THE DEMISE OF ‘DA BUMS

The recent resignation of Joe Torre as the manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers prompted me to wonder what has happened to this notable franchise.

I vaguely remember the Brooklyn Dodgers. Yes, that’s how old I am.  In Brooklyn the team was affectionately known as the “bums”.  The name stems from the fact that from 1889 when the team was known as, ahem, the Bridegrooms until 1953 the club was in nine World Series and won a total of one – in 1890.

From 1955 while still in Brooklyn until 1988, the team was in eleven more Series’ and won six of them. It has not been to the Series since. Twenty-two years and counting. The Dodgers had eight losing seasons in 34 years.  By comparison, the Yankees had 6 and their hated rivals, the Giants had 12. Yes, despite the turmoil of leaving a city with impassioned fans, the team continued to win when it reached the West Coast.

The key to all of this was stability. In that same 34-year period the team had two managers, Walter Alston (1954-1976) and Tommy LaSorda (1977-1996). Since then?  Six. Bill Russell, Glenn Hoffman, Davey Johnson, Jim Tracy, Grady Little and Joe Torre.

From 1951 to 1987 there were two General Managers, Buzzy Bavasi and Al Campanis who was forced to resign after he made an insensitive comment about the ability of African-Americans to manage. Since then, five not including interim terms by LaSorda and Dave Wallace, and  Fred Clare who was at the helm for ten of those years. They have had the same play-by-play announcer for 60 years! The uniforms remain unchanged, no multiple versions that most teams have today.

They set some sort of record by having the same starting infield (Steve Garvey, Davey Lopes, Bill Russell and Ron Cey) for 10 years.

The emphasis on stability stemmed from Owner Walter O’Malley who gained control of the team in 1950. The club remained under the O’Malley family control until it was finally sold in 1998 to Rupert Murdoch and then again in 2004 to present owner Frank McCourt, the polar opposite of O’Malley as evidenced by his recent high profile divorce proceedings.

As a kid during baseball’s Golden Age, I was privileged to see the Dodgers come through Milwaukee each year to play the Braves.  The teams were perennial winners despite not having a single Hall of Fame regular player during the 60’s. They were perhaps the first team to place emphasis on pitching as the key to winning. As a result, I was treated to watching Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, Claude Osteen, Johnny Podres and the original “closer” Ron Perranoski who saved a modest 179 games during his career but finished 4th in the MVP voting in 1963 when he went 16-3 with 20 saves.

It’s no wonder that they became my “secret” favorite team.

The model of stability the Dodgers’ displayed was remarkable and will never be seen in the game again. Turmoil has taken over. Fans are more demanding. Players are nomads offering their services to the highest bidder. Pressure to win from the front office and ownership in order to generate revenue has replaced the grand old days when fans could count on their teams having some modicum of identity.

It’s another lost characteristic to a game that more than any other personified America – baseball, hot dogs, and apple pie.

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