Fans stunned by the dark days of Dodgers baseball

Sure there have been ups and downs over the years, Dodgers fans

will tell you.

But through it all, they’ll quickly add, their team was always

one of greatness.

It was the team of Jackie Robinson, who integrated baseball, and

of Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale, who dominated hitters like almost

no pitchers have before or since.

It was Kirk Gibson’s walk-off home run in the 1988 World Series

that remains one of baseball’s most iconic moments, and it was Orel

Hershisher getting the team to that World Series by pitching a

record 59 1/3 consecutive scoreless innings, including a 10-inning

shutout on the last day of the season.

“When you talked about the greatest teams in baseball, it was

always two, the Yankees and the Dodgers,” said longtime fan Richard

Strober, who saw his first Dodgers game when he was 8. That was in

1953, at Brooklyn’s old Ebbets Field before the Dodgers pioneered

West Coast baseball by moving to Los Angeles in 1958.

“Now there is only one, the Yankees,” Strober added angrily.

“The Dodgers have become the laughingstock of baseball.”

He and fans all across Los Angeles blame one man for that: owner

Frank McCourt, whose high-profile divorce from his ex-wife, Jamie,

and his penchant for spending millions on expensive homes rather

than .300 hitters has far overshadowed anything the team has done

on the field in recent years.

Thus many were delighted to hear the news this week that Major

League Baseball, having decided McCourt was no longer capable of

running the Dodgers, took the team away from him.

“Run the creep out of town,” said Strober, expressing an opinion

echoed, although not quite as harshly, by all of more than a dozen

people interviewed this week.

Dodgers fans are willing to endure repeated heartbreak from

their players. This is a team, after all, that has faced the

Yankees in 11 World Series and lost eight of them.

But the antics of McCourt and his ex-wife, Jamie, were more than

most could take.

During their ugly divorce battle last year it was revealed that

they paid themselves $5 million and $2 million a year,

respectively, before McCourt fired his wife as the team’s chief

executive officer and accused her of sleeping with guy he’d put on

the payroll to be her bodyguard and driver. Jamie McCourt,

meanwhile, had acquired a half-dozen expensive homes during her

time in L.A.

And while the McCourts never seemed willing to shell out the

money to obtain a big-name power hitter, they did put a New Age

healer on the payroll to send positive energy to the players.

“The divorce really embarrassed Major League Baseball, how an

owner could take the money and spend it in those ways while they’re

not putting a good enough team on the field,” said Ross Goldberg, a

public relations executive and 27-year season ticket holder.

Not that the Dodgers were all bad during the McCourt era. The

team, which hadn’t won a post-season game since the 1988 World

Series when he bought it in 2004, made it to the National League

Division Series in 2006, winning one game. Then it improbably

advanced to the National League Championship Series in 2008 and

2009 before losing to the Philadelphia Phillies both times.

Many credit that success to Manny Ramirez, the flamboyant

outfielder who lit a fire under the Dodgers after the team picked

him up for a bargain price from the Boston Red Sox.

”They were a .500 team until they got Manny, and they got him

for free because Boston didn’t want him anymore,” said

Goldberg.

But after firing up the Dodgers, Ramirez tested positive for a

banned female fertility drug often used to mask steroid use,

leading to a 50-game suspension and bringing more embarrassment and

distraction.

Meanwhile, fans began to complain that McCourt was letting

Dodger Stadium fall apart.

It had been baseball’s premiere park when it opened in 1962, but

now the parking lot was cracked, signs were faded, lines at

concession stands and restrooms were long and people began to post

videos on YouTube of ugly drunken brawls in the stands.

That issue came to a head on opening day when a San Francisco

Giants fan, attacked for wearing the rival team’s jersey, was

nearly beaten to death.

“I quit coming to the games when the crowds got ugly,” said

Strober, was once a season ticket holder. “I’m not sure I’d go now

if you gave me a ticket.”

As he and others pondered who might eventually take over the

team, Bob Daily, the Dodgers managing partner when Fox sold it to

McCourt, all but apologized this week for bringing the Boston real

estate mogul to town.

“It was probably one of the worst mistakes I ever made in my

business career in recommending him to Major League Baseball,”

Daily said. “From Day One he’s always thought about himself and not

about the Dodgers.”