Fans stunned by the dark days of Dodgers baseball

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Sure there have been ups and downs over the years, Dodgers fans will tell you.

But through it all, they’ll quickly add, their team was always one of greatness.

It was the team of Jackie Robinson, who integrated baseball, and of Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale, who dominated hitters like almost no pitchers have before or since.

It was Kirk Gibson’s walk-off home run in the 1988 World Series that remains one of baseball’s most iconic moments, and it was Orel Hershisher getting the team to that World Series by pitching a record 59 1/3 consecutive scoreless innings, including a 10-inning shutout on the last day of the season.

“When you talked about the greatest teams in baseball, it was always two, the Yankees and the Dodgers,” said longtime fan Richard Strober, who saw his first Dodgers game when he was 8. That was in 1953, at Brooklyn’s old Ebbets Field before the Dodgers pioneered West Coast baseball by moving to Los Angeles in 1958.

“Now there is only one, the Yankees,” Strober added angrily. “The Dodgers have become the laughingstock of baseball.”

He and fans all across Los Angeles blame one man for that: owner Frank McCourt, whose high-profile divorce from his ex-wife, Jamie, and his penchant for spending millions on expensive homes rather than .300 hitters has far overshadowed anything the team has done on the field in recent years.

Thus many were delighted to hear the news this week that Major League Baseball, having decided McCourt was no longer capable of running the Dodgers, took the team away from him.

“Run the creep out of town,” said Strober, expressing an opinion echoed, although not quite as harshly, by all of more than a dozen people interviewed this week.

Dodgers fans are willing to endure repeated heartbreak from their players. This is a team, after all, that has faced the Yankees in 11 World Series and lost eight of them.

But the antics of McCourt and his ex-wife, Jamie, were more than most could take.

During their ugly divorce battle last year it was revealed that they paid themselves $5 million and $2 million a year, respectively, before McCourt fired his wife as the team’s chief executive officer and accused her of sleeping with guy he’d put on the payroll to be her bodyguard and driver. Jamie McCourt, meanwhile, had acquired a half-dozen expensive homes during her time in L.A.

And while the McCourts never seemed willing to shell out the money to obtain a big-name power hitter, they did put a New Age healer on the payroll to send positive energy to the players.

“The divorce really embarrassed Major League Baseball, how an owner could take the money and spend it in those ways while they’re not putting a good enough team on the field,” said Ross Goldberg, a public relations executive and 27-year season ticket holder.

Not that the Dodgers were all bad during the McCourt era. The team, which hadn’t won a post-season game since the 1988 World Series when he bought it in 2004, made it to the National League Division Series in 2006, winning one game. Then it improbably advanced to the National League Championship Series in 2008 and 2009 before losing to the Philadelphia Phillies both times.

Many credit that success to Manny Ramirez, the flamboyant outfielder who lit a fire under the Dodgers after the team picked him up for a bargain price from the Boston Red Sox.

“They were a .500 team until they got Manny, and they got him for free because Boston didn’t want him anymore,” said Goldberg.

But after firing up the Dodgers, Ramirez tested positive for a banned female fertility drug often used to mask steroid use, leading to a 50-game suspension and bringing more embarrassment and distraction.

Meanwhile, fans began to complain that McCourt was letting Dodger Stadium fall apart.

It had been baseball’s premiere park when it opened in 1962, but now the parking lot was cracked, signs were faded, lines at concession stands and restrooms were long and people began to post videos on YouTube of ugly drunken brawls in the stands.

That issue came to a head on opening day when a San Francisco Giants fan, attacked for wearing the rival team’s jersey, was nearly beaten to death.

“I quit coming to the games when the crowds got ugly,” said Strober, was once a season ticket holder. “I’m not sure I’d go now if you gave me a ticket.”

As he and others pondered who might eventually take over the team, Bob Daily, the Dodgers managing partner when Fox sold it to McCourt, all but apologized this week for bringing the Boston real estate mogul to town.

“It was probably one of the worst mistakes I ever made in my business career in recommending him to Major League Baseball,” Daily said. “From Day One he’s always thought about himself and not about the Dodgers.”

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