Over the course of the past 104 years there have been some terrific seasons to be a Dodgers fan. This season isn't one of them, however, and last season wasn't much worse.
If it hasn't been one problem it's been another tragedy. Each of the past two baseball weekends has been interrupted by the news of the death of a former Dodger great, first Roy Campanella and then Don Drysdale, who was only 56.Add that onto the fact that last year the Dodgers finished in last place for the first time in 87 years, that they lost this year's season opener to the Florida Marlins, that they're being outdrawn by the Colorado Rockies, that Darryl Strawberry remains in contention for Most Valuable Patient, that Don Newcombe still isn't in the Hall of Fame, that Kirk Gibson and Fernando Valenzuela are making comebacks and it isn't as Dodgers, that the Atlanta Braves not only have the best rotation in baseball but also in the National League West, and that - and this one is more or less the coup de grace - both the Yankees and Giants are, as the All-Star break approaches, enjoying sensational seasons.
Then, too, there's the lawsuit. Claiming they have exclusive rights to their name, the Dodgers organization recently filed a complaint against two brothers, Brian and Kevin Boyle, for naming the bar/restaurant they own in Brooklyn the "Brooklyn Dodger."
It is enough to make a Dodgers fan forget about the palm trees and movie stars in Los Angeles, about the chance to wait three deep in line for a table at the latest pasta restaurant in Beverly Hills, about being entertained on the drive home from Chavez Ravine by personalized plates, and yearn for the old days. Back in Brooklyn. When Campy was catching and Drysdale was in the farm system, and so was Koufax, and the cellar was about as far away as . . . the Pacific Ocean.
As the above mentioned legal hassle suggests - and, also, the outpouring of affection for Campanella and Drysdale - the old days in Brooklyn are far from forgotten. The Dodgers were an official National League franchise for 68 years in Brooklyn, from 1890, when they joined the league, to 1958, when they left for L.A. They have been in Los Angeles only half that time, exactly 34 seasons now, providing they finish the one they're currently in the middle of.
Perhaps no sporting team in history has ever carried as much relocation baggage. In Brooklyn, the feeling of abandonment lingers to this day, as evidenced by the keen public interest in the Dodgers v. Brooklyn Dodger case. Almost all of it squarely behind the Boyle brothers.
"The Boyles say their phone has been ringing with offers of help ever since the story broke," said a recent report in the Los Angeles Times. "Five attorneys, all Brooklyn Dodgers fans, volunteered free legal help. The brothers also have received notes from senior citizens voicing moral support."
"This is like Gen. Sherman coming back to Atlanta 30 years after the fire and deciding to kick over a few more stones," Kevin Boyle told the Times. "We can't turn over control to Los Angeles," added his brother, Brian, "this name belongs in Brooklyn."
He could have a point. The name "Dodgers" is actually a shortened version of the original team nickname, "Trolley Dodgers," a term - affectionate or unaffectionate, depending on your point of view - describing agile individuals in the late 1800's who could somehow walk amid the complex maze of trolley cars that then weaved their way through Brooklyn.
"Dodgers," then, makes equally as much sense in Los Angeles, where mass transit has always been looked on with as much disdain as not being able to turn right on red, as "Lakers," a nickname commemorating Minnesota's 10,000 lakes.
These are new/old wounds, but it makes a Dodgers fan wonder, when will it all end? Who broke the mirror? When will Duke Snider come back and hit the cutoff man? Is it destined to be all downhill for the Dodgers since that mystical World Series of 1988, when Gibson rose from the depths of knee troubles to hit a home run with his hands and Orel Hershiser did everything but give up a run?
A hundred and four years into business and the Dodgers have run into adversity that has nothing to do with the Yankees. True, their record is above .500 right now, which is considerably better than last year's 63-99, but they're still 12 games behind the Giants, they're taking weekends off to go to funerals, and they're looking real bad in fighting a bar in their old hometown. When their legal counsel on the Brooklyn Dodger matter, a lawyer named Robert Kheel, says, "Gee, I hope you don't dwell on that issue. The ball club is having a wonderful season," you wonder in what area? Other than billable hours.