Column: Only in L.A. (and Anaheim): Mega-stars power Dodgers and Angels like never before
Examine, if you will, the illustration that accompanies this story.
The picture is worth 671 home runs, 2,056 RBIs and 2,379 runs.
The portrait is a four-headed monument to five MVP awards, 15 All-Star game appearances, and the last two World Series championships.
For your consideration, Mount Crushmore.
It’s the newest wonder of the sports world, the greatest collection of baseball star power in any city in more than six decades, and beginning next week, it’s all ours. It’s four of the game’s biggest headliners appearing for two teams sharing freeways that run past Hollywood, a dual fielding of dreams.
We’re singing about an upcoming sprint of a season that, if it survives the pandemic, could be unmatched in the long history of Southern California diamonds. Never have both our teams been coated in such glitter. Never have our two disparate organizations combined to connect so perfectly with a region’s culture.
Of course, it will be a summer spent on a coronavirus tightrope stretched across a surreal landscape. The 60-game season will be played in socially distanced dugouts with extra-inning gadget rules in front of cardboard fans in otherwise empty stadiums. The crowd noise will be phony. The fear will be real.
MLB 2020 season preview
Some players will drop out to protect their families. Others will be forced out after swabbing positive. The championship could be won by the team with the most stars still standing. That is, if there even is a championship. There is no bubble, only the reality of closely quartered athletes moving freely through an infected world, and if enough players fall ill, entire clubs could disappear, and the virus may just decide to blow it all up.
But . . . but . . . but . . . baseball is going to give it a shot, which makes the sparkly Dodgers and Angels worth watching for as long as there is something to watch.
And if the two star-filled locals meet in the World Series for the first time — short season, crapshoot, you never know — then they should play Game 1 in wet cement at Grauman’s.
The Angels have the best player in baseball. The extraordinarily gifted and exceedingly ignored Mike Trout is coming off a season during which he won a third MVP award that reeked of unfairness — because by now he should have won at least five. Trout has given hints that he may leave the team for the safety of his soon-to-be-born first child, but so far he’s sticking around and staying hopeful.
“Gonna be fun,” he said. “Day One is gonna mean something, you have 60 games, have to try to win all of them.”
The Angels also have baseball’s reigning postseason hero. Anthony Rendon, who signed for $245 million over seven years this winter after hitting three homers with 15 RBIs in October for the World Series champion Washington Nationals. His feats included clobbering the leadoff homer in the eighth inning against the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw to spur the Nationals’ comeback in the clinching Game 5 of the division series. If his reputation is warranted, the amount of teamwork required to stay safe this season fits right into his personality.
“We have to realize we’re playing for each other, not necessarily for ourselves, even now more than ever, because of what’s going on right now,” he said.
The Dodgers, meanwhile, have arguably the second-best player in baseball. The versatile outfielder Mookie Betts, acquired in a trade this winter, is a human trophy case. He has an MVP award, a World Series championship ring, four All-Star appearances, four Gold Gloves and three Silver Sluggers. He also has an expiring contract, so Dodgers fans should get a good look now.
“There’s a lot going on that needs to be addressed,” he said. “Free agency is not one of those things right now.”
The Dodgers also have baseball’s reigning young superstar. The powerful outfielder Cody Bellinger, still just 25, is the reigning National League MVP, a former rookie of the year, a two-time All-Star with a Gold Glove and Silver Slugger award.
“It’s going to be weird this year, it’s going to be fun,” he said. “Could be a once-in-a-lifetime thing.”
When these four stars return to the field beginning July 23, they’ll be surrounded by zero spectators, yet will be performing for hundreds of thousands of eyeballs. Thanks to the lifting of the Dodgers’ greed-driven blackout, for the first time in seven years every game for both teams will be available on television in nearly every household. In this Summer of Netflix touts, local baseball will be best of binge of all.
Dodgers superstar outfielder Mookie Betts grew up and still lives in Tennessee, yet his immediate goal is to win a World Series for his new big-city team.
How deep do these teams shine? Even the dugouts are a Hollywood Walk of Fame. Revisit the illustration that accompanied this story, and notice the active Dodgers and Angels who did not make the cut.
Left out were two lock Hall of Famers — Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw and Angels anchor Albert Pujols.
Absent were two former rookies of the year — Dodgers shortstop Corey Seager and Angels pitcher/designated hitter Shohei Ohtani.
