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The Dodgers Win the Pennant

As you know, I’ve been a big Dodgers fan [1] ever since it occurred to me the Astros might not win the ALCS, so congratulations to my favorite team of the past 48 to 72 hours on winning their/“our” first pennant in 29 years [2]. It’s been a helluva ride, huh? Congratulations foul-tipper extraordinaire Curtis Granderson. Congratulations third base coach and onetime Rando Commando [3] Chris Woodward. Congratulations Justin Turner, whose transformation from Met castoff to co-MVP is up there with Gordy the Weatherman returning to the WJM newsroom as one of the biggest names in TV journalism [4]. That last example is from The Mary Tyler Moore Show, but Turner’s ascent has been no plot device.

Temporary alliances are all the rage in October, though there was legitimately a span when I harbored positive feelings toward the Los Angeles franchise. That was a very long time ago, so long ago that I liked them because they hadn’t won anything in a while. I guess not having won anything in a while — a league championship, anyway — describes the state of my present Blue crush prior to Thursday night, but this was in the early 1970s, when my frame of reference reached back no further than the very late 1960s. The Dodgers had last won a pennant in 1966, three years before I became a lifelong baseball fan. Their most recent success occurred while I was alive but before I was alert.

When I first encountered the Dodgers, they were a pretty good team that didn’t win their division. They seemed to be up there in the standings, but not all the way up there. My instinct was to pull for new teams to replace old teams. The Dodgers were new within that framework. The Reds, three-time N.L. West champs by the time I turned eleven, thus represented the old order. The season I was eleven, 1974, the Dodgers supplanted the Reds. They struck me as both startlingly fresh and comfortingly traditional. Steve Garvey became Steve Garvey as in Steve Garvey Superstar that year. Davey Lopes, Bill Russell, Ron Cey…all young, all bursting onto the scene alongside first baseman Garvey at second, short and third. Walt Alston was still managing. He’d been managing since 1954, in Brooklyn. Vin Scully was still announcing. He’d been announcing since 1950, in Brooklyn. Garvey’s dad had driven the team bus in Spring Training from when the team was, yup, in Brooklyn. Steve said his hero was Gil Hodges. I knew who Gil Hodges was and where he’d played.

The Brooklyn-L.A. connection didn’t fully click for me (grainy black & white seemed a world removed from living color), but I gathered the Dodgers had been a big deal during the ages that preceded mine. Every syndicated ’60s sitcom set in Southern California seemed to drop in a Dodger reference if not a Dodger guest star. Don Sutton had pitched on the same staff with Koufax and Drysdale (the latter of whom tutored young Greg Brady) and was still pitching for them. Veteran Tommy John was pitching for them, too, though by October he was out with an arm injury that required some sort of surgery. Based on my baseball cards, Jimmy Wynn had been an Astro, Andy Messersmith an Angel and Mike Marshall an Expo, but now they were all sticking it to the Reds, the lot of whom I’d had it in for dating to the previous October and their whiny NLCS appearance at Shea. Marshall was particularly amazing: 106 appearances in relief, his right arm still attached to his right shoulder.

I dug those Dodgers, celebrated their historically overdue 1974 flag and maintained a vague vein of non-Met support for them for a few more years. The West got confusing when Tom Seaver moved to Cincinnati in ’77 and I had to kind of like the Reds because of No. 41. The next wave of new challengers — San Francisco in 1978, Houston in 1979 and ’80 — came to the fore, making the old Dodgers and their ever more ancient infield seem desperately in need of toppling. Worst crime of all, L.A. made a habit of slipping on banana peels in World Series. I could forgive 1974 versus the A’s (speedy outfielder Bill Buckner made a critical baserunning mistake), but they lost to the Yankees in 1977 and again in 1978. The latter really bugged me. Up two games to none, they dropped the next four. Lopes and Russell moaned about the New York fans. I didn’t like the New York fans who attended Yankees games, yet even I was perversely glad those two California kvetchers didn’t win. Once the Fernando-fueled Dodgers returned the favor in 1981, losing the first two before taking the next four from the finally struggling Yankees, I cheered them home, thanked them for their service, and drifted off to other extracurricular clients. Save for a few marriage-of-convenience intervals, I don’t think I’ve rooted at all for the Dodgers in the past 35 years.

But I will gladly do so should they not face Houston in the forthcoming World Series. I gladly did so in the last couple of games of the NLCS against Chicago. Nothing against the Cubs, a shocking development to my younger self, but I let go of my anti-Cub animus in the wake of the 2015 NLCS when the North Siders played perfect hosts to the league champion Mets. Chicago earned what it earned in 2016 and everything else is aftermath until further notice. Gone Cubs Gone, but no hard feelings.

When Cubs fans recall the period of 2015-2017, they probably won’t fume, “Oh great, that was when we lost two NLCSes in three years.” Though maybe not. It’s still nearly impossible to utter or Twitter the year “1988” in the presence of Mets fans without triggering emotional distress. A person tracking the Dodgers’ last steps to their first pennant in twenty-nine years couldn’t help but mention 1988, not out of malice, just to be accurate. I’m aware it didn’t work out well for the Mets that October. I was alive and alert and as dissatisfied as any Mets fan sentient. Yet three decades hence, I compartmentalize the good stuff — division title, 100 wins, a few very admirable postseason performances sprinkled in amid the pain — and also check the calendar. Two years separated 1988 from 1986. The 1988 Mets shouldn’t have lost to the 1988 Dodgers, but I’m willing to retroactively grant them the slightest of period passes. That era was not about coming achingly close several times and missing. That era was about winning the big one once and not losing a ton in the years that surrounded it. I swear it was.

It’s different if you never win the big one. It was different for L.A. post-1988. What’s weird about their pennant drought, longer than any established, stationary National League franchise’s besides Pittsburgh’s, is the Dodgers were rarely horrible from 1989 on. They had a couple of dips, particularly before their current ownership situation coalesced, but mostly they’ve generally functioned as one of the elite operations in baseball. That’s what it was like when I encountered them as a kid. You knew they were glamorous and successful. They just weren’t champions. The Dodgers made the playoffs ten times in between their 1988 and 2017 World Series appearances. They just never scaled the hump, sort of like Cleveland, Oakland and Minnesota. Cleveland, Oakland and Minnesota, however, would revert to stubbornly horrible for discernible stretches. L.A. was no worse than in-n-out of trouble before suffering the heartbreak of being merely glamorous and successful.

Twice, in 2006 and 2015, the Mets expelled the Dodgers from the playoffs, and that was cool. Lately, the Dodgers expel the Mets from just about every game they contest, which isn’t, but they’re up, we’re down, sometimes that happens. I can’t hold the unpleasant side of recurring rivalry against the Dodgers at the moment. I can, but I won’t. Really, seeing the Dodgers and Cubs in two consecutive NLCSes let the taste of us beating them both linger longer than it should have. If you think about it, we are the National League round robin champions of the past three Octobers. We’re two-and-oh against them; they’re one-and-two against us and each other. Plus all this business was settled at Wrigley Field, which makes for a very telegenic setting.

Too bad none of it wins us anything new, but it beats dwelling on Scioscia, Gibson and Hershiser.