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BILL SHAIKIN / ON BASEBALL

A real Freeway Series would get local juices flowing

In a rivalry where teams are close but not that close, Dodgers and Angels have never played a big game.

October 07, 2009|BILL SHAIKIN | ON BASEBALL

The baseball season had been over for two months. The next one was four months away.

Vin Scully needed to make a few extra bucks for the Christmas season, so he took a temporary job sorting mail. This was more than half a century ago, when humans still did all the sorting.

The snow was falling, the carolers were singing, the chestnuts were roasting. The goodwill on Earth did not extend to the back room of the post office, where Scully's co-workers were arguing bitterly about whether the Brooklyn Dodgers or the New York Yankees had the better center fielder.

"It was intense," Scully said.

So we can imagine the intensity when the crosstown rivals would face off in the World Series -- or, better yet, we can ask Scully to describe it.

"It consumed the whole day, from the moment you woke up," Scully said. "The whole day was the World Series. There was nothing else."

We're longing for a Freeway Series, when blue flags and red flags would jostle for supremacy in the carpool lane, when neighbors and friends would have to declare their loyalty.

Dodgers or Angels?

We're longing for an actual rivalry, for passion, for hostility. We want the real thing, not the tired hype of interleague play.

We need the World Series for this. Let a million Matt Kemp versus Torii Hunter debates bloom, the revival of all those Duke Snider versus Mickey Mantle (and Willie Mays) debates in New York.

Scully can't see it happening.

By the time Brooklyn won its first World Series, the Yankees had won 16.

"The Yankees were always considered the lordly pinstripers, with all their wealth and success," he said. "The Dodgers were kind of ragamuffins -- not much money, their players were inadequate.

"There was always this contrast between the lordly Yankees and the serfs from Brooklyn. There's none of that -- that I see -- between the Dodgers and Angels."

Mike Scioscia won in blue. Now he wins in red.

In Scully's eyes, what's to hate?

"I don't think Anaheim looks at the Dodgers as Brooklyn looked at the Yankees," he said. "I certainly don't think Dodger fans look down their noses at Anaheim the way Yankee fans looked down their noses at Dodger fans."

We trace the roots of his skepticism to one word: Anaheim.

See, Scully and the guys in that post office all rode the same subways. It was a short hop to Yankee Stadium or Ebbets Field, to Madison Square Garden or the Empire State Building, to homes all around New York City.

"To me, Anaheim is a trip," Scully said. "I don't feel the proximity to Anaheim that I did with the Bronx and Brooklyn. Not at all."

The Angels now call themselves Los Angeles, just like the Dodgers.

"That's a marketing thing," Scully said.

The Angels consider this a two-team market, same as Chicago and New York. When Arte Moreno branded his team as the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Frank McCourt spoofed the move with caps and T-shirts promoting his team as the Los Angeles Dodgers of Los Angeles.

But we all come together for the Lakers. We all choose sides, USC or UCLA. We have to. The Trojans and Bruins play each other in a big game, every year.

The Dodgers and Angels never have played each other in a big game. The Yankees and Boston Red Sox had a nice little provincial competition until Bucky Dent and the one-game playoff of 1978, and until they jousted three times in six years in the American League Championship Series, juicing the rivalry with the fierce drama and passion of October.

That's what we need.

We'd have all of Southern California talking baseball, from San Clemente to Santa Clarita.

Thousand Oaks is Dodgers territory, but Scioscia lives there. Fullerton is Angels territory, but Tom Lasorda lives there.

Pledge allegiance, one way or the other.

Let a Freeway Series consume all of our days in the last week of October. Let us watch Game 7 wearing shorts, in the first week of November.

The fall Freeway Series would ignite our rivalry, kindle our passion, stir a million arguments. Yet that is not the only reason we're longing for a Freeway Series this fall.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the first World Series game in Los Angeles. The Dodgers got there with a dramatic playoff victory over the Milwaukee Braves, with Scully's call etched so deeply in our memories that I can recite it word for word, and I wasn't even born then:

"Big bouncer, over the mound, back of second, up with it is Mantilla, throws low and wild! Hodges scores, we go to Chicago!"

The television networks supply their own announcers for the playoffs these days, so Scully works exclusively on the Dodgers' radio broadcast. It's our treat. The longer the Dodgers stay alive, the more we get the joy of Scully on radio. We'll be rooting for him to make this call:

"Big bouncer, over the mound, back of second, up with it is Rollins, throws low and wild! Pierre scores, we go to Anaheim!"

--

bill.shaikin@latimes.com

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