Begrudgingly liking Dodgers, despite my best efforts
Stadium, team history and current players make Los Angeles tough to root against
From a historical standpoint, I'm supposed to loathe that National League team with the audacity to play home games in the gorgeous setting of Chavez Ravine. But you know what? The more I think about it, the more I realize I've cherished a bunch of things through the decades associated with Dodger Blue.
I can't believe I just typed that.
More so, I can't believe I'm sort of thrilled to see what the Dodgers are doing these days. They are doing everything, and they are doing it well enough to remain an ongoing miracle.
This makes no sense. As recently as late June, the Dodgers were a $230 million mess -- you know, roughly the NL-record amount that their highly acclaimed new ownership group of Magic Johnson, Stan Kasten and the rest are paying its current players.
To be exact, the Dodgers were 9 1/2 games behind the leaders of the NL West on June 22, with a 30-42 record. They also had a slew of injuries, and they had folks in that part of Southern California turning their thoughts to the state of Kobe Bryant's Achilles tendon or the location of the nearest beach.
But earlier in that month, along came this Cuban refugee named Yasiel Puig, and as he evolved into an offensive and defensive terror with flair, he even captured the fascination of Dodgers bashers.
Puig continues to amaze. He is joined in that regards by Dodgers shortstop Hanley Ramirez, who was among those injured in the early going. While Ramirez is now hitting like crazy, so are others on the roster. They range from first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, who completed a come-from-behind victory for the Dodgers this week against the Mets with a double, to normally light-slugging second baseman Mark Ellis, who is hitting over .300 since the start of July.
Pitching? That rarely has been a problem for a franchise that has produced the likes of Don Newcombe, Sandy Koufax and Orel Hershiser. As for this season, the Dodgers have Clayton Kershaw, who is threatening to win his second NL Cy Young Award in three seasons, to combine with the magnificent arms of Hyun-Jin Ryu and Zack Greinke.
This is a long way of saying the Dodgers are operating at a nearly unprecedented pace during this portion of their season. They open a weekend series today in Philadelphia with an eight-game winning streak, and that has contributed to baseball's best 48-game stretch since the 1942 St. Louis Cardinals went 41-7.
The Dodgers have gone 40-8.
And I guess I like it.
That didn't hurt to say as much as I thought it would.
Growing up as a Big Red Machine disciple, the Dodgers were the bad guys, mostly because the champion of the old NL West often came down to the Reds or the Dodgers. That was long before Wild Cards, which meant you either won the division or your winter vacation begin soon after September ended. Take 1973 and '74, for example. The '73 Reds resembled the Dodgers of now in so many ways, because those Reds trailed the Dodgers by 11 games on June 30 before they sizzled through the rest of the summer and into the autumn to capture the division by 3 1/2 games over the Dodgers.
In contrast, there was the next year, when the Dodgers pushed away the Reds down the stretch as Jimmy Wynn kept hitting dramatic homers, Mike Marshall kept saving games with his screwball and I kept getting sick to my stomach.
Years later, when I spent the early 1980s covering the San Francisco Giants for the San Francisco Examiner, I found kindred souls in the land of Mays, Marichal and McCovey. After all, those around Northern California don't hug the Dodgers as much as they do, say, the Golden Gate Bridge. Whenever the Dodgers came to town back then, chilly Candlestick Park warmed in a hurry from Giants fans hurling heated words toward their Los Angeles visitors.
There was 1982, when the Giants, Dodgers, Braves and Padres were involved in one of the tightest division races in history involving several teams, and I covered the Giants-Dodgers game at Candlestick on the last day of that season. The packed house didn't throw anything, but it lost its mind after Joe Morgan ripped a walk-off home run against the Dodgers. The crowd yelled forever, not because it put the Giants into the playoffs, but because it knocked the Dodgers out.
I smiled a little, too.
Still, when I search my inner self, I discover I've openly been fond of a bunch of Dodger things, and they begin with Walter Alston, their Hall of Fame manager of 23 seasons through 1976. He graduated from my alma mater of Miami (Ohio) University, and he even lived near campus, which is located in Oxford, Ohio. I met Alston after his baseball career, and I liked him. I even spent part of an evening over at his house watching a Monday Night Baseball game. Speaking of Miami (Ohio), John Shoemaker spent three years in my old dormitory, and we often chatted. He has been a successful coach, manager or instructor for the Dodgers since 1977.
I've always enjoyed my interviews with former Dodgers players Dusty Baker, now the Reds' manager, and Davey Lopes, back with the Dodgers as their first-base coach. The same goes Tommy Lasorda, the legendary Dodgers manager who invented The Big Dodger in The Sky. Then there is Newcombe, who has a wealth of knowledge about the Dodgers' Brooklyn days and beyond.
You also have to be goofy in the head not to enjoy the sights, sounds and smells of Dodger Stadium. It remains a baseball treasure after all of these years. And they don't train at Dodgertown anymore in Vero Beach, Fla., but when it was around, it was immaculate, and it was intimate. It also was peerless as a Major League Spring Training site.
You felt the deep history of the team.
That history included Jackie Robinson. The bottom line: As a baseball fan, how can you not have at least a twinge of joy for the franchise that produced the man who broke the game's color barrier?
I have more than a twinge.
Terence Moore is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.