The Dodgers’ uncomfortable winter could take a bitter turn Wednesday, when the best hitter the team has developed since moving to Los Angeles could be elected to the Hall of Fame and promptly remind the world he wants to be immortalized in the cap of the New York Mets.
The breaking news would be the election of Mike Piazza, not his selection of cap. He has made his preference clear for years, most bitingly in his 2013 autobiography.
“If the Hall came to me and said, ‘We want you to go in as a Dodger,’ I’d say, ‘Well, then I’ll go in as nothing,’” Piazza wrote. “I just wouldn’t feel comfortable with LA stamped on my head for all of eternity.”
There is no need to entirely rehash Piazza’s grievances — against the Fox television executives who operated the team two decades ago and traded him rather than pay market price to keep him, against the team officials he believes portrayed him as greedy in trying to turn the fans against him — but there is a lesson in the disconnect between the Dodgers’ current management and a large and discontented swath of the fan base.
The Dodgers’ management is not oblivious to that. This is how the team describes itself at the bottom of press releases: “The Los Angeles Dodgers franchise, with six World Series championships and 21 National League pennants since its beginnings in Brooklyn in 1890, is committed to a tradition of pride and excellence.”
The last of those pennants came 28 years ago. Every other team in the National League West has appeared in the World Series since then, as have all but six other major league teams.
The Dodgers raised Pedro Martinez, who entered the Hall of Fame last year, wearing the cap of the Boston Red Sox. The Dodgers raised Piazza. The Dodgers also raised Adrian Beltre, an increasingly viable Hall of Fame candidate, most likely representing the Texas Rangers.
If Piazza and Ken Griffey Jr. are elected to the Hall of Fame on Wednesday, players from 20 teams would have been elected since the last player from the Dodgers — Don Sutton, in 1998. The Montreal Expos have been dead for a decade, but Gary Carter and Andre Dawson have been elected since Sutton, and Tim Raines and Vladimir Guerrero soon could be.
The Guggenheim Baseball ownership arrived four years ago. Andrew Friedman, the president of baseball operations, arrived little more than a year ago. The sins of a previous generation should not tarnish the reputation of those running the Dodgers today.
The Dodgers did not get Jon Lester or Max Scherzer last winter; they got Brett Anderson and Brandon McCarthy. They did not get Johnny Cueto, Cole Hamels or David Price last summer; they got Mat Latos and Alex Wood. They did not get Cueto, Price or Zack Greinke this winter; they got Scott Kazmir and Kenta Maeda.
This assessment appeared in a news article on the Dodgers’ own website: “Nearly four years into the Guggenheim ownership, and the team hasn’t done anything on the field that it didn’t do when owned by Frank McCourt.”
The Dodgers have not been shy with the game plan, transitioning from a high-paid, star-laden team to one packed with home-grown talent, assembled by some of the most renowned executives in the sport. The best chance to win that long-awaited World Series, they argue, is to field a good team every year rather than surrender prospects and go for the gold in any one particular year. The more financial flexibility they can maintain, the better their chance to keep the next Piazza or Beltre in Dodger blue for his entire career.
All of that amounts to “trust us” from the Dodgers. But the goodwill the Dodgers need for fans to buy in has been severely eroded by a television blackout that has lasted two seasons — and appears poised to enter a third season, since the FCC on Monday delayed the approval process for the proposed merger between Charter and Time Warner Cable. The coming season is the one Vin Scully says will be his last.
Dodgers President Stan Kasten declined to comment to The Times but he recently suggested to ESPN that DirecTV and other outlets not carrying SportsNet LA might not ever do so: “Are there some companies that after two years of not giving their customers the Dodgers, never will? At some point you might just have to accept that.”
In this long and suddenly rainy winter, it was nice to hear someone affiliated with the Dodgers talk excitedly about the World Series. In an interview Monday on Yahoo Sports radio, Clayton Kershaw said he had talked with former Dodgers catcher Drew Butera, who caught the final inning of the final game of the World Series for the champion Kansas City Royals.
“I know what that’s like in Kansas City,” Kershaw said. “To magnify that, in a city like L.A., where we haven’t won since 1988? I don’t know. It might be just call it a career after that. It would be amazing.”
Piazza had to leave the Dodgers to get to the World Series. Kershaw can opt out of his contract in 2018. Here’s hoping the Dodgers get to the World Series before then.
Follow Bill Shaikin on Twitter @BillShaikin
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