“It was the best of times; it was the worst of times…..”
Although those iconic words by Charles Dickens debuted in 1859, they just might describe the Los Angeles Dodgers a scant five games into the 2014 season.
The Dodgers have started the year the way everyone expected them to. They’ve won four of their first five games. More impressive perhaps is that the Dodgers have done all this on the road. Of course, in this case, the road includes two wins in Australia and two wins down in San Diego where generally 40%, if not more, of the crowd shows up wearing the Dodgers royal blue rather than Padre navy blue.
So I guess no one can complain that the team with the highest payroll in the majors is, on paper at least, right where they should be. But the worst of times may be lurking somewhere.
First, the injury bug has hit two integral members of the pitching staff. Cy Young award winner Clayton Kershaw went on the DL with a bad back and is not expected back until the end of April. If that wasn’t bad enough, reliever Brian Wilson, who the Dodgers paid $10 million dollars to set up closer Kenley Jansen, was also added to the DL after experiencing elbow problems. Wilson underwent Tommy John surgery in 2012 but the doctors say Wilson is experiencing soreness in the elbow and has not torn any of the repaired ligaments.
Second, the Dodgers hit only .202 in the just completed three game series with the Padres and are batting .229 as a team. Shortstop Hanley Ramirez and first baseman Adrian Gonzalez are batting a collective buck-twelve between them. The offense might be helped, or hurt, by the return of outfielder Matt Kemp. Kemp has been recovering from ankle surgery and is eligible to come off the DL this Friday. The hurt may come in the form of a crowd in the outfield.
Manager Done Mattingly may finally be forced into confronting the fact that Kemp, along with Andre Ethier, Carl Crawford, and Yasiel Puig makes an outfield of four. And unless the NL implements the DH, someone will be left out.
Speaking of injuries, the fans are hurting a bit also thanks to the beating they’re enduring at the hands of current Dodgers management and Time Warner Cable(TWC) when it comes to television broadcasts.
The Dodgers entered into a 25 year, $8.35 billion deal with the cable conglomerate and the pair formed a new Dodgers-dedicated network called SportsNet La. The Dodgers can only be seen by those living under the we-raise-your-bill-and-give-you-less-for-it regime of TWC. There just one little problem – about 70% of Los Angeles viewers can’t watch the games.
Time Warner is estimated to have about a million and a half subscribers in the greater Los Angeles area. The Los Angeles viewing area includes more than 5 million households. Other broadcast providers such as DIRECTV and Dish have yet to work out a deal with Time Warner which means most homes and sports bars, who obviously have to go with DIRECTV in order to televise the NFL, can’t watch a team that has a real chance to bring home a World Series trophy. The bottom line is if you happen to be one of the growing breed of consumers who have decided to go back to over-the-air stations only, you are guaranteed to see the Dodgers in a whopping two, yes two, regular season games. The TV schedule released prior to the season shows the local FOX affiliate airing two Dodgers games as part of their nationwide Saturday broadcasts.
Team President Stan Kasten came out wondering why a deal can’t be worked out. Yet maybe that isn’t all bad. As much as technology has moved us forward, we sometimes go back to the past. Just like all the recent debit card theft scandals are seeing people go back to ancient ways of paying such as cash and check, as long as Vin Scully is doing the play-by-play, going back to radio isn’t too terrible.
Finally, there is a little matter we can call Scottgate. For the uninitiated, there are several roads by which you can enter Dodger Stadium. One of those entries is via a street called Scott Avenue which, unlike the most popular entrance known as Stadium Way, cuts through a quiet residential area. In 1996, as a way to better control traffic flow, team owner Peter O’Malley decided to close the gate for most regular season games and open it only when larger-than-normal crowds were expected. That move was very popular with homeowners whose normally quiet street would get jammed on game days. But the new Dodgers ownership has had a change of heart.
Over the years, Dodgers ownership has gone a bit too far with their traffic control ideas. Fans complained loudly when it began taking 45 minutes just to exit the stadium. So this year, the Dodgers decided to reopen the Scott gate. As expected, those residents, who successfully fought off a plan to permanently open the gate back in 2007, are upset. “We are going to be trapped,” said one man of the anticipated traffic congestion.
For some fans, the worst of times may be as close as the first home game.