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Baseball '90 PREVIEW : TRIUMPHANT AT 100 : From the Bums of Brooklyn and Boys of Summer to the Blue Crew in Los Angeles, the Dodgers Have a Special History

April 09, 1990|MARK HEISLER | Times Staff Writer

Has it only been 100 years?

Can a mere century contain the epic sweep of the Dodgers, the franchise that taught baseball integration, bicoastalism and prosperity?

Uncle Robbie, Mr. Rickey, Jackie Robinson, the Bums, the Boys of Summer, Sandy, Drysdale coming inside, Fernandomania, Orel, Gibson's swing. . . . Any team would be hard pressed to match it for romance.

None certainly can touch its bottom line, this family-owned empire seated high on a hill atop downtown Los Angeles. "Probably the most successful sports franchise that has ever been fielded," Stanford economist Roger Noll said after seeing the owners' books during the '85 strike, and "Baseball's answer to the Denver mint."

Nor was this automatic, but won only with a hard-nosed dedication to the organization.

For all the talk about "Dodger family," this is the franchise that forced out Branch Rickey, let go Red Barber, traded Jackie Robinson and Maury Wills, sold Duke Snider, abandoned Brooklyn, traded Davey Lopes within weeks of the '81 World Championship, lost Don Sutton to free agency in 1980, and Steve Garvey in 1982 and Steve Sax in 1989, and recently purged its own publicity staff.

The organization remains triumphant at 100. The marketing dervishes at 1000 Elysian Park Ave., ever eager for a new theme to memorialize on patches on their players' uniform shirts, have struck promotional gold. Think of it, a Dodger century! The media blitz, the merchandise-- the video! --($19.95 in an outlet near you.)

"Dodgermania is going to be sweeping the community," said the head of the video company at a drumbeating Dodger Stadium press conference. "And only to a slightly lesser extent, New York."

If only the ballclub can do its part, it'll be talking major box office . . .

We're talking hopes, we're talking vision, we're talking Dodgers!

Just for Laughs:

1890-1938

In the beginning, they were the Brooklyn Trolley Dodgers of the American Assn., who were invited to join the National League in 1890. They played in bucolic Washington Park before thousands. Well, 1,000 or 2,000, anyway.

The team would variously be known as the Bridegrooms (seven players got married in the 1889 off-season), Robins (after Manager Wilbert Robinson) and Superbas (?). In 1913, owner Charlie Ebbets, who had joined the club as a ticket-taker and program hawker, built a state-of-the-art stadium in what was known as Pigtown. An estimated 25,000 attended the exhibition with the Yankees that opened Ebbets Field.

The Dodgers won pennants in 1916 and 1920, but lost both World Series, a precursor of things to come.

Mostly they were bad on the field and good for laughs, led by fat, popular Uncle Robbie. "Robbie was a roly-poly genial jolley fellow weighing 300 pounds," wrote Dodger VP-to-be Fresco Thompson. "When his dentures fitted properly, you could even understand him. He missed by many miles being a baseball genius and his archrival and hated enemy, John McGraw, could have stayed in bed . . . and still outsmarted him."

Casey Stengel played for Uncle Robbie. Ace hitter Billy Herman was said to have fielded a fly ball with his head (an apocryphal story) and once tripled and arrived at third base with two teammates (a true one). Many games were lost, comically or otherwise. Willard Mullin of the New York World-Telegraph drew the "Bum" cartoon--a ragged, unshaven tramp smoking a cigar butt--that became their unofficial logo.

The Yankees and Giants ruled the city. The Dodgers were poor relations.

Rennaisance:1938-1956

Dodger history is replete with towering figures, and now came Leland Stanford (Larry) MacPhail, a swashbuckler moldering far from the bright lights in the Cincinnati front office, hired by the Dodgers on the advice of NL president Ford Frick.

The Dodgers were then in hock for $350,000 to the Brooklyn Trust Co. Walter O'Malley, who came on the scene as a collections lawyer for the bank, told "The Boys of Summer" author Roger Kahn the bank would have gladly foreclosed, except for fear of angering Dodger fans into pulling their accounts.

MacPhail was unorthodox and unafraid. As a captain at the end of World War I, he joined a plot, hatched over a couple bottles of wine, to kidnap Kaiser Wilhelm who had sought refuge in a castle in nearby Amerongen, Holland. MacPhail and seven U.S. officers were turned back by German troops at the castle, but MacPhail escaped with an ashtray he said was the Kaiser's.

In Cincinnati, MacPhail introduced night baseball. In Brooklyn, he ended the agreement with the Yankees and Giants not to broadcast games on radio and brought in Reds announcer Red Barber. MacPhail hired a stadium organist, ushers and Babe Ruth as a coach.

More to the point, he insisted on a lot of additional working capital and acquired players like Pee Wee Reese, Dolph Camilli and Joe Medwick. He brought in the fiery captain of the Cardinals' Gashouse Gang, Leo Durocher, as manager.

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