There are so many great stereotypes about LA. That everyone here is fake. That nobody cares about anything or anyone. Everyone starts their own religion. It’s filled with weirdos and liberals. People eat raw food and soy everything. Etc Etc Etc.
But one irks me the most: that this isn’t a sports town.
Anyone who says that probably doesn’t understand that sports course through the city’s veins and freeways. You see the weather is so great here that it’s a sports town 12 months a year. People are playing sports all the time. And why not? Baseball diamonds and basketball courts are everywhere. People skateboard wherever there is concrete. They surf wherever there are waves. The city has hosted TWO Olympics (Chicago eat your heart out). The Lakers made the NBA – can you say SHOWTIME? The two best collegiate sports programs in the world between UCLA Basketball and USC football. The Galaxy sell more jerseys than the rest of the MLS combined. We had the best sportswriter in history and have the best American broadcaster ever. And it seems to be only a matter of time before the NFL throws a third team into our economic melting pot.
And freestyle walking? For some reason, I think Southern California created that too.
To me, baseball is the most democratic sport in the nation. Nothing represents the best parts of being an American than stepping into a baseball stadium. You are safe (theoretically). Things are expensive, but they are nice. You are welcomed. And most importantly, everyone is equal. The guy sitting behind home plate and the guy watching from the back of left field are both watching the same game. Toddlers and old men sit side by side. The guy who is writing down every stat is no different than the three year old girl blowing bubbles and eating hot dogs. We’re all here to be a part of the crowd and genuflect in the stadium, the Team’s cathedral. It would be easy to call baseball nostalgia. But nostalgia infers a longing for something gone. Baseball is still here and the stadium experience will never go away.
When Frank McCourt came to town in 2004 to buy the Dodgers, everyone was relieved. Newscorp, Rupert Murdoch’s bloated media conglomerate, was finally selling the team to an apparently well-to-do Boston family. They said all the right things. Kept local legends Vin Scully and Lasorda on board. Hired new personnel. Spent lavishly on marquee names like Joe Torre and Manny Ramirez. The fans came running back, craving the team they grew up on. Everyone was at Dodger games. Pau Gasol even threw out the first pitch. And attendance swelled to unimaginable levels, reaching almost four million people a year. Los Angeles was THE baseball market outside of New York and Boston.
But things got sour after six years of great baseball. Frank McCourt never bought the team straight up – he was over a hundred and forty million dollars short. He used his other holdings as collateral that were soon foreclosed and taken by Newscorp. Then he signed a thirty year contract with Newscorp for the Dodger’s television rights. This limited the team’s TV income massively and effectively mortgaged the team back to… Newscorp. In 2009, his wife, Jamie, was fired from the position of Dodgers CEO. She filed for divorce soon after.
The next two years were engulfed in the largest divorce in the history of the state of California. It opened up the books and revealed a penniless team, mortgaging their future for immediate success. It appeared that the good times – five postseason trips with 3.5 million fans coming to the stadium – were not as good as the fans realized. Torre and Ramirez soon left the team with no star names to replace them. Even with the best pitcher and best hitter in baseball, 2011 was a lost cause. The team almost couldn’t make payroll in 2011, asking for ANOTHER loan from Newscorp to simply fix the books. And with the books open, the debts were staggering. The team was drowning in dozens of millions of deferred payments, mostly to former players. McCourt, throwing money at $800 an hour divorce attorneys, soon found himself in bankruptcy court.The process plummeted the team’s value so his wife would receive less money from the settlement. He requested a $150 million loan to fix the books but… no dice.
It led to a dry, unforgiving summer. This was like watching your best friend turn into the Black Knight in the Holy Grail. First you rooted for and respected him. Then you realized he was no good. So you just want the entire thing to be over with. But he kept coming back, thinking he had a chance. The details of the divorce are gory and vain but one great thing emerged – McCourt couldn’t be the owner much longer.
So when Frank McCourt was ordered to sell the team by Major League Baseball you could hear the sighs of relief from Rancho Cucamonga to Santa Monica. Rumors are abound that the O’Malleys (who brought the Dodgers to LA in 1958) would buy back the team. Or maybe a conglomeration of LA businessmen. Whatever the case, McCourt’s asking price of 1 billion dollars won’t be met. This city loves a show. But it knows when it’s being had.
Truth be told, nobody loves a good story like this town. Even if the team is rotten you will have guys with their kids cheering every pitch, teaching them the city’s history in sports. Yet, for all this tradition, nothing is like Dodger Stadium. Even Dodger hating, overly dramatic sportswriters can’t deny that Dodger Stadium is as surreal as any sports pantheon in the world. In it’s tragedies and comedies, the improbable and miraculous happen all the time. You will see something special here. You know it when you finally see the field. Nothing on the planet is as cold as a foggy night with an cold ocean breeze, the coldest July you’ve ever felt. Or as hot as a day game in an August inferno, your beer warm before you put it down. Or waiting in 20 minutes of traffic on the 110 to climb up that hill, park the car, and most likely miss first pitch.
Hey, you tried to get there early.
At least you’re there.
Photos via AP and Aaron Lomeli.