Los Angeles Dodgers: Back To The FutureS

Will Leitch will be previewing/musing on every baseball team each weekday until the start of the season. You can pre-order his book and follow him on Twitter. Today: The Los Angeles Dodgers.

Something about the Dodgers always makes me feel like it's 1977: It's a little bit of a surprise to see Matt Kemp not hiding a Reggie Smith 'fro/curl thing, or Casey Blake not rockin' the Ron Cey stache. The Dodgers had the good fortune of building (and later remodeling) their stadium right in between the deep past and the ugly future: Dodger Stadium is a single-purpose stadium built right before the multipurpose interchangeable ashtrays era, but in a city that didn't lend itself to the "the place is just built in a nook in the neighborhood" like Wrigley and Ebbets and all those. It's a relic, but a relic of a time that was trying to create anything but a relic. It's a stadium that feels old but not old. When you're there, you can still imagine Bob Hope hopping by, cracking one-liners, swinging a golf club, keeping Nixon in power. It's not oppressive, though: You're not paranoid about wiping your feet on the mat or anything, and the place doesn't have John Sterling constantly reminding you of its alleged ghosts. It's revered but not sacred. This is a good thing. Dodger Stadium is an old home for young people.

It's timeless in the same way Los Angeles is timeless, never on the cutting edge of anything, always reacting rather than innovating, the place where people move even though they'd rather not, only to get there and realize they'd be fools to ever consider leaving. (Larry David will never look right there, but he's not going anywhere.) It's a fantasy land, a ballpark complex in the middle of a downtown that isn't a downtown, a distraction but one tucked away, a film set off a freeway exit. It gives them that unique artificial quality we demand from Los Angeles: The Dodgers are fake, but comfortably fake, an illusion that's constant, and therefore not an illusion anymore at all. Squint, and all those young guys, your Kemp, your Ethier, your Kershaw, they feel like your Garveys and your Ceys and your Lopes. The Dodgers should always be perfect and stupidly beautiful. They should feel like the ideal of their age. They are not showy like the Lakers, not flashy, not dangerous, not quirky. They are Bob Hope. They are not Jack Nicholson. They are not Robert Altman. It's why Manny Ramirez has never felt right here, even with his immense popularity, why Jim Thome looked ridiculous here. The Dodgers should be youth movements, all the time; they are not about aging vets taking one last go around. They must look toward the future and be indestructible. It's why Joe Torre feels so strange (and perhaps why so many have his moves have seemed so erratic): He's like an old boxer shaking hands at the casino, taking a victory lap. The fire doesn't seem there. He is the team's nodding to something that they shouldn't mess with, a stage actor coming in from Broadway and expecting to just be handed all the above-the-title credits. It doesn't feel like his team. He's almost as odd a fit as Thome was. And those were 17 crazy, surreal at-bats: Coming in to pinch hit for the Los Angeles Dodgers ... Jim Thome. Never looked right, not at all. The Dodgers are the future, always. If you want your Torre and Thome, put your team in Vegas, or Fort Myers.

The Dodgers are in trouble right now, thanks to the perilous nature of modern matrimony. The team's owner, Frank McCourt (not the recently dead writer), and his wife (and former team CEO) Jamie McCourt are divorcing. (Make sure to click that link, by the way: It's a site called "Dodger Divorce," and is the most detailed, obsessive dissertation of the public destruction of wedded bliss as you can imagine. I am both in awe and terrified of that site.) Because this is California, the divorce battle is not about merely the distribution of assets, but in fact the end of humanity. Both sides want to kill each other, and the Dodgers are inevitably the baby the judge will vivisect. That's pure California too: They do divorce so equivocally in Los Angeles that even James Cameron's ex-wife gets one of his Oscars this year. Since the fear was always that McCourts didn't have enough money to own a team in the first place, the halve-the-baby technique could rip the team apart, at least for now. At least Cameron gets to keep the Oscar he already won.

You can see why people are worried. This should be a boom time. Attendance is up at Chavez Ravine, and the team is winning, and the present is extending into the future like it's supposed to. It's enough of a fear that people are writing whole blogs about divorce papers and it's impossible to talk about baseball and bats and gloves and cups without getting into who-said-what-to-who-at-what-time. Not much is going right in California, on the whole, right now, and the last thing anyone wants to hear about when they're trying to ignore the problems of their bankrupt state is two multi-millionaires fighting about who did the dishes more often.

But one suspects it will all end up settled. If the McCourts can't hang on, if the Dodgers can't spend the money they'd like under current ownership, someone else will come in, someone younger, someone prettier, someone to leather up in the sun, to tell us stories of Rolo Tomassi. It's Los Angeles. It's Dodger Stadium. It's Vin Scully. None of them will ever go anywhere, even after they're long gone.