When the Lakers collapsed in ignominy last spring, Tom Anderson decided to strip the gold-and-purple paint and banners that had made his Echo Park bungalow the city's unofficial Laker house.
"My thinking was the Lakers were doomed," Anderson said. "It needed a paint job anyway."
What Anderson did next violated the boundaries of even the most fanatical hometown sports nut. With much scraping and sanding, and at a cost of several thousand dollars, the house, like Cinderella's dress, suddenly reappeared in Dodger blue and white. The Dodger banner was tough to come by, but Anderson found it on EBay.
"I was going to do the house number in red, like the players' numbers, but it didn't go with the style of the house," Anderson said.
Anderson had hoped the new paint job would summon the same juju that the old one conjured for the Lakers, who racked up two championships during the house's purple-and-gold regime. But the Dodgers are ending their season in what, for longtime fans, is an all-too-familiar late-season swoon, no less a sucker punch for its familiarity.
Anderson, however, has no regrets, and no plans for a new color scheme. Rather, his hopes are soaring for the next season and beyond.
"It's been really painful watching the Dodgers," he acknowledged. "But last year was very confusing. We've got a superstar team. It's just got to gel together."
As we baseball faithful face the dark sunset of what so recently were verdant dreams of our first championship since 1988 — 24 years ago — it is good to spend a little time with Anderson. He's a living refutation of the stereotypical weak-kneed, take-it-or-leave-it Los Angeles sports fan.
Anderson's roots here run deep. He grew up in San Diego, Glendora and L.A., at times at the 1922 wooden cottage built by his Norwegian immigrant grandfather, a glazier who did all the zinc-framed windows himself. The hilltop house has an alpine vista of the downtown skyline, and it is just three hills over from Chavez Ravine.
"As a child, I used to scalp tickets, make just enough for hot dogs and peanuts, and sit behind home plate with the players' wives," he said.
Anderson worked security for the Dodgers for 10 years, including the 1981 strike-shortened season, which ended with an L.A. World Series title. Yankee fans had mobbed the team after a victory on the home field. When the Dodgers returned the favor at Chavez Ravine, Anderson and a partner were asked to escort Fernando Valenzuela from the stadium.
"Pow — that was an adrenaline rush," Anderson remembered. "Our fans were cool, nobody went on the field, but as we walked out, a sea of cameras parted."
Native Angeleno sports buffs like Anderson are no different from Boston and New York fans. Sure, fans shoot out of Dodger Stadium in the seventh inning, or text through Lakers and Clippers games. But how many of them are transplants from Ohio? And how many fans in Pittsburgh have to drive as far as Westlake Village or Walnut when the game is over? The die-hard fans are here, trust me. They're just diluted.
Which brings us to Farmers Field, the publicly subsidized football stadium that city fathers and mothers are pushing in order to bring the NFL back to the Los Angeles. Under an agreement with AEG, the current owner, the city would issue up to $268 million in public debt to rebuild a piece of the Convention Center that would be removed to make way for the project. AEG is supposed to pay off the debt with stadium revenues, and to make up any shortfall with its own money. Except now AEG is on the auction block.
I see no need to subsidize an NFL stadium, or to bring back professional football at all. With the Kings, Dodgers, Lakers, Sparks, UCLA and USC — and myriad other local sports and teams — intense fans like Anderson have sports enough to keep them busy all year. Besides, who needs more than Dodger Stadium on a summer night, when the dun-colored hills of Elysian Park turn amber, and the palm trees lean into the breeze?
However, I know I'm odd man out on this one. Anderson, who was wearing a Raiders T-shirt during our conversation, wants to see the Oakland team back in L.A.
But if we're going to build a stadium, let's make sure we don't get taken.
This month, I went to Irish American heritage night at AT&T Park in San Francisco, the first privately built ballpark since Dodger Stadium in 1962. It's obviously doing great without handouts. With its throwback design and glimpses of the Bay Bridge riding the ruffled sea, it's almost as stunning as ours. And, OK, the Giants are winning, but their stadium has been packed all year.
As my colleague Steve Lopez pointed out Sunday, the city added gazillions to AEG owner Phil Anschutz's take in the deal by laying the groundwork for the NFL's triumphant return. But there are enough L.A. fans like Anderson to support a new private sports venture, if one is needed. As the bargain shifts to a new partner, politicians should level with us about the real risks and benefits of the project.
Anderson said he is firm on one thing: Even if the Raiders return, there will be no black and silver trim on his house. Too crazy, he said.
But not as crazy as giving a second developer the benefit of taxpayer dollars for no real reason.