The Dodgers’ title drought is uniquely theirs — and lots suffocating
“It’s interesting,” said Roberts in his fifth year as the Dodgers manager on Monday. “We’ve heard a lot and seen a lot of highlights, and it’s fantastic. But I think we want to shape Dodger’s story ourselves. “
The 2020 Los Angeles Dodgers will tell you that what happened in 1988 when the franchise last won the World Series has no bearing on this year’s team. I am here to tell you that this is not true.
What’s true: fans usually know more about history than players do. It’s not because the players are ignorant. It’s because fans live it, grow up with it, and indulge in it. A 50-year-old Dodgers fan who drew for Betts and Gonsolin on Tuesday night was an 18-year-old Dodgers fan who drew for Hershiser and Hatcher in 1988 – the year Kershaw was born, the year Gibson raised the plate hobbled to face Dennis Eckersley Oakland is unbeatable in Game 1 and hit him deeply. The Dodgers rolled in five games.
These high water marks are euphoric until they choke. Not only do they cast the participants as legends on those particular evenings, but they also provide a standard against which each subsequent team must be measured. As Roberts said on Sunday night, “Ultimately, it’s my job to help the Dodgers win the World Series,” a phrase he uttered repeatedly during his tenure. That’s what Lasorda did all those years ago. Roberts has to do this now.
So far he hasn’t, and that colors everything, both for his team and for his city. Players come and go. Why be sucked in? But for fans there is a common experience in all the suffering between the titles. It defines a profession that consumes hours that add up to days that add up to weeks. The data points of disappointment – sweeps in the Division series in 1995 and ’96, losses in the National League Championship Series in 2008, ’09, ’13 and ’16, a loss in the Game 7 World Series to the (Deceitful) Astros in 2017, Howie Kendrick’s Grand Slam for the 10th inning last fall – frozen in heartburn and heartache. These are clearly different sensations, but both are miserable.
For gamers who grew up across the country and around the world, it is both appropriate and convenient to ditch those experiences when pursuing their own goals. But the memories of what they failed to achieve crop up everywhere in what others have done.
Two years ago, when the World Series could be played in stadiums with fans of the home team, the Dodgers opened their first home game of the series by handing a ball to Lasorda, the then 91-year-old former manager. The next night, Hershiser, the then 60-year-old right-handed player, drew the honor and tossed to Hatcher, who returned home in the crucial fifth game that Hershiser won.
There were ceremonial first places that had nothing to do with the action on these evenings. Even so, they were heroes of another era – a championship era – thrown in the team’s face for distant memories. There’s a weight that comes up every time Lasorda or Hershiser or Gibson walk that field, shake a hand and wave a standing ovation. It doesn’t affect how a dodger sets up a ground ball or repeats its mechanics. It affects something more than that: daily life. The way a city feels about itself, its team and its opportunities is integrated into this game on this evening. It is the gambler’s job to deny it. You can’t help but hear, wear, wear.
“People [in this clubhouse] I want to stop talking about Kirk Gibson and all these people – no offense, ”said Reliever Kenley Jansen. “You have waited a long time.”
Jansen said these words in 2017 when the Dodgers made their first appearance since 1988 in the World Series. He was signed by the organization as a catcher in 2004. He joined the majors in 2010, two years after Kershaw left the ace -Hander. They joined the organization and didn’t know anything about the Dodger story. After several years of disappointment in October – eight titles in a row, zero championships – they made it.
“Yes, 1988,” said Kershaw. “We heard that a lot.”
This isn’t a unique dodger experience. It has manifested in other cities and other sports. In 2016, the Chicago Cubs were built to overcome a 108-year drought in the championship. They played in their first World Series since 1945 and lost their first two home games to the Cleveland Indians 3-1. For long stretches of these games, Wrigley Field was not a loud bandbox that spurred the home team on, but a tense, nervous cauldron which brought all past failures to the corner of Waveland and Sheffield.
The mood was so suffocating that Dave Martinez, then the Cubs’ bank coach, sat down on a seat on the bus and said to a front as the Cubs squeaked out a game 5 victory and prepared to get on a plane the next day Cleveland to rise. Office member: “We just have to get out of town.” Neither Steve Bartman nor any billy goat rode that bus or occupied the clubhouse. But that cursed past certainly contributed to the environment around the team. In Cleveland, removed from these memories, the Cubs won twice.
Every fan of the Washington Capitals, for example, knows this feeling too. Take part in a game 7 in the downtown building, be it the MCI Center, Verizon Center or Capital One Arena at that time – against Pittsburgh in 2009 or ’17, against Montreal in 2010. Fall behind, and the building almost folds in on itself. The players on the ice were not responsible for all of the mistakes that preceded them. But all the mistakes that preceded them informed the atmosphere that eats at the gastric mucous membranes and causes bile to form in the throats. In my eyes, it’s no coincidence that when the Capitals finally won the Stanley Cup, every one of their series wins hit the streets.
Perhaps the Dodgers could then be freed if they strive for this championship not in the chaos of the Dodger Stadium but in isolation in Texas. It rained here on Monday, but the Dodgers planned to bring the cricket to their bladder for a team lunch. You might have been talking about the opposing Tampa Bay Rays. You certainly haven’t talked about 1988, which is what the Dodgers will define until it isn’t anymore.