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Dodgers' season to date largely unseen, needs L.A. mayor on the scene

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Bill Plaschke: Dodgers' TV dispute has gone on far too long, L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti should intervene

The baseball season has reached its traditional halfway point, and Dodgers fans continue to lead the league in strikeouts.

While caught in the crossfire between Mis-DirecTV and Sports-Nyet LA, is there anything they haven't missed?

Josh Beckett became baseball's best comeback story by pitching a no-hitter? Missed it. Clayton Kershaw pitched one of the best games in baseball history with a no-hitter that included 15 strikeouts and no walks? Missed it. Kershaw completed a 41-inning scoreless streak that was the fifth longest in the expansion era? Missed it.

Dee Gordon has emerged as an All-Star second baseman, yet it will require an actual appearance in the All-Star game for most Dodgers fans to watch him play. Yasiel Puig has reportedly been growing up before our very eyes, which makes it an even bigger shame that those eyes have been wrapped in a blindfold of greed.

The Dodgers have had two walk-off wins and won 13 games that were tied in the eighth inning or later, yet have done most of it in the dark. The Dodgers are in first place, and yet the 70% of their fans who have been denied access to their televised games are the last to know.

The loss of touch has been felt from the most magnificent of Dodgers events to the most mundane of Dodgers roster moves. There is a reserve infielder on their roster who has played in 33 games, with 84 plate appearances, 42 assists and 19 putouts. This guy has played everywhere, done everything, yet how many of you would recognize Miguel Rojas?

The Dodgers have gone through entire life cycles while their fans have been placed into an involuntary state of Rip Van Winkle. Kershaw was cleanshaven, then bearded, and is now bare again. The outfield has been set, then juggled, then set again. Don Mattingly was brilliant, then dumb, then smart again.

Nowhere is the absence of Dodgers history more painfully felt than in the virtual silencing of its most important voice. As with every recent season, this could be the final run for Vin Scully, the most trusted and revered sports figure in this city's history. Yet now that his words are needed most, they are heard the least. He is still audible during the first three innings on KLAC-570 radio, but for the rest of the game he is speaking on a television network that for many fans really doesn't exist.

What if Scully retires this fall and millions of Dodgers fans never had a chance to hear him say goodbye? That could officially make this television debacle the biggest scandal in franchise history, even more hurtful than the misdeeds of Frank McCourt. The perception of the new Dodgers ownership group — from Mark Walter to Stan Kasten to even Magic Johnson — would be tainted forever. They claimed they wanted to win at any price, but who knew that price would be the ability to watch them win?

The feud reached another ridiculous level Sunday when SportsNet LA took out a full-page ad in this newspaper to rip DirecTV, as if Dodgers fans have any interest in taking sides with either faceless company. Fans just want their Dodgers on TV, and they are going to ultimately hold the Dodgers responsible for an unnecessary and unworkable money grab from reckless SportsNet LA, which now has to charge untenable prices to DirecTV and other pay-TV operators to make this work.

As it is, the Dodgers are averaging a 0.74 local television rating, which amounts to about 40,000 homes, which is the second-lowest in baseball. It's half that of the Angels.

This is a mess of historic proportions, and though there might be only a slim chance at a solution before the end of the season, it's a chance that one man in this town has to take.

Flashback to the spring of 2003, when, after nearly 3 million cable subscribers spent a year without access to televised New York Yankees games, the mayor of New York brokered a deal between the YES Network and Cablevision at his townhouse.

"Baseball is not only America's pastime, it is a New York City tradition, and all of its fans should be able to watch their favorite team play," Michael Bloomberg said at the time.

Eric Garcetti, it's your turn. In recent months, the young Los Angeles mayor has publicly reveled with Clippers fans over the ouster of owner Donald Sterling and joyfully cursed in front of Kings fans while celebrating their Stanley Cup championship. Now he needs to stand up for his city's most enduring sports treasure and publicly fight to bring the Dodgers back to their fans.

This is about Garcetti summoning the squabbling parties into a room and using every bit of political muscle to remind them they are messing with a public trust, a valuable part of the community that should be available to everyone in the community. Instead of being about water, electricity or education, this is about family and tradition and connection. The local government has embraced and supported the Dodgers' presence here from the moment officials first met with that Brooklyn visionary named Walter O'Malley, so Garcetti's intervention would be keeping with tradition.

No, the mayor doesn't have much juice here. He has no power over local cable companies, he has no influence in private business disagreements, and, actually, nearly his entire Los Angeles constituency has access to Time Warner Cable and thus can sign up with the pay-TV operator and receive SportsNet LA.

So this wouldn't be about votes. It would be about leadership. It would be about publicly acknowledging the lost connection between a civic asset and its millions of followers, then attempting to shove or shame someone into restoring it.

"We understand the parties are currently talking, and we urge them to put the fans first and make a deal so all Dodgers fans will be able to watch their first-place team make a run for the pennant," Garcetti spokesman Jeff Millman said.

Even if Garcetti couldn't coax a deal, his attempt would long be remembered. At this point, with a season full of lost baseball games and a potential farewell tour for Scully in doubt, somebody needs to fight for access to the Dodgers, especially with the Dodgers so clearly unwilling to do anything but throw up their hands and count their money.

And what if it did work? What if, at the beginning of the September pennant race, Garcetti emerged on the steps of City Hall and announced he had mediated a settlement that would return the Dodgers to their people?

It would be the biggest achievement of Garcetti's yearlong tenure. And, oh yeah, it would make for great television.

Follow Bill Plaschke on Twitter @billplaschke

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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