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Dodgers-Angels World Series would be a downright neighborly first

Dodgers-Angels World Series would be a downright neighborly first
Angels baserunner Mike Trout, left, shares a laugh with Dodgers right fielder Matt Kemp after being called out on a double play during the first inning of a game on Aug. 5. (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

The imaginary Freeway begins north of Dodger Stadium, in Pasadena, in the grassy knolls and cluttered corners around Pepper Street where Jackie Robinson learned to play a game he would forever change.

The Freeway, with a Hall of Fame legacy, travels south into central Los Angeles, to Fremont High, where 25 major leaguers, including Bobby Doerr, once played, then down the road to Locke High, home of Eddie Murray and Ozzie Smith.

The Freeway continues south into Compton, home of Duke Snider, then travels southeast into Orange County, through the Fullerton footprints of Walter Johnson and Gary Carter, before finally stopping near Angel Stadium in Anaheim.

It stretches 30 miles, connecting two powerful major-league franchises with miles of memorable moments.

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Yet there is one thing that has never happened.

In the previous 53 seasons since the Angels joined the Dodgers here in 1961, they have never played each other in a World Series that would be wildly energizing and deeply polarizing.

This fall, it could finally be different. This time, the Freeway has never been paved so smoothly. On Thursday, for the first time, both teams will enter the postseason as favorites to win their respective league championships.

Said Dodgers Hall of Famer Tom Lasorda: "We've been waiting a long time for it, but if there's ever a year it could happen, this could be that year."

Said Angels icon Tim Salmon: "It would be the coolest thing ever."

The Dodgers have won five world championships in Los Angeles, the Angels have won one. They have both been in the postseason at the same time three times, and each time both lost before reaching the World Series. For both to win two different playoff series in the next three weeks to set up a classic fall meeting would require equal bits of luck and destiny, but, for once, the foundations are there.

The Angels finished the season with the best record in baseball. The Dodgers finished with the best lineup in baseball.

The Angels have the likely American League most valuable player in outfielder Mike Trout. The Dodgers have the National League's likely MVP and Cy Young Award winner in pitcher Clayton Kershaw.

The Angels have baseball's active career runs-batted-in leader in first baseman Albert Pujols. The Dodgers have this year's major-league RBIs leader in first baseman Adrian Gonzalez.

It would be a clash not only of titans, but of cultures, the aura of two organizations being as different as a Rally Monkey and a Dodger Dog.

Despite having baseball's sixth-highest payroll, the Angels come across with old-fashioned charm, playing in a sparkling clean and easily accessible stadium, with polite fans, and homegrown stars such as pitcher Jered Weaver, who once agreed to accept less money for a chance to stay home.

"The Angels are family friendly, they relate to the community, they're sort of an everyman's team," said Salmon, who spent his entire 15-year career as an Angels outfielder and is now part of their broadcast team.

The Dodgers are a nightly maelstrom of parking lot jams, clubhouse drama, the highest payroll in sports history and filled with plenty of diamond glamour such as outfielder Yasiel Puig, who shows up late one minute and hits a title-clinching homer the next.

"There's not only more Dodgers fans in Southern California, but more Dodgers fans than any other team anywhere in the world!" Lasorda said.

The fan intensity is statistically similar — both teams filled about 84% of their available seats this season, with the Dodgers leading baseball in attendance while the Angels finished fifth only because they play in a smaller stadium.

But those fans generally exist in different universes. Separated by a geographical force that's not there in most of this town's other rivalries, Dodgers and Angels fans might as well be in different states. They rarely brush shoulders like USC and UCLA fans. They rarely heckle each other like Lakers and Clippers fans.

It's as simple as, most Dodgers fans live in Los Angeles County, most Angels fans live in Orange County, and even Angels owner Arte Moreno's grab of the Los Angeles name in 2005 — they are officially known as "The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim" — can't change those truths.

Said Lasorda: "The Angels are our neighbors, I never wish them bad luck."

Said Salmon: "Each team has their own traditions, their own communities, two separate entities, that's why it would be so great if they finally got together."

The history of the franchises, however, are deliciously intertwined, dating back to their starts. In some ways neither team could have been created without the other.

Nearly 50 years before Moreno decided to take the Dodgers' city name, the then Brooklyn Dodgers actually swallowed the Angels whole, as owner Walter O'Malley purchased the minor-league Los Angeles Angels of the Pacific Coast League in 1957 to gain exclusive major-league territorial rights that would allow him to move the Dodgers here a year later.

The Dodgers' interlocking LA logo? It is actually a modified version of the old Los Angeles Angels logo. When Gene Autry was given an expansion team in 1961 and wanted to call it the Angels? He had to buy the name from O'Malley for $350,000. The Angels spent four seasons playing in Dodger Stadium before moving to Anaheim, but Autry was too proud to feel like O'Malley's tenant, so his club referred to it only as Chavez Ravine.

Since then, the Angels have exacted much revenge, beginning in the winter of 1999, when they made a stunning hire of a former Dodgers great who had been rudely discarded by his beloved team. His name was Mike Scioscia, and 15 years later he has become the greatest manager in Angels history with 1,331 wins, six West Division titles and one World Series championship.

The Dodgers may have been created from the Angels, but the Angels created greatness from the Dodgers, and so it would be only fitting they finally meet, if only to celebrate the coolest highway in the game.

"It would be a testament to the history of Southern California baseball, a tribute to all of the baseball greatness that has come out of our region," Salmon said. "And, you know, maybe we'd finally find out which team is better."

The first game would be Oct. 21 in Anaheim. Until then, our cars will be idling, our steering wheels gripped tight, and, for once, the pavement that usually occupies our nightmares will be the freeway of our dreams.

Twitter: @billplaschke

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