Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Los Angeles Dodgers break tradition...and it makes sense

When I moved to the Los Angeles area at the end of 1983, the Los Angeles Dodgers appeared to be steeped in tradition. They had been playing in Dodger Stadium for over two decades. They had been managed by the same person, Tommy Lasorda, for the past seven years, and Lasorda had followed a manager, Walter Alston, who had held the position for decades. The team itself was owned by the O'Malley family. Yes, the Dodgers were steeped in tradition.

Of course, anyone with any sense of history knew that there was a little more to the story. Just ask the citizens of Brooklyn. Just ask the people in Chavez Ravine who lost their homes to make way for Dodger Stadium. But there was still an aura of Dodger Blue tradition around the club.

Things fell apart a bit in the 1990s, as Lasorda had a heart attack and moved to the front office, Fox bought the club and made wholesale changes - my Dodger allegiance was painfully shattered when Fox dumped Bill Russell, Mike Piazza, and Hideo Nomo in a very short time - and the team, even after Fox exited, hasn't played in the World Series since 1988. And, to top things off, Rita Moreno of Arte has effectively made the Angels into the new Dodgers, copying much from the O'Malley/Campanis playbook and using ex-Dodgers such as Mike Scioscia to do it.

But current team owner Frank McCourt is trying to recapture the feeling of tradition. Whether it's a cynical marketing ploy or a deeper transformation, McCourt is clearly re-re-positioning the Los Angeles Dodgers as the bastions of tradition. Vin Scully's sonorous tones are still heard over the airwaves. And the rhythm of the baseball season continues on, right from the beginning of the spring when the Dodgers report to Vero Beach, Florida, as they have done since BEFORE the O'Malley days.

Whoops, strike that last part. The Dodgers announced that they were going to move their spring training facilities from Florida to Arizona, and that 2009 would be the year that the transfer would be made.

So how are the Dodgers selling this move? Very carefully.

I was listening to local news station KNX earlier this morning, and KNX reported that at 10:00 am, Dodger legend Tommy Lasorda was going to leave the Dodger facilities to travel to spring training.

By bus, as notes.

Tommy Lasorda has decided to take the old-school route to spring training, hopping a tour bus from Dodger Stadium to the Dodgers’ new Spring Training home, Camelback Ranch - Glendale.

There are just two stops on the itinerary - a 76 station for gas and a Carl’s Jr. for lunch.

And the fact that you can get to spring training with two stops is the crux of the matter, and the reason why the Dodgers broke with tradition. You see, if the elderly Tommy Lasorda can get to spring training by bus, then can't you, the Los Angeles resident, hop into your car, drive to Arizona, and take in a game or two?

And the Dodgers are helpfully reminding you of this via the occasional press release:

The Los Angeles Dodgers are now offering official Spring Training Travel Trips during the team's inaugural spring at Camelback Ranch - Glendale. Fans can save time and money by booking their entire vacation at one time, while being among the first to experience the new state-of-the-art Cactus League facility. The trips are available now at or by calling 866-863-9426.

As Frank McCourt well knows, a parking lot is no good if it's too far away from your destination. I'm not sure if this move will result in some tangible revenue increases, or some significant expense reductions for the team itself from the reduced travel, but it looks like this new place has the potential to keep the old fans very, very happy.

P.S. One more tidbit from the post I quoted earlier:

Also unknown is whether Mrs. Lasorda has been invited with promises of a “steak dinner” [at Carl's Jr.]
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