Not appearing were Dodgers cornerstones Walker Buehler and Justin Turner, and Angels leaders Justin Upton and Andrelton Simmons.
Also missing were two men with a combined four manager of the year awards — the Dodgers’ Dave Roberts and the new Angels boss, Joe Maddon.
There’s so much buzz in Chavez Ravine and Anaheim, the summery places almost feel like a winter night at Staples Center. The Lakers and Clippers set the tone for this star scooping the last two summers by acquiring LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. Those teams understand the marketplace. They know the town demands bright lights and loves those red carpets.
In different ways, the Dodgers’ Guggenheim Baseball Management and Angels owner Arte Moreno have followed that lead. Guggenheim has consistently approved Andrew Friedman’s big trades, while Moreno has consistently spent big money. Even while adhering to the constant tug of analytics, they both realize what sells here. It’s not only the stats, it’s the sizzle, and so they have loaded up on stars that will crowd the sky in historic fashion.
Since baseball came West in 1958, in fact, there’s never been such a priceless baseball collection on display in one city. There have been other cities with better combined baseball teams — the two New York clubs met in a modern Subway Series in 2000, and San Francisco and Oakland met in the earthquake-rattled Bay Bridge Series in 1989. Those events involved future Hall of Famers and several superstars, but in neither case were both rosters as loaded as this year’s Dodger and Angels.
One would have to go back to the mid-1950s in New York to find one city with clubhouses as glorious as these, back when Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle and Duke Snider roamed three center fields and played their way into both Cooperstown and a legendary song.
These Dodgers are favored to reach their third World Series in four years, and who would bet against them? The lineup runs from Betts to Max Muncy to Turner to Bellinger to Seager to Joc Pederson, a potent group when the sixth-place hitter just hit 36 home runs. The starting pitching led by Buehler and Kershaw is deep enough to withstand the loss of opted-out David Price, which leaves the only question being, as always, the bullpen. They ended last season without complete faith in any closer, and so, even though Kenley Jansen has shown up after being infected with COVID-19, they still don’t know whom to trust.
The Angels are not favored to even make the playoffs in a division populated by the formerly cheating Houston Astros and straight-up good Oakland Athletics, but either of those teams can stumble in a sprint, and the Angels are built for the short haul.
The lineup punch of Trout, Rendon, Ohtani and Upton is formidable. David Fletcher plays like 2002’s David Eckstein. Simmons is brilliant in the field. Maddon is creative in the dugout. And the Hansel Robles-anchored bullpen is deep. The Angels just need to somehow piece together enough starting pitching around Ohtani’s weekly outing to survive those 60 games.
Which brings this dream sequence to the reality of an October where, let’s be honest, even the thought of Mount Crushmore can’t alter the bleak history of the landscape.
The Dodgers have experienced seven consecutive postseason failures — some horrid, others wretched — and are seeking to end a 32-year championship drought.
The Angels haven’t won a postseason game in 11 years, haven’t even been to the playoffs in six years, and are chasing their first title since their only championship 18 years ago.
It’s been a long time for both, and their headliners have a lot to prove if want to turn their L.A. stardom into lasting legacy.
Third baseman Anthony Rendon led the Washington Nationals to the 2019 World Series title with an even-keeled approach that is a welcome addition to the Angels.
Trout has been a postseason blank. In his only playoff series, a 2014 sweep by the Kansas City Royals, a home run was his only hit in 15 plate appearances.
Rendon needs to prove that last October was not a fluke. In his previous three postseason series with the Nationals, all losses, he batted .232.
Bellinger has been a postseason nightmare, from his record 17 strikeouts in the 2017 World Series to an overall .178 postseason average.
Betts has been mostly postseason powerless, with one homer and four RBIs in 88 at-bats with a .227 average. Of course, that one long ball was in the clinching Game 5 against the Dodgers in 2018, so there’s hope.
Actually, in the growing buzz around Mount Crushmore this summer, there is a sense of that hope. It feels like the pieces are in place to transfer the soul of empty stadiums to roaring living rooms and a shortened season into a forever autumn. No matter what happens, no matter how shortened it might be, this wild journey will be taken on a road lined with the greatest of luster.
Sixty Dodgers dramas. Sixty Angels spectacles. Starry, starry nights.
Go beyond the scoreboard
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