And now, a scathing article about the Los Angeles Dodgers. No, I’m not a Giants fan (I do respect them, though). I’m not a Yankees fan (I do hate them too, though). I’m not an ex-employee of the team. No, I’m just a former baseball fan who realizes how broken the economics of baseball are, and the Dodgers are one of the reasons this sport will never be fixed.
When they signed Freddie Freeman, that was the day I decided to make a conscious decision to not watch baseball. I didn’t even check scores, instead opting for a once-a-week “cheat day” where I spent about 30 minutes perusing the standings and some stats. And every time, I was thoroughly disappointed (as I expected).
The Dodgers are marching towards history, in part because they abuse baseball’s salary cap-free system and in part because there are more terrible teams than ever in this sport because those teams have given up hope of competing in the traditional way. Instead, they opt to tank and hope they’ll be the 2015 Royals or 2017 Astros, but it rarely happens.
When I lived in Los Angeles, going to Dodgers games was truly no fun. It is an awful fan experience. The parking lot is a nightmare, the traffic needs no introduction, and the NLCS felt like being at a Red Sox game in April. That’s no knock on Fenway either, because my point is that a city that actually cares about sports like Boston treats regular season games with the same enthusiasm that phony, transplant-filled, see-and-be-seen cities like Los Angeles treat postseason games. Not to mention they take them for granted because the team spends enough to ensure a berth in October every year.
Oh, and about that spending. Where do we start? Do you want the highest payroll in the history of baseball, a whopping $234 million? That’s the low-hanging fruit. How about the highest luxury tax penalty (an absurd $47 million) ever? Mind you, the luxury tax was just the greedy owners’ way of promoting what I like to call “parity theater,” a notion that by divvying up those excess funds to the other 29 teams it will promote a level of fairness. In reality, what is an extra $3 million going to buy crummy, low-market teams like the Pirates or Reds? Anyway, as if that excess spending isn’t bad enough, don’t worry – the Dodgers make it back by ripping off their fans for what is already an awful in-game experience.
Oh, and about that experience. Wow are the “fans” of LA bad, and I use “fans” loosely. These are the poor saps that fight through hours of LA gridlock to hear fake noise pumped into the old venue that feels nothing like real baseball, get into fights, and once in a bloody blue-moon beat someone to a bloody pulp because they are wearing a Giants jersey. The people that actually do care about the Dodgers (there must be some, right?) are not the celebrities and rich people they show on TV; rather, they’re the blue-collar folks from the valley or the east side that spend their hard-earned cash to associate themselves with a team that is only on top of the baseball mountain because they are a rich team in a sport where being rich all but guarantees you at the very least a spot in the playoffs.
Don’t start that whole “well your owner is rich too!” argument, either. No, the Angels aren’t in the same stratosphere as the Dodgers. They overspend for the stars they have because they HAVE to, knowing that if they don’t, the Dodgers or Yankees will just swoop in and pay Mike Trout the same amount of money to play for a real “winner.” Smaller market teams don’t have the same TV revenue or gate revenue, and it’s not like the owners can just pull hundreds of millions out of their pocket to pick up a Freeman or a Betts. Come on, get real now.
Thankfully, the city of Los Angeles has not had a baseball parade since 1988. The joke of a title that the Dodgers won in 2020 (we’ll get to that later) happened during a global pandemic. The Dodgers decided to charge their fans for a drive-through parade at the stadium after the season, a total rip-off that made them money and offered the fans virtually no real value other than “see-and-be-seen.”
Now, some of you are probably thinking: the Dodgers have a lot of homegrown players and draft really well, don’t they? The answer is: yes, BUT, much like their 2020 title, there is a major asterisk. For one thing, “homegrown” stars that they have had in recent years, the likes of Clayton Kershaw, Kenley Jansen, and Cody Bellinger, STILL come at a high price, whether it’s through free agency or the arbitration process. Lots of teams draft good players, but the difference is only the Dodgers, and maybe the Red Sox, Yankees, and recently the Mets, can afford to re-sign those players when their price tag skyrockets.
Let’s get back to Freeman for a minute. Amazingly, after winning 106 games last year, the Dodgers actually did lose some good players. Jansen joined Max Scherzer (a 2021 rental the Dodgers bought because, of course, they could), Corey Seager, Corey Knebel, Joe Kelly, and A.J. Pollock as departed contributors this offseason. But, still, the Dodgers were loaded. They purchased Trea Turner via trade last year because they had the funds. They purchased Mookie Betts via trade in 2020 for the same reason. But then they went out and bought Freeman (for the record, that’s three players on the last three legitimate World Series winning teams that helped beat LA that forced the Dodgers to play the “if you can’t beat ’em, buy ’em” card that they play so well), and it was game over for everyone else (you know, everyone else that couldn’t afford him anyway). Because of one luxury purchase that they didn’t even need, the Dodgers are now on pace to come close to the 2001 Mariners’ record-setting 116 wins, and it’s downright nauseating.
But let’s also give credit where credit is due. And by that I mean the National League West.
Now, the Giants earned my respect by winning three championships in five years from 2010-14 (while the Dodgers won just one playoff series). They earned more of it by winning 107 games and the division last year, which, even though they lost to the Dodgers in the NLDS, helped the Braves get homefield advantage in the NLCS and ultimately beat the Dodgers. But here are the facts: the Giants themselves are responsible for five of the mere EIGHT playoff berths combined by the Dodgers’ four division rivals since 2010. Arizona has reached the postseason once since 2011, a wild card berth in 2017. The Rockies were the other wild card entrant in 2017 with Arizona then earned another berth in 2018, but that’s it. The Padres have not reached a legitimate postseason since 2006, but if you want to get technical, they made it in 2020 with no one watching.
Yes, it’s basically the AFC East for most of Tom Brady’s tenure in New England. And that’s a good comparison. The Patriots were found to be cheating ON the field. The Dodgers are basically cheating OFF the field. This year has been one that is not worth watching as they march towards history and everyone is having a career year while the NL West flounders again.
You know what would have made 2022 TRULY special? A lockout. When it was going on last winter, there was a glimmer of hope that there would either: A) be no baseball (what’s wrong with a year off?) OR B) the players and owners would actually come to some sort of agreement about spending floors and spending limit to keep teams like the Dodgers, Dodgers, or even the Dodgers from spending like this. But instead, what happened? A few days after an agreement was reached, the Dodgers signed Freeman to all but secure their spot in the World Series. You can talk all you want about the other “homegrown” Dodgers, but who doesn’t become exponentially better when sharing a lineup with three superstars that you purchased?
I’m enjoying tuning this season out because the ending seems inevitable (a season so deflating that even the former Evil Empire Yankees beating LA would be a welcome ending). Los Angeles has 10 sports titles (still two short of Boston, a true sports city) and is likely headed for number 11. A town whose teams buy superstars to fit the profile of the glitz-and-glamour town — which really at its core is just a city of broken promises and broken dreams — needs to feel good about itself somehow, but the truth is their fans don’t really care. Going to a parade there is just something to boast about to your Instagram and TikTok followers. When Freeman is waving to the crowd, winning a second title after being a sellout and leaving the city that made him but couldn’t afford him, the people in the crowd may feel a glimmer of joy for about three seconds. But it will be fleeting, just like everything else in the phony town of Los Angeles is.
Hopefully, “fleeting” also describes your interest in the rigged sport of baseball. It certainly is fitting for me.