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FIRST PERSON

Dodgers aren't part of his Express ride

One in a series of stories marking the Dodgers' 50th season in L.A.

June 24, 2008|Chris Dufresne | Times Staff Writer

The Los Angeles Dodgers and a future sports chronicler made their debuts four days apart in 1958.

This year marks, for each, 50 sunshine seasons in Southern California.

"Put another candle on your birthday cake," Sheriff John used to sing on local "kiddie" television back in Eisenhower days.

It started for me April 11, in Fullerton, 6 pounds and change out of the chute. The L.A. Dodgers were delivered April 15 and absorbed an inaugural 8-0 road defeat to the San Francisco Giants. Don Drysdale took the loss.

Hold it . . .

This isn't one of those syrupy retrospectives about a boy's love for his dog and the hometown Blue Crew, is it?

No.

This is actually man-bites-Dodger dog, an ode to ambivalence and the odd lack of a connection.

How do you explain it, occupying a half-century in the same area and barely exchanging glances?

The Dodgers, Lakers and Rams were for decades the city's three sporting rails. Dodger Stadium was the mansion on the hill.

Yet, the kid who hung on every Jerry West jump shot and Roman Gabriel pass was fairly unmoved by Ron Fairly.

He doesn't remember the World Series champions of 1965 as much as the 1966 Dodgers team that was swept by Baltimore.

His earliest Sandy Koufax recollection is of the left-hander losing the last game he ever pitched.

This must have marked a transformative stage, the time a boy of 7 or 8 starts to sort his sports outs.

What was going on in that kid's Keds?

One hunch:

The Dodgers of 1967 went into brief baseball remission, finishing 73-89, eighth in the National League. Only the Houston Astros and New York Mets had worse records.

Into that Summer of Love void slid, headfirst . . . the California Angels, fifth-place American League finishers with a record of 84-77. Jim Fregosi (shortstop) and Bobby Knoop (second base) won Gold Gloves.

Now here was a franchise on the upswing (little did we know).

The Dodgers had a mean-looking owner, Walter O'Malley, who wore a hat and smoked cigars.

The Angels' owner was . . . a singing cowboy!

It all makes sense now and, once the hook is set, logic and fact take leave, explaining how someone could trade a Willie Davis bubble gum card for Ed Kirkpatrick.

It almost reconciles the childhood argument with a friend, made then in all earnestness, that Angels announcer Buddy Blattner was superior to Vin Scully!

The Dodgers eventually got better and the Angels got worse, but at some point you can't jump the train.

The molten lead sets when Nolan Ryan (a.k.a. Express) arrives in 1972 and starts cutting into Koufax's fast-pitch records.

Vin Scully?

Well, he's the conundrum, the exception. You don't have to like classical music to appreciate Mozart, and it was Vinny who brilliantly narrated Ryan's fifth no-hitter . . . against the Dodgers.

In sum, this 50-year relationship has been platonic.

The Dodgers, Steve Garvey's forearms leading the charge, always seemed a little too good to be true. The field was too perfect, the grass too green, the home uniforms too white, the portly manager a little bit too over the top.

Dodgers fan checks off three National League pennants in the 1970s and the infield of Ron Cey, Bill Russell, Davey Lopes and Garvey.

Mr. Ambivalent checks off three World Series losses and four players not in the Hall of Fame.

Dodgers fan waxes nostalgic about 1981, the 20-year-old Fernando Valenzuela and the World Series triumph over the hated Yankees.

Mr. Inspector General wants to see Fernando's birth certificate.

The agnostic suggests an asterisk for that strike-shortened, standings-partitioned season in which the Cincinnati Reds had the best record and didn't make the playoffs.

Dodgers fan won't forget where he was in 1988 when Kirk Gibson hobbled off the bench to hit that home run against Dennis Eckersley in Game 1 of the World Series.

Mr. Better-Things-to-Do was at the movies -- the Clint Eastwood-directed "Bird," the story of jazz prodigy Charlie Parker, starring a young Forest Whitaker. Good film.

It was OK in this La La land to like Dodgers who became Angels -- Bobby Valentine, Billy Grabarkewitz, Bill Singer, Frank Robinson, Don Drysdale (announcer), Jeff Torborg, Mike Scioscia (manager).

Or to admire the Brooklyn Dodgers -- Jackie Robinson and all he represented.

The L.A. Dodgers, though, never much moved the needle.

It wasn't hate, or contempt, as much as it was passive resistance.

Not everyone dug Elvis.

So happy 50th to the Dodgers, for all it's worth.

It's a beautiful day for a ballgame; so by all means feel free to cheer and boo.

Just count me out for the hullabaloo.

--

chris.dufresne@latimes.com

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