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BASEBALL 2003

City of Angels?

After decades of Dodger dominance on almost all levels, scales have been tipped toward Anaheim by World Series title

March 30, 2003|Ross Newhan | Times Staff Writer

The most intriguing issue involving the Angels and Dodgers as they open the new baseball season doesn't pertain to the question of whose town it is now.

Just because the Dodgers haven't been to the World Series in 15 years and the Angels are now the big kid on the block after winning their first World Series and turning history on its ear doesn't mean the Friars Club and other blue bastions are about to forsake their favorite team.

Just because the pounding of those plastic sticks in harmony to the Angels' relentless offense undoubtedly created shock waves across the Southland -- and, perhaps, registered on the Richter scale of Dodger souls -- doesn't mean those deep and long-planted Dodger tentacles are going to be uprooted.

All it means is that the Dodgers and Angels are about to prove what they have always suspected, which is that this sprawling "town" without boundaries, from Santa Clarita to San Clemente, from Manhattan Beach to Moreno Valley, is big enough for both. All it means is that the Dodgers are likely to produce 3 million in attendance for the eighth consecutive season while the Angels are likely to do it for the first time in their 43-year history, proving what they too have always suspected and Disney may not have initially believed -- winning is the best marketing gimmick of all.

No, as the Angels move out from under the Dodgers' shadow, with "a chance now to sustain the recognition and respect we're receiving," as Tim Mead, the club's vice president of communications, put it, the real issue is to what extent has this role reversal left the Dodgers feeling as if they have more than a rally monkey on their back?

No, the real issue is how ticked are the Dodgers as the Angels get played on the cover of Sports Illustrated and the Sporting News and ESPN the Magazine, and all of the Angels' spring games are on radio compared to only 14 for the Dodgers, and Los Angeles-based camera crews hop over to the champions' camp in Arizona but pass on Vero Beach.

No, the real issue pertains to what level the Dodgers' consternation has reached as they reflect on the Angels' selfless sweep through October when they became the industry model for the way to play the game, as if Branch Rickey and Al Campanis never wrote the text on "The Dodger Way to Play Baseball," and to what extent that consternation was compounded by the fact that it took a Dodger hallmark named Mike Scioscia -- forced out of Dodge and the Dodger organization by "Sheriff" Kevin Malone -- all of about three minutes to lead the Angels to the promised land as their manager, head of a coaching staff that almost to a man also had roots in the Dodger system.

The answers to those questions are difficult to come by because there's a lot of history and baggage involved. The Angels don't want it to appear they are gloating, and the Dodgers -- who weren't exactly out of sight and mind as they won 92 games and pursued a wild card into late September -- don't want it to appear they are pouting. So a search for truth is frustrated more often than not until it reaches the spring locker of Dodger catcher Paul Lo Duca, who contemplated the Angels' ascent and said:

"Frankly, I'm bugged by it, and I would think a lot of the guys here feel the same way. Watching our two rivals [the Angels and San Francisco Giants] play in the World Series was the worst nightmare for Dodger players, and I think a lot of us switched off our TVs.

"I mean, the Angels may not be the heated rivals that the Giants have been, but they're only 30 minutes down the freeway and there's a lot of neighborhood pride involved, kind of a turf war to it, and no one wants to think that those fans who might have been on the fence are now Angel fans. We have to accept the fact that they're the World Series champions, but it's a new year and we have to turn it up a notch, use the Angels as an example, as motivation.

"We've put our fans on a roller coaster the last couple years and we need to make a run at it. It's been 15 years since we've been in a World Series. We owe the fans."

In 30 of 42 seasons, the Dodgers have finished higher in the standings than the Angels. From 1959 to 1988, the Dodgers made nine World Series appearances and won five titles. If Lo Duca is the first Dodger ever to say the Angels should be an example and a motivation, if he is the first to acknowledge that the Series matchup represented the Dodgers' worst nightmare, it's nothing more than what Dodger executives undoubtedly believe but judiciously refrain from saying.

"You won't hear any vindictiveness, jealousy or embarrassment from us," said Derrick Hall, the senior vice president of communications. "This wasn't a panic period for the Dodgers but a long-overdue reward for the Angels. They're doing things right, and we feel we're getting back to that emphasis on stability and the farm system.

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