Reasons to root for the Dodgers

Jim Gilliam

Perhaps no non-Yankee won as often in as long a career as Gilliam did. He was Rookie of the Year in 1953 -- a league-leading 17 triples and 14 caught stealings, 125 runs scored -- for the NL pennant-winning Brooklyn Dodgers, and infield insurance for the 1966 NL pennant-winning L.A. Dodgers. In between, Gilliam, known by Junior, played on five more Dodgers' pennant-winners, four of which won World Series (1955 in Brooklyn, 59, 63 and 65 in L.A.). All told, Gilliam played in seven Series in 14 years. Gilliam received MVP votes in four seasons, including 1965 when Gilliam was 36 and had started the season as first-base coach. Unretired, Gilliam hit. 280 with 53 walks, nine steals, a .374 on-base percentage, and a defensive gem in Game 7 of the World Series, according to Gilliam retired for good after 1966 with a .265 average, 203 steals and 1,163 runs scored. He died at age 49 in 1978, two days before the start of another Dodgers-Yankees Series. The Los Angeles Times' Jim Murray, from "I guess my all-time favorite athlete was Jim Gilliam. He always thought he was lucky to be a Dodger. I thought it was the other way around.''

The Dodgers were sold for $2.1 billion last month. Who knew they’d be such a bargain?

Ten days into the new season, the Dodgers have a record — 9-1 — worthy of their sale price. But Magic Johnson might want to refrain from high-fiving his co-owners just yet. The Dodgers have played all 10 games against the Padres and Pirates. Calling the Dodgers the best team in baseball for winning nine of those is like saying Mitt Romney’s election is inevitable because he ran Tim Pawlenty out of the Republican primary.

The Dodgers aren’t as good as their record, but their mood is. As it should be. No longer is the most valuable piece of the franchise the parking lot to Dodger Stadium. And no longer is the Dodgers’ future hostage to the divorce of two millionaires.

The Dodgers have drifted for the last decade and a half — it seems fitting that the man who has managed them the longest in that span is the nondescript Jim Tracy.

It wasn’t always thus, of course. The Dodgers’ history is littered with eccentricities, but more importantly, landmarks: the first to break the color barrier, as we were reminded Sunday;  the first, with the Giants, to move to the West Coast (if you want to blame Walter O’Malley for taking a team west, by all means do so; but if he hadn’t, someone else would have); the subject of more great baseball literature perhaps than championships won.

(The Dodgers were also the first major league team, we believe from our admittedly incomplete research, to play a majority of minorities. On July 17, 1954 at Milwaukee, the Dodgers started five players of color: African-Americans Jim Gilliam at second, Robinson at third, and Don Newcombe pitching to catcher Roy Campanella, and Cuban Sandy Amoros in left field. The Dodgers won 2-1 in 11 innings.)

The 2012 Dodgers have two great players — Matt Kemp and Clayton Kershaw — and one who might be in pitcher Chad Billingsley; if the other 22 reflected their managers like dogs reflect their masters, than they would be managed by Tracy (he’s had just one winning season in five with Pittsburgh and Colorado since leaving L.A., and isn’t likely to have another in his sixth).

The Dodgers have hit 10 homers, six by Kemp. That puts Kemp six ahead of first baseman James Loney, whose career-high is 15, and just 4-for-27. Kemp will have to supply power for two. The Dodgers have two Ellises — one (second baseman Mark) who bats at the top of the order and the other (catcher A.J.) who maybe should despite his lack of speed, given his .419 on-base percentage.

They have a leadoff hitter (Dee Gordon), who doesn’t get on base — we’re looking forward to Stephen King’s sequel The Girl’s Daughter Who Loved Dee Gordon. Someody has to, though we won’t until he starts to walk.

Their starting rotation drops into a valley after Kershaw and Billingsley, although Aaron Harang, 18-38 from 2008-10 in Cincinnati before a 14-7 bounce-back 2011 in San Diego, struck out 13 Padres in his first start. He might not fan 13 in any two starts from here on.

The Dodgers have a workable bullpen, Kemp and Kershaw, an ordinary division to compete with, and they’ll get Magic Johnson’s full attention after the Lakers are eliminated from the NBA playoffs, which shouldn’t take long.

But for years the house the O’Malley built wasn’t as important to the owners of the franchise as the houses the McCourts bought. Unless you’re a Giants fan — and what fun was it to beat the Dodgers in that shape? — it’s healthy to see the Dodgers in a state of potential repair.

Now if only Connie Hawkins could buy the Pirates.

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2 Responses to Reasons to root for the Dodgers

  1. I have to love a blog post that has Connie Hawkins and Tim Pawlenty in the same post. Some of us root for the Dodgers now because of their manager, who was my childhood hero.

    • I did a google search for Connie Hawkins and Tim Pawlenty. Surprisingly, not much turned up. As for Mattingly, I suspect the 2012 Dodgers would do better if Mattingly was the first baseman and James Loney the manager than vice versa.

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