Congratulations! You’re among the very first Citizens of the Universe to read the very first entry in this very exciting new series: Three Reasons to Watch the [insert name of very well-known baseball franchise here]! I’m really happy for you. Even if you’re not a fan of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Because this should be fun.
1. Let’s begin with Clayton Kershaw. He’ll pitch just one in five Dodger games, but you’ll definitely be wanting to watch those one in five. Because someday you’ll be wanting to tell your children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren what it was like, watching Clayton Kershaw pitch back in the ‘teens.
Before Kershaw, only two pitchers had ever led their leagues in ERA in four straight seasons: Hall of Famers Lefty Grove and Sandy Koufax. Grove led the American League from 1929 through 1932. Ancient history. Koufax actually led the National League in five straight seasons, 1962 through ’66. Which might seem like ancient history to you, and certainly will to your grandchildren. Clayton Kershaw, though? This is living history, Ellen. Kershaw’s got a chance – and considering what’s happened the last four years, more than just a fighting chance – of leading the National League for a fifth straight season. Just like Koufax. Another Dodgers left-hander with a great fastball and a ridiculous curveball.
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So here’s the question: If you could jump in a time machine and travel back to 1966, what would you do? Actually, I would go back and watch myself being born. But you might want to see Sandy Koufax pitch against the Giants. No time machine? Bummer. Consolation prizes: I got to see my daughter being born, and you get to see Clayton Kershaw every five or six days. We can’t really complain.
2. And that’s without even mentioning Yasiel Puig! And Puig, alone among the Dodgers’ outfielders, is guaranteed to play nearly every game. Is there a more exciting, dynamic player in the majors? He’s more than earned his “Wild Horse” nickname, given to him by Living Time Machine Vin Scully. Oh, and those reports about “Wild Horse” being somehow a manifestation of insidious, however unconscious racism? While such prejudices undoubtedly exist, in baseball and probably every other field of human endeavor, attributing Puig’s nicknames to racial or cultural prejudice betrays an ignorance of nicknames like “Big Cat” and “Gray Eagle” and “Wild Hoss of the Osage” and the entire 1940 Cincinnati Reds infield … lily-white, of course, thanks to racial and cultural prejudices.
Because Puig came from Cuba and because players from Cuba have often taken a while to reach our shores, it’s easy to forget that Puig arrived when he was just 22, and will be just 24 on Opening Day this year. Which means that as good as Puig’s been – last season he finished fourth in the National League in wRC+ – he should, with a little luck and a modicum of hard work, do even better in this and future years.
3. But maybe the best reason to watch the Dodgers? Because when the Dodgers are good, they might be the most interesting team in the World. No, they don’t have quite the storied history of the Yankees, or the championships of the Cardinals. But how many teams could reasonably host a dozen bobblehead promotions one year … and then another nine the next? (Granted, Justin Turner’s a bit of a stretch.)
How many teams have been in the same classic, well-tended ballpark for more than 50 years? How many teams have employed the same lead broadcaster for more than 60 years? How many teams have sported essentially the same classic livery for even longer?
Among all the things to appreciate about the Los Angeles Dodgers, I think I appreciate this most of all: We don’t need a time machine, because we’ve got the Dodgers for 162 games every spring, summer, and fall.
Los Angeles Dodgers
2014 record: 94-68 (1st in NL West)
Playoffs: Lost to St. Louis Cardinals (3-1) in NLDS
2015 projected record: 90-72
Key additions: SS Jimmy Rollins, 2B Howie Kendrick, SP Brandon McCarthy, SP Brett Anderson, C Yasmani Grandal
Key subtractions: OF Matt Kemp, SS Hanley Ramirez, 2B Dee Gordon, SP Dan Haren, SP Josh Beckett, RP Brian Wilson