The Los Angeles Dodgers filed for bankruptcy protection in a Delaware court this morning.
Pressures in the sports marketplace, poor management, and economic tumult everywhere made the Dodgers weak. Then, like a rotting tree waiting for almost any reason to fall, the club was toppled by the storm of owners Frank and Jamie McCourt’s ongoing divorce proceedings and the hard ball the league has been playing in not really helping the Dodgers clean up the mess.
The Dodgers are not my team. I was only a passive fan around the time of my most rabid love of baseball as a kid. These were the seasons of 1977 and 1978, when, as a Clevelander engaged with hapless teams everywhere I turned, I still had enough pride to hate the Yankees on behalf of the truly awful Cleveland Indians.
It’s hard to claim an arch rival when your team can barely find their way to the clubhouse door and onto the field. I imagine those lean year teams like Spinal Tap wandering through the gothic tunnels of that Lake Erie stink-house Municipal Stadium, bats and balls in hand, everyone banging on the walls in excitement to get the show started, slowly losing their grip, their “Hello, Cleveland!” just a whimper in the end.
The Tribe was pathetic like that, but part of being a fan has always been the need to maintain healthy repulsion for someone else’s beloved. This was the role of the Yankees (along with the Pittsburgh Steelers and Michigan Wolverines) when and where I grew up.
The Yankees and the Dodgers had a titanic and glamorous rivalry back then. Furthermore, since the Steves Garvey and Yeager shared a name with me and the Dodgers pulled along a caravan of colorful stars like Ron Cey, Davey Lopes, and Dusty Baker and they were playing the Yankees for all the marbles, it was easy to transfuse some Dodger Blue into my anemic Cleveland blood.
Today, the Dodgers take a number in a line of sports scandal and failure that snakes down the block as far as the eye can see. For all of the obvious reasons, sports and scandal go together today grandly as they always have. Doping and fixing and violence and money and abusing exultant expectations invites athletes, fans, owners, pundits, politicians, and all variety of hangers-on to go wrong.
It’s no revelation to say it’s getting harder and harder to maintain the firewall of conscious ignorance separating our pleasure in the competition and loyalty of sports from our disdain for its corruption.
While it’s silly to complain that sports empires so embedded in the entertainment economy would not answer first and foremost to profit, the past year has still been tough. At the local level – or at least from my perch far away from the local level in one of the capitals of the Cleveland Diaspora in New York City – there was LeBron’s Decision and the Ohio State Buckeyes’ recent football implosion. Then there’s the NFL lockout and a strike impending for the NBA, too.
For those who just want a little healthy hate, a little nostalgia and grandiosity with their beer, a few games extending into overtime and frantic minutes of heroic play by a team they love, well, there are plenty of let-downs to be had.
It’s easy to quote Paul Simon’s question “Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio?” about any number of jolts to the basic infrastructure of American nostalgia, fantasy, and fun. That includes baseball, of course, and it always did. We’re grown-ups now. We understand how it all works.