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The Dodgers Thing

A Commentary by Susan Estrich

A friend from out of town asked me what everyone in Los Angeles was saying about the budget crisis and the almost shutdown of the government. Did I know it would be settled? Were people as glued to their televisions as she was?

I looked at her like she was from another planet. I haven't had a single conversation with anyone -- friends, students, people pumping gas next to me at the gas station -- about the budget crisis. We aren't even talking about the price of gas, the usual small talk when you're watching the pump hit $50.

The only thing anyone has been talking about is the Dodgers thing.

Usually, my attitude toward baseball is like most people's toward politics. I don't start really paying attention until the field has thinned and you're picking the winner. And as a lifelong Red Sox fan, I pay almost no attention to the Dodgers.

The first time I went to a Dodgers game, they were down by one going into the bottom of the seventh. And the mass exodus began. At first I thought there must have been some announcement that I missed. The game being called because of the possibility of rain later in the week? An earthquake we didn't feel? My friend explained that it was always like that. Traffic. What kind of fans are these?

The answer this year is clear: Angry fans. Frightened fans. Fans who can't believe what is happening to their/our team.

The "Dodgers thing" is the beating of a guy wearing a Giants cap and minding his own business by two Dodgers fans who were not minding theirs. The Giants fan is in the hospital with injuries to his brain. As I write this, the Dodgers fans have yet to be found. It happened in one of the endless parking lots. There was no security around. The fan was white, and the bad guys appeared to be Hispanic, giving the brutality a very unwelcome racial overtone.

The Dodgers announced that they were canceling half-price beer nights, which they had been trumpeting. They announced that they were hiring former Police Chief Bill Bratton to advise on security. It might make the parking lots safer, but it won't deal with the real problems.

The first is that drinking really doesn't belong at huge sporting events. I understand that most people who drink do so responsibly. But the ones who don't really don't. Anyone who has ever sat with their children in the vicinity of a drunk fan knows what I mean. It ruins things. It's offensive if not dangerous. USC banned drinking at the Coliseum during football games. People still go and enjoy themselves. Some drink before the game, but at least they get less drunk as the game goes on.

The second is more ephemeral, but no less real. Baseball is a business, but it's also something more. There's no local competition, except in Chicago and New York. A city like Los Angeles has one baseball team. If you want to go to a game, you go to Dodger Stadium. It's a business, but it's also a public trust, Disney Hall for the sporting. But instead of being run by a committee of Angelenos, it's run by the owner. It may be the toughest job in town.

Here in Los Angeles, fans feel like their team is at the mercy of a vicious divorce. Frank and Jamie McCourt, the high-profile Bostonians who bought the Dodgers and swept into town with the keys to the city, spent millions this past year fighting each other in divorce court over who owns the team -- the usual kind of ugly divorce, but with more zeros and a baseball team attached.

At the end of round one, Jamie's lawyers had managed to throw out an agreement that supposedly gave Frank sole ownership and Jamie all of their expensive property. It turned out that two of the copies of the contract omitted that part, so lawyer Jamie didn't have to take the implausible position that she didn't know what she signed. But it didn't resolve anything except the question of whether there would be an easy resolution. There wasn't. There won't be. The team is heavily leveraged, it's not clear exactly who will end up with it, and fans are mad as whatever. The beating added insult to injury.

It's hard to figure out the budget crisis. It's depressing to see so many friends underwater on their mortgages, looking for jobs, settling for less. Baseball is supposed to be an escape from all of that. But in this town, at least right now, it is just a reminder of all that is wrong. And the city, to tell the truth, is poorer for it.


See Other Political Commentaries.

See Other Commentaries by Susan Estrich.

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