I was 9 years old when the Dodgers moved from Brooklyn to L.A. in 1958. The day that my dad took my brothers and me to see them play a game at the Coliseum was a moment that will live in my memory forever.
When we went through the ticket window and that beautiful field came into view, my love of baseball that started five years earlier took a quantum leap forward.
I acquired a whole new pantheon of heroes — Gil Hodges, Duke Snyder, Maury Wills, Frank Howard, Wally Moon (I know some of you reading this can fill in that roster) — and I would be a loyal, devoted fan for the next ___ years. I leave that blank because I’m not sure just when it was that my unconditional love for professional baseball began to fade.
Maybe it was just getting older that took away some of that early magic. I was once enamored of a team and of players that were true artists in the mind of a young boy who could spend all day catching and throwing and batting a ball and emulating their styles of play.
The boys in blue came into my life and were my obsession from spring training, through long summer days and finally October when playoffs began. I think back to the many hours I spent throwing a ball against a brick wall with a strike zone marked out and a side-arm delivery just like Don Drysdale. There were the thousands of rocks I tossed into the air and batted out of an imaginary ball park after battling Juan Marichal of the Giants to a full count.
I was a Dodger fan for life, and nothing would ever shake my loyalty for the club. Or so I believed. My disillusionment with professional baseball, in general, coincided with a growing trend starting in the ’80s that saw the greed of management and players tainting our beloved pastime.
The salary disputes and free agency, the scandals and drug-induced performances, and the increasing number of players whose loyalty and love of the game was being surpassed by their egos and their astronomical salaries — all of it changing a pure sport into a money-grubbing business.
When the O’Malleys sold the club to Rupert Murdoch in 1998, it was a dark day for the Dodgers, but it was also a logical sequence to the corporatization of baseball. Six years later, the fall from grace was complete with the McCourts taking ownership of the team, driving it further into debt and turning a once-pristine ballpark into a crass commercial venture.
With profits funneling into fewer grasping hands and the image of a once-proud franchise sinking lower each year under ownership that has shown nothing but contempt for that image, the Los Angeles Dodgers have become a cheap imitation of their former selves.
Chavez Ravine was once the crown jewel of baseball stadiums, with the only visible corporate logo being two orange globes on poles with 76 (Union Oil) written on them. Nowadays fans are assaulted (there’s no other word for it) by ubiquitous electronic signs throughout the stadium hawking goods and services between and during innings, bringing revenue to the owners, but detracting substantially from the game that people came to see: fans fleeced by $15 parking fees and exorbitant concession prices, stories of the new owner living a lavish lifestyle and paying no income taxes — is it any wonder that attendance at Dodger games has sunk to new lows?
The recent beating of a Giants fan after a game at Dodger Stadium has focused national attention on the unruly, in this case felonious, behavior of people who attend pro sports venues. The two cretins who did the beating in L.A. were also, by all accounts, drunk, and so the call has gone out to ban the sale of alcohol from Dodger Stadium.
That gets a great big “fat chance,” given that a cup of beer costs $8 with the huge margin of profit going directly to management. That profit takes precedence over all things by today’s standards, even if it has spawned a new generation of drunk, disorderly and belligerent patrons.
I’ll content myself with memories of supreme athletes that once upon a time put their love of the game above all else. I’ll try to remember a team that was once run by owners who cultivated the loyalty of fans rather than exploiting it, and who managed to win the hearts and undying devotion of 9-year-old boys just like me.
DAN KIMBER taught in the Glendale Unified School District for more than 30 years. He may be reached at DKimb8@sbcglobal.net.