Judge Ryan Keefer is glad that National League baseball is finally in his town, and can't wait for the DVD of the World Series winning Washington Nationals to come out.
"Now I want you to say this, I want you to learn how to say this. Say I…bleed…Dodger…blue."
While many people remember the Los Angeles Dodger franchise as "Da Bums" who moved from Brooklyn, the one thing that I came away with after watching Dodger Blue—The Championship Years is for just how long the Dodgers have been baseball's bridesmaids. Granted, the team has managed to win six World Series championships through its 115 years or so of existence. But they appeared in seven Series before winning their first in 1955, beating the New York Yankees in seven games with the help of Duke Snider, Gil Hodges, and Carl Furillo. While New York beat the Dodgers in seven games the next year (the two teams had played each other six times from 1947 to 1956, the Yankees winning five of them), the Dodgers recovered and after moving from Brooklyn to Los Angeles in 1958, managed to appear in four World Series from 1959 to 1966, winning three of them. During this time, men like Sandy Koufax, Maury Wills, and Don Drysdale helped spark the team, and Koufax' period of domination from 1961-1966 remains arguably the best a pitcher has done, before his abrupt retirement after the 1966 season, when the team lost to Baltimore in the World Series.
The team briefly transitioned management in the early '70s as Walter Alston, who had managed the team for over 20 years, stepped aside, and was replaced by a stocky communicative fellow who managed the Dodgers' farm team in Albuquerque. In Tommy Lasorda, who also managed much of the team in the minors, the team found familiarity and was successful as a result. The team farmed an infield comprised of first baseman Steve Garvey, second baseman Davey Lopes, shortstop Bill Russell, and third baseman Ron Cey, whose nickname was "The Penguin" for his short stature. The group stayed with the Dodgers for almost a decade, an unheard of length of tenure in today's era. While they were unsuccessful in consecutive years, losing to the Yankees (and Reggie Jackson) in 1977 and 1978, they managed to defeat the Yanks in 1981 and claim Lasorda's first World Series win.
With more technological advances came access to increased video, so the 1988 team has the most time devoted to it on this piece that runs just over an hour. Fans of that team will remember that Kirk Gibson, the left-handed outfielder who came from Detroit, helped to will the team to a pennant, and whose performance off the field was taken into consideration when it came time to vote for the League's Most Valuable Player. In a surprise, the awards voting revealed that Gibson edged out players whose individual stats were considerably better than Gibson's, though the case was made that if you took Gibson out of the Dodgers lineup, the team could fall like a house of cards. The team's success culminated with two events, the first being Orel Hershiser breaking the major league record (held by Drysdale) for most consecutive scoreless innings. Even in the era of whether or not a guy jabs a syringe into his buttocks, when a pitcher can shut out the opposing team for basically seven straight games as Hershiser did, it's an impressive feat. The second key event in the Dodgers' year was in the World Series, when Gibson, playing on injured knees, managed to hit a game winning home run off of the most feared relief pitcher at the time, Dennis Eckersley. Even if Barry Levinson didn't predict this event with the closing scenes of his 1984 film The Natural, Gibson's feat makes for the dreams that little kids have growing up playing sports.
The feature does spend time on some of the memorable individuals in the organization, notably Koufax and Lasorda. Tommy has spent over a half century with the organization, and lives and breathes the sport and does not hesitate to motivate the players or his friends (while we all think it's a funny statement, calling Tony Danza "one of the great actors in the history of Hollywood" has got to be uplifting to the new daytime TV host). Sadly though, with a title like Dodger Blue—The Championship Years, you know what you're getting, and there's so much more that can be touched on.
Because the piece focuses on Dodger championship teams and starts in 1955, barely any time is spent discussing Jackie Robinson, and more time should have been spent on players like Sandy Koufax, Roy Campanella, and Gil Hodges. Fortunately, ESPN has done several excellent SportsCentury features on Robinson and Campanella and make for excellent companion pieces on Dodger lore. And while I'm a fan of Charlie Steiner from his ESPN days, to not have Vin Scully narrating this piece is criminal. The guy is unquestionably the greatest baseball announcer in history, and has been the radio voice of the team since 1950. You hear his voice on the footage of previous Dodger teams, but as always, you want more from Vin. If you're even close to being in radio range of any Dodger games, you owe it to yourself to tune in; he paints the most vivid pictures you can experience.
In a sign of the Dodgers' respect for the large Hispanic community, Sony included a Dolby Digital 5.1 Spanish soundtrack, and in something that surprised me, they have had a Spanish broadcasting team since the team moved to Los Angeles, which showed just how aware of their market then owner Walter O'Malley was moving to. With a stellar video presentation, Dodger Blue—The Championship Years gives any baseball fan a chance to wax nostalgic.
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