Are you a fan of a team? If you are – the sport doesn’t matter – then my tale of woe might resonate with you, since every fan of any team can tell of heartaches over seasons that end short of the big prize of a championship.
In my case, the sport is baseball, and my team is the Dodgers. Here’s my story:
I had recently turned five in the early fall of 1951 when I was playing with some toys on the floor of the room where we had our television set (that’s what they were called back then). My father and two or three of his friends were watching a baseball game. I wasn’t paying any attention to it. Then, suddenly my dad and his friends were up on their feet shouting and saying things I didn’t understand.
I ran to my dad and asked him what had happened.
“Bobby Thomson just hit a home run, Eddie,” he said, “and the Giants won the pennant.”
I then asked him what team they had beat, and he told me it was the Dodgers. For whatever reason—and I know it probably says a lot about me—I immediately became a Dodger fan. Well, maybe not immediately. But in the following year, I started to collect baseball cards and listen to the games on the radio. I listened to all three New York teams. I quickly learned that the Yankees were the best team with the best players. The Giants didn’t interest me (don’t ask me why).
Before long, I found myself rooting for the Dodgers. For one thing, they had the most exciting player (sorry Mickey and Willie). His name was Jackie Robinson, and he did the most amazing things. At least that’s the way my two favorite announcers – Red Barber and Vince Scully – made it sound. And Jackie had the best teammates. They were all all-stars: Pee Wee, and Duke, and Campy, and Gil, and Carl, and, of course, Jackie.
Later that year, I rooted for them in the World Series, which they lost to the Yankees. The same thing happened the next year, by which time I’d discovered that it almost always happened. The Yankees and Dodgers regularly played in the World Series, and the Yankees always won. So, of course, I became a Yankee hater (an emotion accentuated by the fact that by then my younger brother had become a Yankee fan).
Now when you’re a kid, each year lasts forever (except for summer vacations, of course, which end in about 30 minutes). But the years go by so slowly when you’re young that I thought the Dodgers were never going to win a World Series by the time I was all of nine in 1955. But that year, wonder of wonder, they did beat the Yankees, and even though they lost to the Yanks again the following year, I had my faith in God cemented with that ’55 triumph.
And then, catastrophe struck.
At the end of the 1957 season, the Dodgers announced that they were moving to Los Angeles. Los Angeles! How would I ever follow them and track my favorite players if I couldn’t even read their box scores every morning? Thankfully, one New York radio station continued to report on the Dodgers games (using ticker tape re-enactments) for a few years. And the evening New York papers would generally carry their box scores, so I was still able to get some of the stuff I needed. So I stayed loyal to my team.
By the time I moved to California in 1972, the Dodgers had established their legacy as a perennial pennant contender. They’d won the Series in ’59, ‘63’ and ’65, and had won the pennant in ’66 (and lost a playoff to the Giants in ’62). They went to the Series again in ’74, ’77, and ’78 (losing two of those to the dreaded Yankees) and then won the whole thing again in ’81 and ’88.
It was good to be a Dodger fan in those days – not great, mind you; there were many near misses that were heartbreaking at the time – but it was good. A typical year at least had the team in contention for a division title right up until the last weekend of the season. And by that point in my life, I had accepted that life wasn’t perfect (goodbye God, hello fate), but I still had every reason to believe that it was good to be alive (hello wife and sons and little league).
When the Dodgers beat the mighty Oakland A’s (Jose Canseco, Mark McGuire, et al.) in 1988, I thought they were going to continue winning pennants and World Series for the rest of my life. They became my polestar, and I considered how fortunate I was not to be a Giants fan (as their team hadn’t won a single World Series since leaving New York and had just that one pennant in 1962). The next ten years were frustrating, with good Dodger teams frequently in the playoffs, but never getting back to the Fall Classic.
And then the O’Malley family sold the team to Rupert Murdoch’s Fox media empire, which in turn sold it to a bum named McCourt, and the team floundered badly for the next fifteen years. There were a few decent years—they made the playoffs a couple of times—but these weren’t the Dodgers who made me feel good about my life. These teams were reminders of how frustrating it all gets, especially as you get older and that zest for living starts to get a little stale.
The purchase of the team in 2012 by a conglomerate called Guggenheim gave me hope. They’d spend all the money it took to win again. And they have been competitive for the last three years, but not competitive enough. Last week, they lost another early playoff round, and, again, I will have to spend another winter trying to remember the glory days of my youth.
Twenty-seven years and counting. Ah, to be young again.