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BILL DWYRE

In L.A., Dodgers trump Angels

September 23, 2008|Bill Dwyre

The best team in baseball isn't even the biggest story in its own city. Right now, Los Angeles is all caught up in the Dodgers' magic number and only casually interested in the Angels' magic team.

The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim adopted a city, and the city it adopted mostly shrugs in return.

We are all Dodgers, all the time, 24/7 Blue Heaven. What if they were a really good team? What if they win another playoff game? Will we offer our firstborn in celebration?

If Kirk Gibson limped onto a theater stage in Los Angeles, clenched his fist and pumped his right arm backward, 97% of the people in the room would quickly tell you where they were that night. If Torii Hunter did the same thing, 97% would ask who he was and why was he limping.

Gibson was 1988 and, for all intents and purposes, so are the Dodgers. Since Gibson and Orel Hershiser, there has been Jose Lima on Oct. 9, 2004, and nothing else. One playoff win in 20 years and we wrap ourselves into little bundles of daily anticipation waiting for the next one.

But the years of masterful fan-base building by the O'Malleys, the years of Tommy Lasorda constantly equating the prospects of our afterlife to our loyalty for his baseball team, and the branding and marketing recovery Frank McCourt has made after Fox screwed everything up for several years have kept the Dodgers in our frontal lobes.

The media sense this, research it and respond.

Local TV sportscasts find time for the Angels as a last-gasp sentence just before time expires. Newspapers put Angels' results well back in the sports section, as this one did Sunday morning, when the Angels clinched home-field advantage for the first round of the playoffs and Francisco Rodriguez saved his 60th game.

It is worth noting that there are two teams in the majors that don't even have 60 wins.

Sports-talk radio survives on ratings, and for it, the summertime version of all Kobe all the time, has become Manny Ramirez. Manny departed the Boston Red Sox under a cloud, brought his famous hair and booming bat to the Dodgers, went on a spree that has him hitting .399, and sports radio had manna from heaven.

About the same time the Dodgers got Manny, the Angels traded for a star first baseman. Mark Teixeira is hitting .351 here and has done, quietly, much of what Ramirez has done for the Dodgers.

But Teixeira, as well as the likes of John Lackey, Chone Figgins, Vlad Guerrero, Garret Anderson, Jon Garland, Ervin Santana, Joe Saunders, Hunter and Rodriguez -- the core of a team that leads the majors with a record of 97-59 -- doesn't move the needle in L.A. like the Dodgers and Manny.

One astute baseball observer, the columnist who types on Page 2 of this sports section, pointed to a reason for this. Speaking of various methods of inducing sleep before surgery, Page 2 typed, "Instead of anesthesia to put you to sleep, they have you listen to Mike Scioscia being interviewed."

That means the Angels' manager is boring.

Also, dumb like a fox. Nobody is happier than Scioscia at the ease with which his team has clinched a playoff spot early and has drifted easily beneath the radar. Scioscia is not a Joe Namath-call-the-shot guy. He would rather you wake up the morning after he has beaten you and have you wonder what hit you. His Angels may end up with the quietest 100-win season in baseball history.

The Dodgers have Joe Torre, celebrity manager, proven commodity. He dealt with the New York press for more than a decade, including tabloid types who could get a big story or a nasty headline out of a wink or a sneeze. After that, the L.A. media are a walk in the park for Torre.

The Dodgers also have Vin Scully, who doesn't just move the needle. He is the needle. If there is a better thing than listening to Scully describe a game on a warm summer night, then somebody better bottle it.

The Angels, by comparison, offer several competent game-describers and one unique talent in Rex Hudler, who once remarked that a pitcher had "slown down" his fastball. As mesmerizing as Scully is, Hudler is enthusiastic. The Dodgers have a poet laureate, the Angels a master malaprop, and both serve their constituencies well.

The days ahead will be exciting. All eyes will be on the Dodgers, as clinching time approaches. The headlines will get bigger, the news broadcasts louder. Those who get paid handsomely these days to count website hits will do so joyously, because Dodgers buzz always drives Internet clatter.

It is late September, almost always Dodgers time here. All eyes will be focused on Chavez Ravine. In this city, the Dodgers will have it all.

Except the better team.

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Bill Dwyre can be reached at bill.dwyre@latimes.com.

To read previous columns by Dwyre, go to latimes.com/dwyre.

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