Here in the U.S. of A., today is Thanksgiving. It’s a wonderful holiday filled with food, family, and football; two of those things are wonderful, and the other one is football.
Even though it’s the offseason, there are still plenty of things for baseball fans to be thankful for. I mean, just yesterday, Rex Brothers got traded just hours after L.J. Hoes did, proving once and for all that Hoes comes before Bros. Some other league is going to have to solve the chicken/egg conundrum to top that one.
In addition to being a fan of baseball in general, I am a fan of the Los Angeles Dodgers. As we prepare to feast on turkey and stuffing and then fall asleep pretending to care about a Detroit Lions game, let’s take a look at five reasons Dodgers fans have to be thankful today.
5) All the money
It’s your birthday and you’re blowing out the candles on your cake. Or the clock says 11:11. Or you rubbed an old lamp you found in the Cave of Wonders and a genie showed up. What are you wishing for?
Money, right? Of course it’s money. If you’re a kid, it’s probably “a million dollars,” because “a million” is the highest number you know. If you’re an adult, you’ve no doubt set your sights higher. But no matter the amount, you are wishing for a sum of money that will give you advantages your chump peers can only dream of.
That’s what it’s like to be a Dodgers fan right now. The Dodgers have a television contract that pays them $334 million per year and they have led baseball in attendance the last several years. Their financial resources are effectively limitless.
Now, it’s true that you can’t buy championships, as the Dodgers’ last few years have shown. And it’s also true that the television deal that makes the team so rich also prevents 70 percent of Angelenos from watching their team. But hey, it’s Thanksgiving! Let’s be thankful that our team is entering free agency with the purse strings to sign any free agent they want, and save the complaining for Grumpy Pants Day.
4) Dodger Stadium
I’ve been to a lot of major league stadiums. Twenty-seven, to be exact. And sure, I’m a bit biased, but there is something special about Dodger Stadium.
People who don’t know any better like to poke fun at Dodgers fans for showing up to games late and leaving early, or for doing the wave, or for hitting beach balls around in the stands. I’ve been to enough stadiums to have insights on each of those:
- In every stadium in baseball, the stands will start to empty when the game is 8-3 and they cut off beer sales after the seventh inning. This is not unique to Los Angeles. And while some fans do show up late, there are still at least 30,000 people in the stands at the start of every game. I can think of a team or twelve that would love to have 30,000 fans show up at all, let alone on time.
- Similarly, fans in every stadium do the wave. I know it’s trendy for grumpy people to mock people for *gasp* doing something fun at an entertainment event, but … I think the tone of the first part of this sentence pretty much means I don’t have to figure out how to word the second part.
- As for beach balls, Los Angeles is near the beach. Southern Californians like the beach. Detroit Red Wings fans throw squid on the ice. Boston Red Sox fans sing Sweet Caroline. And Dodgers fans bat beach balls around. The beach is cool.
I digressed a while ago, so let’s get back on track. There are a lot of wonderful baseball stadiums in the league. Fenway Park is fantastic. Coors Field is beautiful. PNC Park is stunning. AT&T Park is spectacular. And even the O.co Coliseum, which feels like a prison yard on the outside … well, once you get inside, there’s baseball in there, which makes it better than almost anywhere else in the world.
But Dodger Stadium is special. It is the third-oldest stadium in baseball, but the team has kept it updated so it doesn’t feel old — it feels classic. Dodgers Dogs are not the best hot dogs in baseball, but when you’re eating a Dodger Dog it means you’re at Dodger Stadium, so in that way they are. The Diamond Vision scoreboards above the outfield bleachers. The view from the Top of the Park, both looking outward to the Hollywood sign and looking in (and down) at the perfectly proportioned field below. Looking up to the press box where legends sit. Tommy Lasorda sitting in his seat near the home dugout. The mound where Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale and Don Sutton and Fernando Valenzuela and Orel Hershiser and Eric Gagne and Clayton Kershaw have done their magic. It is baseball history and nostalgia and here-and-now excitement, all rolled into one.
When I walk into Dodger Stadium with my son, we are both happy. That all sounds cheesy and corny, but Dodgers fans know what I’m talking about. And in a way, I’m a little bit thankful that other people don’t quite understand.
3) “There, but for the grace of God, go I”
“A recognition that others’ misfortune could be one’s own, if it weren’t for the blessing of the Divine, or for one’s luck.”
I read somewhere once that when the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants were planning their moves to the west coast, there was talk of having the Giants move to Los Angeles and the Dodgers move to San Francisco. What a different world that would be!
