Magic Johnson says the television blackout has not hurt the Dodgers' brand, and the fans let him have it. How can he not feel their pain?
He does. But here is the thing that stings: Johnson is absolutely right.
Remember when Frank McCourt supposedly was destroying the Dodgers' brand? Fans spent hard-earned money to support the Dodgers, and McCourt used it to fund his lavish lifestyle. He dragged the team into bankruptcy. He spent less money on players than the Minnesota Twins did.
Then he sold the Dodgers, and the fans came back. The NHL called off an entire season to pick a fight with its players, and the fans came back.
The NFL abandoned Los Angeles two decades ago, and a knee-jerk chorus has wailed that pro football lost a generation here. But television ratings remain high, and the Rams, Chargers and Raiders would not be fighting to get back to L.A. if they thought the fans would not come back.
A high-ranking Dodgers official berates Times reporters whenever we ask about the blackout, complaining that we should point the finger at DirecTV for its alleged refusal to negotiate to carry SportsNet LA. But the Dodgers and Time Warner Cable bet that so many fans would say "I need my Dodgers" that DirecTV would be forced to strike a deal. That bet failed, and keeping the Dodgers off its satellite system has not hurt the DirecTV brand.
If the Dodgers thought their brand was being irreparably harmed by the blackout, they might consider lowering the asking price for SportsNet LA by shaving a $1 billion, or $2 billion, off their contract with TWC. But not now, not at the dawn of a second year of a 25-year, $8.35-billion deal that has helped to fund a powerhouse team and artfully renovated stadium.
The Dodgers are running a little scared at the moment. For a year, they have indicated SportsNet LA would get on all the L.A. airwaves as soon as government regulators approved a merger between Comcast and TWC. But that approval was supposed to come last winter. Now the approval might come this summer, or it might not come at all.
It is likely that some kids watching Mike Trout every night on FS West will grow up to be Angels fans. It is unconscionable that baseball fans are deprived of Vin Scully. It is dismaying that Dodgers fans are held hostage in a business dispute.
But loyalty to the Dodgers runs so strong and so deep here that the team can prosper despite disappearing from TV for a year or two. Nothing magic about it.
Mike Scioscia would not put up with Fernando Rodney's chronic high-wire act. Scioscia generally grants his veterans a long leash but, two games into the 2011 season, he yanked Rodney from his role as the Angels' closer.
The Seattle Mariners ought to consider the same drastic action. For the last-place Mariners, a team with World Series aspirations and the trendy pick to win the American League West, a slow start would be compounded by the weight of expectations for the first playoff appearance since 2001.
Rodney's performance has been dreadful this season. He coughed up a four-run lead to the Oakland Athletics last Sunday — the Mariners rallied to win the game — and blew a save opportunity against the Dodgers on Tuesday.
Rodney, 38, had an earned-run average of 2.85 last season, when he had 48 saves and struck out 10.3 batters per nine innings. He has an ERA of 16.20 this season, through Friday's games. He has faced 19 batters, retiring eight. He has struck out one.
The San Francisco Giants collected their World Series championship rings before Saturday's game, then resumed their current miserable season. They lead the majors in losses, and they are the only team in the National League West with a losing record.
"I wish we had a magic wand to wave right now, but we don't," Manager Bruce Bochy said.
What could be particularly frightening for the Giants: this should be a relatively softer part of their schedule. So far, the Giants have played the Arizona Diamondbacks, Colorado Rockies and San Diego Padres. But, when the Dodgers visit San Francisco on Tuesday, the Giants will start a 12-game stretch that will include nine games against either the Dodgers or the Angels.
The Kansas City Royals did not get a lot of love this spring. The Cleveland Indians were the trendy pick to win the AL Central. The Detroit Tigers were the solid pick. The Chicago White Sox were the sleeper pick.
The Royals were the defending AL champions, but the respect they got this spring reflected this consensus: They were a wild-card team last season, a team that trailed by four runs in the eighth inning of the wild-card playoff game. They were the hottest team in the league — they swept the Angels and Baltimore Orioles en route to the World Series — but maybe not the best.
But they started this season 7-0, the last unbeaten team in the major leagues. They lead the majors in runs, and their bullpen has a 0.99 ERA, through Friday.