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By Daniel I. Dorfman-
(CBS) Whatever Happened to the Dodgers?
One of the first World Series I remember watching was the battle between the Yankees and Dodgers in either 1977 or 1978. Not sure which one, but that is not important. I always liked the Dodgers of Tommy Lasorda, Steve Garvey, Ron Cey and Bill Russell. From afar it always seemed like they were a classy organization and easy to root for.
Boy, have times changed. Has any franchise ever fallen as far as the Dodgers? The classy ways of Sandy Koufax, Orel Hershiser and Vin Scully have been replaced by the buffoonery of owner Frank McCourt as we watch the storied franchise declare for bankruptcy.
As has been well chronicled, McCourt and his estranged wife Jamie have been waging a two-year battle over their divorce and it has been revealed that the two of them diverted nearly $100 million from team assets to engage in posh lifestyles. The bankruptcy has come after a two month tug of war with Major League baseball and the team could conceivably be sold at auction soon. Suffice to say, it is a terrible twist for one of the iconic franchises in all of sports.
While Dodger fans are watching this sad saga, this situation rips at the heart of the people associated with the team.
Tom Paciorek may be remembered to Chicago fans as a member of the White Sox both as a player and a broadcaster, but he came up through the Dodger organization in the late 1960s and played for Los Angeles for parts of six seasons.
He remembers going to spring training and seeing big pictures displayed on how the organization developed and flourished.
“I grew up in the Dodger organization and learned how to play the Dodger way specifically under Tommy Lasorda,” Paciorek said. “We were taught how to represent ourselves professionally and that came from the top from the O’ Malleys.”
Peter O’ Malley ran the team until 1998 when he sold it to FOX, which in turn sold the team to the McCourts. His father, Walter, ran the team in Brooklyn and is still hated in parts of that borough for moving the team after 1957, but by all accounts the O’ Malleys ran the team with professionalism and class. That is something that has not been said about the current ownership.
“They had great leadership and they really did and now I question the leadership,” Paciorek said. “The way I look at it, it is not a first class organization right now.”
On the field, one of the reasons the Dodgers were seemingly always in contention was because of a concentration on fundamentals that did not exist with other teams, according to Paciorek.
“I was indoctrinated into the little things,” he said. “We would have sessions every morning and someone would go over some important part of the game and something that we may not be aware of like hitting behind the runners and situational hitting. The Dodgers were basically a pitching oriented organization and the runs weren’t coming in bunches. We were taught to manufacture runs.”
Paciorek is hardly the only former Dodger who rues the current plight of the team. Claude Osteen was part of the Dodgers for 22 years in later years as a pitching coach, but was part of the great pitching rotations of all time in the mid 1960s when he threw alongside future Hall of Famers Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale.
“We were kind of viewed as a premier organization,” said Osteen, who enjoyed three trips to the All-Star Game as part of the Dodgers. “It was first class all the way. There was a lot of pride wearing the uniform. Now looking from the outside, they are just another team as far as the stature is concerned. I don’t think the Dodger name will fade but the stature of the organization is not the same. It is not the players’ fault; it is the various ownerships that have come in. They have not worked.”
The way the franchise has been soiled even reaches down to the care of Dodger Stadium, once viewed as a cathedral among baseball stadiums. There was the awful incident where a Giants fan was severely beaten on Opening Day, but the problems go way beyond that. Attendance is down for the first team ever to draw three million fans in a season and the ballpark at Chavez Ravine looks more than half empty some nights. That may not even be the worst of it.
Osteen was at an autograph show in Los Angeles with some fellow former major leaguers and was informed of things that disturbed him.
“I always thought we were playing in the cleanest ballpark in the major leagues,” Osteen said. “I heard there is a lot of graffiti on the walls and the bathrooms. That never would have occurred when the O’ Malleys owned the club.”
Like Paciorek, Osteen also recalls how fundamentals were stressed within the organization and how that does not seem to be in place right for a team mired with a 36-44 record.
“We all knew our jobs and how it was supposed to be done,” he said. “That went along with the pride of wearing the uniform and the history of the organization.”
For those back here in Chicago, this sad tale is a reminder that any time fans get upset with a decision by Jerry Reinsdorf, Tom Ricketts, Rocky Wirtz or members of the McCaskey family, just remember it could be a lot worse. Fans of the Dodgers have learned that the hard way.
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Daniel I. Dorfman is a local freelance writer who has written and reported for the New York Times, Philadelphia Inquirer and the Boston Globe among many other nationally prominent broadcast, online and print media organizations. He is also a researcher for 670 The Score. You can follow him on Twitter @DanDorfman To read more of Daniel’s blogs click here.