When the Dodgers moved to California after the 1957 season, my dad was a four-year-old kid living with his parents in the city of La Puente, about 20 miles east of L.A. The Sniders loved baseball, but they didn’t really have a rooting interest because the closest team was 1,814 miles away in St. Louis. When the Dodgers moved to town, the Sniders became a Dodgers family. (Except my uncle, who was old enough to have his own opinions and had already latched onto Willie Mays during the 1954 World Series. He was, and remains to this day, a Giants fan. But he has a lot of good qualities, too.)
If the Dodgers had moved to San Francisco and the Giants had moved to Los Angeles, I would have been born into a family of Los Angeles Giants fans. I would loathe the Dodger Blue and love the Giant Orange (ewwwwwww). Instead of Hershiser and Valenzuela, I would have grown up with Atlee Hammaker and Mike Krukow.
Baseball fans generally choose their allegiance based on proximity. There are millions of Dodgers fans who, but for the grace of God, could be Giants fans today. The fact that that didn’t happen is definitely something to be thankful for.
2) Clayton Kershaw
That Kershaw is only number two on this list says a lot more about number one than it does about Kershaw. Baseball fans in general, but especially Dodgers fans, are witnessing something special in Kershaw, and we should all be thankful.
There have been great pitchers in the past, and there will be great pitchers in the future. We have no way of knowing where Kershaw will rank among the all-time greats when all is said and done. What we know is that right now, at this moment, Kershaw has just reeled off one of the most dominant five-years stretches any living person has ever seen. Even after finishing in third place in the National League Cy Young voting, he is still universally regarded as the best pitcher in baseball. Jake Arrieta and Zack Greinke might have had better seasons in 2015 — a debatable point to be sure — but it will take more than that to knock Kershaw from his perch.
Kershaw has an outstanding fastball. He has one of the best curves in the game. He has a slider that is absolutely unhittable when it bores in on a right-handed hitter. And to top it all off, he has control and command that have kept much lesser pitchers in the league for years after their “stuff” went away.
Go look at the career ERA leaderboard. Kershaw currently sits in 34th place. Now look at the 33 pitchers ahead of him. What do you notice? Other than Mariano Rivera, every single one of them was born in the 1800s. Did you read that? There is not a single starting pitcher born in the past 115 years with a better ERA than Clayton Kershaw. The next best active pitcher is Adam Wainwright, whose 2.98 ERA puts him in 167th place on the all-time list. No other active pitcher is below 3.00. Kershaw is at 2.43.
Now look at the career ERA+ leaderboard, which will tell us how pitchers performed relative to their peers and their offensive environment. No big deal, Kershaw is just tied with Pedro Martinez for second place all time, behind Rivera. Yes, the same Pedro who just went into the Hall of Fame and who set records with his dominant pitching in a huge offensive era.
If that’s not enough for you, Kershaw is also, by all accounts, a classy, charitable, upstanding young man who gives of his time and money to help the the less fortunate, both here in the United States and in struggling areas in Africa.
I wrote back in February about how if Luke Hochevar hadn’t backed out on the deal he agreed to with the Dodgers when they drafted him in 2005, Kershaw would have gone to the Tigers in the 2006 draft one pick before the Dodgers got the chance to take him. When you sit down for your feast today, give a little thanks for Scott Boras and Hochevar, because without them, we would not have Clayton Kershaw.
1) Vincent Edward Scully
Only two people in history have had control over the English language sufficient to describe what Vin Scully means to Dodgers fans: William Shakespeare and Vin Scully. Shakespeare’s dead and Vinny’s too humble to do it, so you’re stuck with me.
Scully was voted the most memorable personality in Dodgers history. That was 39 years ago. He received the Ford Frick Award from the National Baseball Hall of Fame. That was 33 years ago. He has received every honor and award a baseball broadcaster can receive, and he has deserved all of them and more.
You know the old hypothetical question, where someone will ask if you could have dinner with any three people, living or dead, who would you choose? My first response is always, “Can I just have dinner with Vin Scully three times instead?”
Growing up, I always wanted to be a big league baseball player, but at least 70 percent of that desire was because I wanted Vin Scully to say my name on TV. Len Kasper mentioned me on a Chicago Cubs broadcast this past season, which was pretty cool, but it paled in comparison to the time a few weeks later when Vinny said hello to me as he passed me in the Vin Scully Press Box at Dodger Stadium.
Scully is returning for the 2016 season, but he has indicated that it will probably be his last. That means today is probably our last Thanksgiving to be thankful for “Vin Scully, Dodgers announcer.” Beginning in 2016, we will have to be thankful for the memories, and that will have to be enough.
Happy Thanksgiving, Dodgers fans! Only 83 days until pitchers and catchers report to spring training!