The Coliseum. It reminds you of the Roman Empire. The monstrous A’s are the Roman Legion, the Dodgers the heretic minority, their dugout a catacomb of believers.
Fans here are impatient to begin the slaughter of the Dodger rabble. While waiting, they amuse themselves by playing Dot-ball, an automated version of a chariot race on a gigantic screen.
Before the third game, my son Troy, and I, wearing our brightest Dodger blue, strolled through the 50,000 people who looked like a St. Paddie’s Day parade in New York. Most stared amusedly. One woman painted completely green and wearing a witch’s hat started exercising behind me, saying she was Jane Fonda.
I ducked into the men’s room to find myself the only Dodger fan among five zillion green men. I stood there smiling, hoping for the protection of the Great Dodger, as those around me chanted Dodger insults in thin-lipped unison. They could have had the courtesy to set aside a private blue bathroom.
By the decisive fourth game, the A’s fans, like any people whose claimed superiority is threatened, were gnashing their teeth over the wacko Dodger cult. They questioned me: How to explain the manic Mickey Hatcher, who, like aging catcher Rick Dempsey, volunteered for the team? Is Orel Hershiser really Wayne Gretzky? Did I think Lasorda started Dukakis’ slide in the polls when he ate pasta with Bush?
They wouldn’t buy “Dodger blue” as a sufficient answer. So I asked California’s premier pollster, Mervyn Field, a Northern Californian, to explain Oakland’s frustration.
“When I first moved to the Bay Area from the East in the ‘50s,” he said, “I thought Oakland was like Brooklyn. But, in fact, Brooklyn had a greater identity. Oakland is still trying to find its place. The loss of the Raiders to L.A. still is a deep hurt, a tragedy. Loyal fans packed the Coliseum for them, and still the Raiders left. Now you have the A’s at least . . . .”
Besides fearing that Los Angeles will steal off with another Oakland dream, however, “there’s a mood of apprehension that the A’s might not produce,” he said. “It’s part of a Northern California feeling that the South is becoming pre-eminent, that the Bay Area is sliding.”
Whether Hershiser and Jose Canseco know it, they carry heavier burdens than hitting the corner or driving an outside pitch. The fate of whole cities, for example. No wonder the men’s room was tense.
But what is this Dodger identity? Is it really a reflection of Southern Californa’s booming growth? Then why hasn’t it infected the Raiders? Or, until they acquired Gretzky, the Kings?
Some of it is old-time Los Angeles boosterism. The spirit that could imagine turning an arid desert into a throbbing urban wasteland lives in Tommy Lasorda. Northern no-growthers find him tasteless. “At least we have clean air here,” one green-and-yellow yuppie yelled at me from the third deck.
There is also the cult of teamwork--the Little Blue Wrecking Crew of Believers rises to every occasion. Many Oakland citizens are put off by fundamentalist shouts of “Yes!” and “I believe!” from the Dodger dugout and accuse Lasorda of mind control.
Finally, the open dynamism of Southern California, and that of the 1988 Dodgers, comes from infusions of immigrants. At this decade’s beginning, it was a kid from a Mexican village. Not long after, a Dominican slugger. Now the energy is from Detroit.
I know. I grew up in the Motor City with the Tigers. A city where people shoveled their own coal and sidewalks and nobody had gardeners. Where everyone’s father, and many of our mothers, worked in auto factories, not real estate offices or salad bars. Where if someone said “Have a nice day” they were a suspected pervert.
Relating to Gibby
Kirk Gibson is from Detroit. When Gibby was dealt to Los Angeles last year, Tigers’ owner Tom Monahan, a pizza entrepreneur who bought the team for sport, said he never liked his appearance anyway. The scuzzy haircut, the unshaven face.
But those were the features that most intrigued Troy and me when we watched him from the right field stands in Detroit’s 1984 World Series victories. He pawed the earth in right. He flailed at pitches until he homered. His high-fives would break any mortal hand. He was not laid-back; he was a running back.
When the Tigers won the Series, their fans burned several police cars and whatever else was left of the inner city. Responding to the shock of polite society, columnists urged that rioters only target foreign-made cars.
I worried that L.A. would mellow out Gibby. We would be his Delilah Land. When I first saw him at a Dodger dinner, I was reassured that his collar didn’t quite fit. When he went crazy in spring training, that spelled relief.
You can take Gibson out of Detroit, but you can’t take the Detroit out of Gibson. He’s making it OK not to shave, OK to take out a little second baseman and not feel guilty. A good role model for my son who might think the only tough guys left are the Dominicans. Gibson is good news, in short, for those who worry about wimpiness in L.A.
His energy even has Dodger fans beginning to cheer in the first inning; many are trying to stay until the ninth.
When Gibby hobbled up to hit on Saturday night, my son and I joined in a mass howling that re-created primal memories I never expected to experience again until heaven. He gave us a fierce determination this city has lacked, and we gave it back. When he hit that curve ball out, it sailed on the wind of our voices.
My son, and every kid around me, cried as they roared. My congressman, Mel Levine, was shrieking a full explanation of the happenings to his son Jake, 4, who smiled at the volcanic orgy around him. I knew he’d grow up to be a better human being.
I expect Gibson to soften. Already after games he eats pies, I’m told. That’s OK, we all go through changes.
But it’s a tough, competitive world out there. As I saw in Oakland, other empires threaten to take away what we have in L.A. To survive, we in L.A. need a little less mellow and a little more bellow. That’s the ticket.