malone was new and zealous about his job, he sounded brassy as though he was bragging about his accomplishments. No general manager should make predictions about the World Series. Malone’s prediction made every team want to defeat the Dodgers more than normal, and traditionally every team rose to the occasion when the teams played the Dodgers. Furthermore, his prediction put undue pressure on the players. When the Dodgers failed to meet those lofty expectations, the media and the fans labeled the Dodgers underachieving. The media and many fans thought Malone was a loud mouth braggart, which made him unpopular.

During the 1999 season many Dodgers complained in the media about how Davey Johnson used them while others complained about the lack of effort and enthusiasm of teammates Because the Dodgers failed to meet lofty expectations, the Dodger management, players, and fans found the 1999 season frustrating. However, complaining in the media should not be tolerated. Though Johnson was a poor communicator, the players should have gone to Johnson and forced him to explain to them what their roles were. In August the Dodger organization experienced embarrassment when Raul Mondesi, who was traded after the 1999 season, aimed a profanity-laced tirade toward Johnson and Malone. This behavior by the players caused the Dodgers to be viewed as an unclassy team.

Over the winter of 1999 and 2000 the Dodgers made several moves to improve their image, but this did not help much. Fox Corporation appointed Bob Daly, a long time Dodger fan, as the Dodger CEO in hopes that he would understand Dodger tradition. The Dodgers obtained Shawn Green, an upstanding citizen, for Raul Mondesi. The Dodgers established a new rule if a Dodger does not want to be a Dodger, he will be traded or released. This new rule helped.

During the 2000 season the Dodgers still had things that ate away the Dodger class and tradition. Though fewer players complained in the media, some players still complained. Bob Daly, Bob Graziano, and Kevin Malone started criticizing Johnson’s managing style in the newspapers. After Daly and Graziano realized that they were undermining Johnson’s authority, they quit criticizing Johnson until the season ended, but Malone continued. This nauseated many Dodger fans. Everybody knew Johnson would be fired after the season ended.

Under the O’Malley family, the Dodgers promoted their minor leaguers, but Fox has not done this. These promotions of promising minor leaguers helped to keep the O’Malley payroll down while maintaining a talented and exciting team. These promoted minor leaguers were familiar with the Dodger way of playing baseball and had loyalty to the organization. Although many baseball people say the Dodger minor league system has been depleted, some minor leaguers have shown promise during spring training and/or September.

Paul LoDuca was the Dodgers’ primary backup catcher in 1999 and did a good job in the second half when he batted .339. He had an excellent spring training in 2000, but Kevin Malone and Davey Johnson elected to go with the experience of Chad Kreuter and sent LoDuca to the minor leagues where he had proven himself at every level. When Tony Mota had the highest batting average during last year’s spring training, the Dodgers did not consider promoting him because they had too many experienced outfielders. This year the Dodgers signed Ramon Martinez to compete with Eric Gagne and Luke Prokopec for the fifth spot in the starting rotation. Both Gagne and Prokopec proved they belonged in the major leagues last September, but Martinez will make multi-millions in 2001. Unless Gagne or Prokopec pitches unbelievably in spring training 2001, Martinez will be the Dodgers’ fifth starter. The Dodgers must quit signing veterans who prevent the advancement of young players.

Since Fox took over the Dodgers, Dodger Stadium has become commercialized. Peter O’Malley refused to sell space in Dodger Stadium for advertising. Though selling stadium space for advertising is necesary in today’s baseball economics, Fox has gone overboard. Ads are behind home plate and on each foul line seating. A fan cannot watch a game without noticing those ads. Those ads are distracting. At least Fox has not sold the name of Dodger Stadium, and many are scared Fox will.

In the past the Dodgers had enjoyable radio and television ads, but in 2000 they had stupid ads that might have run off possible fans. In the past the Dodgers used exciting scenes from games to advertise. These commercials were popular and effective. In 2000 the Dodgers hired a man to act like a crazy Dodger fan. He did the wave alone on a street bench, chased after a baseball in LAX, hung up strikeout signs in the mall, and sang “Take Me Out to the Old Ball Game” in an office. What fan wants to attend or take his/her family to a Dodger game with a mentally imbalanced person doing advertising for the Dodgers. To restore popularity and class, the Dodgers need better commercials.

Many Dodger fans have also shown a lack of class during this period. They criticized the play of the Dodgers and complained about their failure to reach the playoffs. They forget the Chicago Cubs have not gone to the World Series since 1945, and the Dodgers were world champions in 1988. Dodger fans should be patient and supportive of their team.

This off season the Dodgers have tried to make moves to improve their image. One of Jim Tracy’s strengths is good communication with his players, and hopefully these players will have fewer complaints. Hopefully fans will be more supportive of the Dodgers and less judgmental of them.

© Sarah D. Morris

 

 

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