LOS ANGELES — A few weeks ago, an invitation arrived at my desk. It was a pretty thing, all red, white and blue, with the years 1890-1990 stamped on the front. We have begun the centennial season of the Dodgers.
This is one birthday that will be hard to miss. My particular invitation involved a little fete for several thousand sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce, and there was a hint that a few lucky party-goers just might get seated next to Vin Scully.
But if you didn't get invited, not to worry. You can buy the Dodger centennial video at your nearest tape store and wear your centennial sweat shirt while you watch it.
I'm saying there will be lots of opportunity to see Tommy, Vin and the whole gang talk about the old days. About Bobby Thompson's home run that broke Brooklyn's heart, about stickball, about the team that everyone loved all the more because it could never beat the Yankees.
You ever wonder, for example, where the Dodgers got their name? Sure you did. Back in 1890, when the team was just starting out, it called itself the Trolley Dodgers because that's what everyone did back in those days in Brooklyn--dodge trolleys--and it gave the team a hometown feel. After a while the trolley part got dropped and the Dodgers have been just Dodgers ever since. Believe me, you're gonna hear this story a few times.
This Dodgers version of "Roots" will go on through the summer. We will have a festival of baseball history out here on the Pacific slope. The only trouble is, it's a history that belongs to someone else.
I'm not talking about a major felony here, just a small purloining of history. We're going to take a chunk of Brooklyn's past and affix it to ourselves.
It's an old habit in Los Angeles. Our own past doesn't seem to matter much out here. We don't think of ourselves as having a "history," and it leaves an empty spot. So we take the stuff that belongs to others and pretend it's our own.
For example, you ever walk down Larchmont Boulevard in Hancock Park and get the sense you're strolling along an old-time Main Street from back East? That's no accident. Larchmont and its small shops were designed as a carbon copy of the main drag in quaint Larchmont, N.Y. It was put there so the burghers of Hancock Park could make believe they lived in a place with a past.
And so with the Dodgers' "centennial." We will pretend the whole hundred years is ours to celebrate. We'll pretend that Branch Rickey actually has some connection to Los Angeles, that the Boys of Summer were part of our legacy.
As I say, it's mostly harmless, although we will probably hear from Brooklyn before it's all over. They're still nursing those old wounds back there and they don't understand that we're only borrowing their history for the season. Come fall, they can have it back.
But this old habit does have a price. It means we ignore the past that is our own. Let me make the fearless prediction that during the upcoming celebration we will see this pattern repeated. Los Angeles will be treated as if its own past doesn't matter.
That's too bad, because the interwoven history of the Dodgers and Los Angeles is one of the most intriguing anywhere. The arrival of the Dodgers here--and the simultaneous arrival of the Giants in San Francisco--signaled that California would never be the same.
The Dodgers and the Giants were the first teams to move across the continent, and, with a little help from the commercial jetliner, ended the era of California as a distant outpost. If a baseball team could fly back and forth weekly, why couldn't everyone else? They could, and did.
Los Angeles also proved, for the first time, how one city can steal a team from another and turn it to gold. Dodger owner Walter O'Malley originally wanted to build a new stadium in Brooklyn but couldn't get the land from New York City. New York didn't see why it should give away anything.
So O'Malley came out here, took a helicopter ride with County Supervisor Kenneth Hahn, and spotted a goat farm at Chavez Ravine.
"Can I have that?" O'Malley asked.
He could, and the Dodgers were ours. Chavez Ravine was a prototype for dozens of future dirty deals between other cities and other teams, but none came out as sweet as this one.
There's more, lots more. I wish I had space to tell the stories because they likely won't be told during our big celebration. We will be too busy with Duke, Roy, Branch, all the other boys of Flatbush, and a city that has, you know, a \o7 real\f7 history.