Column: The guy who started the ‘Beat L.A.’ chant in 1982 will be yelling it again tonight — along with much of Fenway
When figuring out the dynamics of this historic World Series between the Dodgers and the Boston Red Sox, one needs to really know only one fact.
The “Beat L.A.’’ chant started in Boston.
Of course it did.
It was first heard in May 1982 in sweltering Boston Garden, during a Celtics Game 7 playoff loss to the Philadelphia 76ers. As one credible account has it, a local attorney named Joel Semuels figured if his beloved Celtics couldn’t win, then he wanted Philadelphia to defeat the Lakers in the NBA Finals. He began the chant, two buddies joined in, and soon the entire building was rocking with it.
“We didn’t really like the Lakers very much because of their Hollywood style, their cheerleaders, their air conditioning,’’ Semuels, 72, said in a phone interview Monday.
The 76ers did not beat L.A. that year. The chant didn’t work. The chant has a spotty record at best. But that hasn’t stopped virtually every major sports town in America from picking it up and using it at some point in the last 36 years, a sign of both jealousy and admiration mixed in with a little hopelessness.
“When we hear it, we take it as a sign of respect, but it kind of makes us also think they’re almost like begging, trying to find any way they can to get an advantage,’’ Dodgers pitcher Ross Stripling said.
Which brings us back to its Beantown birthplace, where, beginning Tuesday night at Fenway Park, the chant surely will be deafening.
It will bounce off the legendary Green Monster left-field wall, once strictly a monument of tradition, now also a place where you can buy a seat.
It will ring through adjoining Jersey Street, which was called Yawkey Way until officials changed it back to its original name because of former owner Tom Yawkey’s racist history.
It will envelop baseball’s oldest stadium that, while being celebrated as 1912-charming, has cramped seats, narrow walkways and obstructed views.
The chants will be the perfect way to start a series between two vastly different sports landscapes with two vastly different histories.
The Dodgers’ Green Monster is the Elysian Hills, which remain one of baseball’s few unspoiled backdrops.
The Dodgers were the first team to integrate Major League Baseball, the Red Sox were the last.
And while 1962-built Dodger Stadium does not have the intimate charm of Fenway Park, the league’s third-oldest stadium has been updated to feel mostly like new.
The two opposing sports cultures can also heard in the music, with Red Sox fans singing along with “Sweet Caroline’’ in the eighth inning and, after victories, “Dirty Water.’’ The latter song was recorded by the Standells, a Los Angeles-born band. Advantage: Dodgers.
Meanwhile, Dodgers fans are all about the winning song, “I Love L.A.,’’ which is also played after Lakers victories, which probably drove Boston fans crazy in the last championship meeting between these cities, in 2010.
Finally, the differences can also been seen in the stands, where, once the series returns to Dodger Stadium for Friday’s Game 3, one absence will become obvious.
Nobody in L.A. will be chanting, “Beat Boston.’’
“The archetype of Boston cannot be more different than the archetype of Los Angeles,’’ said actor Rob Lowe, a longtime Dodger fan. “When you look across, we look nothing like one another. It’s the perfect setup for a rivalry.’’
Lowe earned his stripes during last year’s World Series when, while waving a Dodgers flag atop the Houston Astros dugout, he was hit with a cup of water thrown by Jose Altuve. He thinks this series, the franchises’ first postseason meeting since the 1916 World Series, will make an even bigger splash.
“Nothing will ever top the Lakers and Celtics; there’s too much history,’’ Lowe said. “But the Dodgers haven’t played them in this situation in  years, and it’s going to be huge, massive, unbelievable.’’
It may not be Lakers-Celtics but, for a few days, it could feel like it.
Taking bets now on which Red Sox player fakes an injury and has to leave the field in a wheelchair. You know what I’m talking about.
Or who will be the Red Sox player who will clothesline Manny Machado as he’s jogging to second base?
Or who will be the Dodger who will strike out one of the Red Sox with a baby sky hook?
To be fair, the Celtics have won one more overall title than the Lakers and have won nine out of their 12 Finals meetings, making this series also a bit about a city’s payback.
“This Boston-L.A. thing has been definitely deep; it’s super deep, lot of good, bad, and ugly. There’s a lot there,’’ Dodgers outfielder Matt Kemp said.
And a lot more coming …
It will be Manny Machado against a Red Sox team that already dislikes him for past incidents. Heck, there are plenty of Dodger fans who dislike him for not hustling against the Atlanta Braves and taking cheap shots against the Milwaukee Brewers.
Machado will be mercilessly booed in Boston as he was in Milwaukee. He also has three homers and nine runs batted in this postseason. Plus, he has more career homers (eight) and RBIs (32) at Fenway Park than at any place outside Camden Yards or Dodger Stadium.
Here’s guessing if you don’t like the image presented by Machado — and I don’t either — you will probably be able to put up with him for another week.
“He’s doing whatever he feels necessary to help us win baseball games,’’ manager Dave Roberts said. “I don’t think the attention he’s receiving is affecting him. I just think he has a good way to channel that for the positive.’’
It will also be Clayton Kershaw against the deep and powerful Red Sox lineup — and his own spotty postseason. Kershaw knows his history, and is open about recognizing the need to take that final championship step, and take it now.
“When we go to the postseason six times in a row it becomes that much more evident that we’re very fortunate to be on a great team, but we’re still missing that ring,’’ Kershaw said.
Finally, in what could decide the series, it will also be the once-maligned Dodgers bullpen against the still-maligned Red Sox bullpen. Don’t look now, but in the postseason the Dodgers’ makeshift pen has a 1.30 earned-run average with 51 strikeouts and 13 walks, while Red Sox closer Craig Kimbrel has allowed at least one run in four of his five postseason outings.
“Everyone who criticized us, we put it all behind us, we just go out there and compete,’’ said Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen, who has yet to allow a run in six postseason appearances.
The competition begins Tuesday, and you know where Joel Semuels will be, right? In front of the TV in his Boston-area home, watching and listening. And when the crowd begins chanting …
“I never made a penny off it, but I’m proud of it, and, yeah, I’ll be chanting right along with them,’’ he said.
Not this time.
Get more of Bill Plaschke’s work and follow him on Twitter @BillPlaschke
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