State Sen. Tom Hayden is on the mound. It's his first week on the roster as a candidate for mayor of Los Angeles. He gets the sign, and heeeere's the pitch:
Peter O'Malley is selling the Dodgers, and it's all Dick Riordan's fault.
A baseball addict and lifelong Dodger fan, Hayden thinks his latest round of campaign rhetoric has some zip and is heading straight over the plate. But Riordan's people say it's a hanging curve ball that won't fool anybody. O'Malley's hitting the showers because he has played long enough, they say, not because he is angry at the local management.
"Mayor Riordan committed errors which, if committed in a baseball uniform, would cause him to be benched," Hayden declared Thursday morning as he stood in the Dodger Stadium parking lot, wearing his own custom-made Dodger jersey. (Number 44, for his age and the district he represented at the time he had it made.) "The mayor's key error was asking Peter O'Malley to lead the charge for an NFL team and then . . . changing positions and dropping O'Malley from the starting lineup."
In 1995, Riordan encouraged O'Malley to look into building an NFL stadium on Dodger property in Chavez Ravine. But after the idea met with massive criticism at City Hall and in the neighborhood, Riordan joined other city leaders in endorsing the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum as the No 1. choice for pro football in the city. O'Malley later signed on to the Coliseum effort, but some believe that his frustration over the city's about-face on his stadium proposal contributed to his decision to sell the team.
Setting the tone for an opportunistic campaign in which he has daily news conferences about the hottest topics of the day, regardless of their connection to city government, Hayden on Thursday called for a city task force to ensure that the Dodgers stay in Los Angeles, stay cheap, stay nice to employees and stay helpful to the community and keep the stadium "clean and wholesome."
This from a guy who saw his first game a half-century ago in Ebbett's Field, went three times to Dodger Fantasy Camp in Vero Beach and still plays right field Sundays at the ripening age of 57 (He says he went five-for-five on his 50th birthday.)
"The blue fabric in the thread of L.A. must not be yanked out," Hayden declared. "We need to act now to save the Dodger spirit from being lost to a cutthroat mergers -and -acquisitions mentality."
Riordan campaign consultant Bill Carrick watched the pitch and proclaimed it was a mile wide. O'Malley's announcement this week that he was putting the Dodgers up for sale "had no more to do with the mayor than it had to do with Tom Hayden. It's not serious, it's not substantive and it has nothing to do with the way the city of L.A. should be governed. It's a game.
"Why don't politicians get introduced at ballgames?" he asked. "Because they invariably get booed. Mixing sports and politics is bad. It always ends up being bad."
But Hayden insists that the Dodgers are as central to the mayoral campaign as peanuts to Cracker Jacks.
The franchise, Hayden said, has taught Los Angeles--and the nation--about diversity, from Sandy Koufax to Jackie Robinson, Fernando Valenzuela to Hideo Nomo. Baseball is a "therapeutic game," he said, teaching fans about teamwork, individuality, character, failure and "the importance of inches." The O'Malley family has "created dreams and memories in a city with too few of either," he added.
"Some people might say it's silly, it's baseball. But baseball is a sport that comes out of American history," Hayden said. "We are not yet Brooklyn, but close. A livable L.A. means keeping the Dodger traditions alive."
Hayden said he supports, in concept, an idea bubbling around the City Council of trying to get the fans, or the general public, to buy the team, but he is dubious about its prospects given the estimated $300-million price tag--not to mention major league rules prohibiting such ownership. But he said the fans must be involved in the purchase process somehow.
Carrick, echoing Riordan's devotion to the free market, said it's up to O'Malley.
"The last I checked, the O'Malleys owned the team, not Senator Hayden. They get to decide who to sell the franchise to. I'm sure they'll make the decision in the best interest of the Dodgers and the community," he said.
Thinking a bit more, Carrick came up with a little pitch of his own:
Hayden is trying to force the franchise to abandon its adopted home of 38 years.
"I think this is a diabolical plot to move the Dodgers to Santa Monica," Carrick quipped. "His whole campaign for mayor, his moving from Santa Monica into L.A. This is a plot. He's crazy."
And that's the end of the first inning.